There you are watching cable TV you pay too much for and on comes a splashy commercial advertising tourism in Ontario. There will undoubtedly be a shot of Old Fort Henry in my home town of Kingston, there will be shots of Niagara Falls (trying to show as little of the US side as possible), there will be shots of northern Ontario because they have to for political reasons although why anyone would go to bug-infested northern Ontario in summer except to visit my father is beyond me. Yes there is canoeing and hiking. It is no coincidence that one of the advertising sponsors is DEET.
No tourism commercial of Ontario is complete without a shot of the CN Tower, the world’s largest radio antenna.
The spot is populated by representatives of every member of the UN because if the UN has a capital, it is Toronto ergo, Ontario.
There are street festivals, music events, people kayaking because gas-powered boating is not environmentally or politically correct even though to get to where you can kayak you either have to portage for several days or drive a gas-powered automobile to get there.
Almost always there will be a shot of a moose although what you’re supposed to do with that is beyond me. Your chances of seeing a mouse is liable to be in the middle of the road you’re driving on and the outcome might not be very pretty. Memorable. But not pretty.
The commercial will encourage you to visit a website to find out more of what you can do in Ontario but nowhere will it list the Thousand Islands National Park because, well, that the Fed’s territory and as the second largest political land mass in the world, Canada’s tourism commercials have a lot of events and ground to cover. If you’re lucky, you might see a shot of the Thousand Island Bridge in a national spot but probably not because that might suggest you go to where the bridge takes you and that is to the United States.
That is the backdrop of a small client of mine. I have mentioned them before but I have kept some of the details secret but I see no reason to not share .
Houseboat Holidays is a seasonal business. No one wants to rent a houseboat in February and even if they did they couldn’t because in those winter months the boats are in for refurbishing and the river is frozen. So this company has to make a year’s revenue in Canada’s all too short summer season. July and August aren’t hard to rent but until recently, there were soft spots, particularly the first two weeks of July. Why was a mystery. So the task was to make sure there were no empty spots in July and August but more importantly, increase usage in the shoulder seasons of May and June and September and October.
Coming up with a plan
Every advertising campaign has a plan. Except for a lot of small advertisers who take a more shot gun or knee jerk approach. “We need a brochure.” “We need a website”. “We need to be in local tourism guides.” All without a plan.
People selling space in tourism guides or local tourism quasi newspapers will tell you how many issues are printed and that can seem very impressive. Stopped at a tourism centre on the highways or in small towns? You’ll see lots of brochures. The amount printed is not the point. The circulation and numbers that get read are what’s important. For most of these publications, that’s all but impossible to measure. They are not part of Roger’s media. In our trade we call that shotgun marketing.
So before you begin saying yes to every supplier who comes through the door with an “opportunity”, have a plan. Here is a simplified template for creating your plan: It is a series of questions.
Strategies can become much more elaborate (maybe you could write two pages on what we know about our target audience) but in a nutshell, this is the framework of a strategy or plan. And you can do it yourself or hire someone to help you do it.
Let’s go back to our houseboat client and look at question #2. Are we trying to reach people who are looking to rent a houseboat? Yes. But how many people search for houseboat rentals? Google analytics can give you a number or an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plug-in can tell us that. It’s not that high. And that’s for all of North America.
When you tell people you rented a houseboat in the 1000 Islands, the response is often, “What a great idea!” Would these people have done a search for houseboats on the 1000 islands? No. What would they look for? Cottages. So we positioned the houseboats as “Your floating river cottage”, did keywords to reflect that and added them to Trip Advisor. AirBnB, Facebook and even Kijiji.
So thinking outside the box in your planning can pay off. And it is paying off. They have had the best couple of years since they opened their doors in 1972.
The cost? Except for our time, virtually nothing. We saved them from spending money in local guides that are distributed when someone reaches the 1000 Islands. Why spend money when it is too late for someone to buy your product?
The heavy lifting on setting up this program is all at the front end which is where our time could and does add up. So we contracted to amortize the costs by year, giving them a manageable and predictable monthly marketing expense that reflected the realities of a small business. It wasn’t until the third year that we actually paid for some Facebook ads to promote a give-away guide to houseboating in the 1000 Islands in exchange for collecting their emails. While not huge, we are in the hundreds. But these are people who are highly engaged in the idea and open to email offers. Of the hundreds of emails we have, we have had only 4 unsubscribe.
The cost of producing that splashy Ontario tourism commercial would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I know. I’ve done campaigns like that.
The real test of creative for small businesses is not just being creative with the work you produce but creative with how you save the client money. There are many free online opportunities to take advantage of. Want to find out how we can help you sell and save money doing so? Contact us.
You don’t have to pay a company to create a logo for your business. You can get one for free. You don’t need to hire a company to create a positioning line for your company or brand. You can get one for free. You can get free images. You can get almost-free music. You can get free presentation templates. You can get free just about anything except money.
Creativity has all but become a commodity. This is good news for small businesses who wish to tap into the selling power of online marketing. Just about everything is free. All you need is an abundance of free time to source it and compile everything into an actionable marketing initiative.
What is not free is your plan. And without a plan, all that free stuff is worth exactly what you paid for it. Nothing.
A plan is a must. But good news: there are free templates for just about everything and that includes marketing plans.
Get no-cost marketing plans here.
Go here for free images.
This will help you generate headlines for nothing.
Here you can generate a logo.
Create a 3D book cover for that free guide you’re going to give away.
You can conduct surveys for absolutely nothing.
Mailing list marketing? Free.
Develop a free website.
We live in an open source, it’s-all-for-free-world. Wikipedia is an incredible free resource that lives off donations. However, most companies offering things for free have something to sell. For some, it’s your email address.
If you have the time, the discipline and know some of the basics, a small business can easily look professional and much bigger than they are. All for without giving out your credit card number.
However, what is not free is your time. I refer to doing a stock image search as “stock photo Hell”. It can take hours. And that is just for an image or images.
Also what is not free is the thinking required to intelligently fill in the blanks of that great looking template. Because more important to free, is having that plan before you start. While you can get a free marketing plan sample, someone has to make it relevant and appropriate for you.
Regardless of what you can get for nothing, you need a marketing professional for you to make all that stuff gel and work for you.
Or you can go it alone. There are literally millions of free choices for you. And you get to go through them, one by one.
There was a quite famous commercial some time ago for Quaker State Motor Oil. In it, a mechanic was talking about the motor oil and how it protects the engine. He summed it up saying, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.”
The same is true for marketing professionals.
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