Hello, everyone and welcome back to the Destination Podcast. I’m your host, Patrick King of Imagine. We’re in the final episode of a three-part series on the customer journey. If you haven’t checked out the previous two episodes, I encourage you to do so since those cover four out of the five stages of the journey. Don’t worry – I’ll be here when you get back.
To recap, the customer journey regarding tourism had five stages. The first is awareness, where you’re working to get your audience’s attention. That stage moves potential visitors to the next step, which is activity. The activity stage is successful when your potential visitor has begun taking steps to research your location, like looking for more positive reviews. Maybe they signed up for a visitor’s guide, subscribed to email updates, or followed you on social. They’re learning more about your destination as a viable travel option.
Stage three is action – the first visit. As I’ve mentioned before, this is where most destination marketing plans stop, when they should only be halfway through. The first visit is great, but we want people to make a habit out of visiting, so the next stage – what we call adoption – is a continuation of the journey, where we guide travelers to those second and third visits.
And that brings us up to today. Once we have repeat visitation, we have a cohort of travelers that are – more than likely – vocal cheerleaders for your destination. They’re probably already an unpaid sales team. It’s just up to you to empower them, magnify their voices, and use that word of mouth to help drive more awareness.
That’s where the magic happens: when advocacy builds awareness, and more and more people are taking notice of your destination. That’s where marketing grows.
Let’s get into how that advocacy is broadcast. It all falls under the umbrella of what we marketing dorks call “user-generated content”, or what we super-dorks call “UGC”. Being a super-dork myself, I’ll call it UGC from here on out.
UGC is incredibly powerful for many reasons but the two most important are credibility and reach. A customer review or a social media post is seen as unbiased and void of any agenda, so people are more likely to believe them. They’re also designed to inform others, so that good news (or sometimes bad news) is then broadcast to their peers, which means you have an expanded audience. It’s like free advertising – no ad design or budget necessary.
Ok, I think I’ve done enough to explain how important this whole UGC thing is. By this point, if you’re still not convinced that this is a vital stage in building your brand, I got nothing for ya. Let’s move to how you can get more buzz and word-of-mouth.
The simplest way is to simply keep your ear to the ground. Get yourself an account on Brand24 or some other social listening service and start following your branded keywords like your city or town name or names of some of your big attractions. Engage with those that share their life-changing experiences and ask them if you can re-share their stuff.
You know, I mention Brand24 a lot and I don’t get any kickbacks for promoting them. I should probably do something about that. Whatever.
You see, the goal of asking users that post good stuff isn’t necessarily to get more content to post to your own page, although that’s a plus. By engaging with those that post great things about the destination, you get more goodwill with the one that posted. It could also help you get more social media visibility overall, since engaging with users helps with your overall presence.
A quick thing I want to touch on is when you do share on your own page. Anything you’ve used from other people should be given credit to the original owner. So…. make sure you do that. It’s just the right thing to do.
You can use UGC gathered on social to help the other stages of the customer journey, too. Embedding an Instagram feed on your homepage that pulls from certain keywords shows people that may just be finding out about you that people are already digging your vibe. Putting a blurb in an email blast can help grease those wheels and launch someone into the action stage.
Ok, so that touches on social. What about reviews? A lot of cities, towns and other destinations we work with are looking at online ratings that have far fewer five-stars than they’re comfortable with. The truth is, people are and will always be more inclined to post a bad review than a good one. It doesn’t mean that people are inherently grumpy; it just means that they received an experience that doesn’t align with expectations. They will also post a review if they have an outstanding time, but you can’t expect a positive review to just come from out of nowhere if you’re simply aligning with expectations. No one is going to post a review about how great your parking is but if they have trouble finding somewhere to park, well, you see where I’m going.
What you need to do to get more positive reviews is to remove any barriers and make it as easy as possible. Something as simple as restaurants training staff to ask for reviews from obviously pleased customers, or reminder cards that visitors can take with them to use at a later time can both increase the chances of a review.
There are some articles online that encourage places to hold contests and provide incentives for reviews and other UGC but not only are ideas like that looked down on by Google, Yelp and others, I think it’s just shady. If you’re doing things right and taking the extra steps to make positive reviews simpler and more top-of-mind, you’ll get to the same destination in a way that’s more sustainable and creates deeper connections between your visitors and those that serve them.
So, what about those bad reviews? What about those 2-star manifestos whose sole purpose seems to be to ruin your day? Well, they’re gonna come. You can reduce their frequency, sure, but every destination is prone to – and has been blemished by – a negative review.
There are a few steps to take. The first is to respond to the review in a professional and empathetic way. Sometimes, that means waiting an hour or so before responding, or however long it takes for you to go to the restroom and yell at your paper towel dispenser.
Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but responding to a negative review is important because it helps to neutralize the review to others and can possibly win back the one that posted it. I’ll give an example from personal experience. On our Facebook page, which is https://facebook.com/wefightugly, there is one negative review on our page. Go ahead and read it next time you’re on Facebook. Then read what they posted shortly after the review as a follow-up comment.
Basically, they had a bad experience with getting a hold of me. I had to go out of town with little notice and I forgot to give him someone else at Imagine to work with. So, he got upset. I reached out to him as soon as I could and let him know what was going on, and everything was smooth for the rest of our time working together. It can happen the same way for destinations.
That’s the first part of what I call the “address and suppress” strategy. You face the bad review head-on with grace and understanding, not necessarily fault, and you show the reviewer and the rest of the world how awesome you are in less-than-stellar circumstances.
The other half of that strategy is suppressing the bad reviews. Create a process for getting more of those positive reviews like the reminder cards or person-to-person requests I mentioned earlier. There are tons of other ways but that’s enough to get the process started.
A tip here about suppressing bad reviews: whichever strategy you decide to use, make sure that it doesn’t make it easier for people to post bad reviews, too. Notice that I didn’t say to have a QR code sitting on every table for everyone to see. You just want to pull more good reviews and that can only happen on a case-by-case basis.
So, with better social listening and encouragement on social media, a well-designed plan for getting more positive reviews, and a mindset that the tourism customer’s journey doesn’t end until they’re singing from the rooftops, you’ll undoubtedly have a stronger marketing strategy and see the growth that this type of comprehensive strategy can bring you.
And at this point, I think that does it for today. Thanks for listening and, if you like what you’re hearing, you can give us a review on Apple Podcasts or, even better, consider sharing it with others that may benefit from listening to it. Both help us out in a big way. I look forward to seeing you back here in two weeks for more of the Destination Podcast!