Imagine reading two pieces of content. In the first, a writer mentions that he visited an interesting location in the mountains recently: “Great scenic beauty, fresh breeze, awesome experience” – he narrates briefly and posts beautiful images. And then the second author pens down how she felt while walking through the mystic fog, how ecstatic she was to see the snow-clad mountain range at a distance, how warmly the local people greeted her, invited her to a local event and what happened at that event…
While you’d enjoy the beautiful images of the first post, your mind will quickly move on. But it will remember the details of the second story and that location for a longer period as it created some associations, mental images and even the emotions of being there and follows the story with the author. In fact, according to psychologist Jerome Bruner, we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it is presented as a story. And if this travel story captivated you, it will remain as a mental bookmark to visit that place one day. This power of storytelling is widely utilized in marketing and especially travel marketing or destination marketing. But how do you create a story about your travel brand or destination? And is it appropriate to write about it if most of us cannot travel yet? Let’s focus on some questions to start gathering ideas.
Does the customer understand your brand?
First, you need to know exactly whom you are telling your story. Are you reaching your target audiences? Do you know your exact target audiences and their needs and wants? It’s easy if you have a specialty. If you are an adventure travel agency, you service adventure seekers and your clients are looking for the adrenaline rush of various kinds. But if you are more of a general type of business, it may be more challenging. It is important to know or to refine your brand’s voice. And in the current circumstances, you might need to adjust your audiences altogether and add or remove some ‘customer personas’ depending on your findings.
What are your customers looking for?
Do you know what your customers want and exactly what type of experiences they expect? Now, show them that you have what they want. Create a story around those experiences and show them how it is unique to your brand. Maybe you do have exclusive offerings and some product and destination advantages. For example, some boutique tour operators we work with combine not only travel to a destination but very unique experiences such as yoga in the mountains, travel photography seminars, or adventure tourism as well. Many companies may offer the same but the experiences will be very unique and individual for each tour operator and that’s the beauty of it. Don’t focus on competition, focus on what you do the best and how you are different and express it in your story.
Sell the sizzle.
So, now the job is to package your product in a way in which you are not just listing the benefits and activities of your destination but showing them more creatively. Create multiple stories to connect them to emotions and show the different ways of re-living the beautiful experiences you are offering. Don’t focus on the steak, focus on the sizzle.
Destination selling points
Each destination has “cliché” selling points that customers most likely have embedded in their brains. However, as part of destination storytelling, you can show a totally different or somewhat different experience of the destination. How about breaking their stereotypes (even if they are great ones) and re-introducing the unexpected experiences they have not thought about before? How will that make them feel? Can Las Vegas be a destination for unforgettable outdoor activities and quiet starry nights instead of being the never sleeping Sin City in the USA?
Talking to locals
Instead of simply pointing out the geographical location and places of interest, delve deeper. Make locals do your marketing task of selling the destinations. Find opportunities for the locals to share their discovery stories and appreciation of their region, and they will add to the readers’ or viewer’s experience. Most of us want to travel and live like a local and socialize with locals when exploring new destinations. And Airbnb has masterfully capitalized on that desire. Also, Airbnb has many good examples of storytelling they use in their marketing. For example, this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpAdyFdE3-c
Now, that you have some ideas for your stories, you can put them out in many forms! Here are the fun and creative part but also somewhat challenging for some – production. There are a few components to your marketing travel campaign to think about:
- Story writing for the blog
- Scriptwriting for a video
- Images and illustrations
- Recording video experience whether someone is telling the story or customers are sharing their experiences/ reviews
- Guest podcasting
- Social media posts to capture people’s attention
- TV publicity (stories are a great way to get into the spotlight)
This is where you might need the assistance of professional writers or a travel marketing agency to help you create the content, put together a campaign and distribute it on the web.
To summarize, telling a story creates a better connection between your business and its potential customers. But whichever avenue you pick to air your story, make sure to present authentic information. Instead of self-promotion, focus on sharing your passion and your story. In times of crisis such as now when COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed the tourism and hospitality industry – it is your story, it is our story. It is OK to be vulnerable and show the current situation in your business and how you and your team are coping with it. This will only enhance the credibility of your travel agency or hospitality business and will win you new loyal customers in the near future.
Photo Credit: Mesut Kaya (top image); Artem Beliaikin; Tyler Nix