National State Tourism Directors Mercury Awards > Digital Campaign
National State Tourism Directors Mercury Awards > Digital Campaign
About This Entry:
In 2018, San Juan County was emerging from several years as the epicenter of a heated public lands debate over the creation, and subsequent reduction, of Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. Strongly held viewpoints on all sides strained tensions among community members and media attention brought awareness, both positive and negative, to the historical and cultural significance of the region and the remarkable landscapes it contains.
San Juan County commissioners reached out to Governor Gary Herbert for assistance developing the county’s tourism economy.
The Utah Office of Tourism faced two questions:
- How should a state DMO promote a fragile and politically polarizing destination to jump-start the economy in the state’s poorest county?
- How can local communities work with the state to ensure promotional efforts reflect residents’ desire for a rural quality of life and a diversity of perspectives, cultures and traditions?
Members of Utah Office of Tourism's (UOT)’s management spent three days on a listening tour meeting with local business groups, tourism advisory boards, county commissioners, land managers and tribal representatives to understand the community’s values, their wishes for promotion and their goals for tourism development. Using this information, UOT’s content development team got to work collaborating with local partners to identify the key perspectives related to this culturally and environmentally sensitive landscape and shape this into a compelling narrative for visitors.
The resulting four-part Voices of Bears Ears video series captured those perspectives — a Navajo guide, ranchers, an adventure guide and an archaeologist — all emanating from a shared love for the landscapes, cultures and history that make the area distinctive. These experiences hold special appeal for a range of niche audiences interested in heritage tourism, Native American culture, mountain biking, modern cowboys and the American West.
The challenging political context for this project emphasized the need for a community-led vision for the content and to bring a larger number of stakeholders into the planning process. This model has shaped the way we’ve undertaken subsequent marketing efforts, building out from community goals to create responsible destination marketing campaigns focusing on attracting thoughtful, high-quality visitation.
The campaign began by listening to the community and key stakeholders in the region. Over a three-day visit, members of our office met with local business groups, city and county leaders, members of the Navajo tribe and land managers including the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, the two agencies responsible for managing the land in, and around, Bears Ears National Monument. Through these listening sessions a few key themes appeared around the desire to begin attracting visitors to established areas while positioning the locals as spokespeople and the keepers of the area’s secrets. -
Additionally, a strong need emerged to help visitors understand their responsibilities when traveling in these fragile areas. The land managers told stories of well-intentioned travelers leaning on an ancient wall, causing it to collapse or photographers walking across unmarked archeological sites for a better vantage. Stories of visitors picking up a pottery sherd as a keepsake were plentiful. These examples reinforced the need for an educational component in our content marketing campaign.
Following the listening session we developed a collection of written content articles and itineraries, including the Bears Ears Area Starter Kit, to lead with area attractions “hardened over” for visitation that also serve as critical introductions to respectfully visiting the monument. The process included getting on the phone with archaeologists to review the recommendations for accuracy and alignment.
We followed that content with the four-part video series, produced over five days, and capturing the region as told through four different local voices; a Navajo woman working to preserve her community’s traditions, a descendent of a pioneer ranching family on a working ranch, a local guide developing the area’s recreation opportunity and two archeologists teaching visitors how to enjoy the area responsibly.
We used digital targeting techniques such as YouTube pre-roll and native content vendors to promote these videos to repeat visitors and those with an affinity for getting off-the-beaten path. Accompanied these efforts were emails to our consumer list, paid search engine marketing and outbound social media on Instagram and Facebook.
We spent $45,000 to launch the Bears Ears series with our native advertising partner Nativo who delivers the video inline with other content consumers are reading and engaging with.
This portion of the campaign resulted in more than 407,000 completed video views and a video completion rate of 28.1 percent, 2.8 times higher than the industry benchmark. Through Adara Insights, we observed more than $155,000 of hotel revenue, as well as 1,143 unique travelers from this partner alone.
We also gained new creative insights that will help guide our future long-form video creation. Of the four videos, the ones that had dialogue starting earlier in the sequence resulted in a higher video completion rate, an insight we will use to improve future campaigns.
Accompanying the Nativo campaign was a $27,500 YouTube campaign utilizing sequential targeting strategies and retargeting to show static display ads to individuals who had viewed our videos.
The campaign tracked a full video completion rate of 33.9 percent (2.6 times the benchmark), and 506,000 total views, generating $133,000 in hotel revenue. We also generated more than 700 earned actions on our Visit Utah channel from our pre-roll, a key indicator showing deeper influence on individuals who saw the ad because it inspired them to learn more about Utah.
Given the origins of this project, perhaps the most important metric of success comes from the San Juan County director of economic development and tourism. Following the release of the videos, she wrote “there was clear communication throughout this process that this was our region, and the state was here to support us in our goals and efforts.
I had people who had grown up in the area and moved away reach out saying they loved the story lines. The stories resonated with them and created even more of a desire to try and move back home. We have had multiple communities provide praise for being a part of the tourism messaging when in the past they have felt neglected or skipped over.”
Why This Is A Finalist:
Tackling a destination marketing challenge for a location which has garnered national press attention based on political challenges comes with a great deal of risk—it can be difficult to avoid having the marketing become a part of a heated debate. The Utah Office of Tourism did an excellent job navigating their way through the challenges, and provided an understanding how the experience helped not just this work, but how they'll focus efforts in the future. The listening process, fragility of the destination and the political nature of the destination make this campaign decidedly unique. The use of segmentation to paint a more complete picture of the natural beauty, the archeological & 19th century cultural history of the American West as the :"Voices of Bears Ears" brings to life how differing perspectives often make for a richer and more informative tapestry of life. The methodology and partnerships were clearly articulated. The program was innovative in consideration of the swirl of dialog around Bears Ears National Monument.
- Category Winner