Travel storytelling must be at the heart of any digital destination marketing strategy. Every destination has an infinite amount of stories that can be utilized for celebrating its uniqueness, and fostering emotional relationships with potential and past visitors. This translates to a rise in visibility, consumer-brand trust, visitation, and eventually – profit.
This blog post will elaborate on why storytelling matters, and provide information as to what a DMO should consider when incorporating travel storytelling into their overall digital marketing strategy. DMOs should not only curate engaging stories through collaboration with local stakeholders, but also take advantage of the stories tourists share online. Digital storytelling in destination branding can therefore be seen as a co-creation process, where a DMO, as its official representative, can guide the flow.
Local stories are the base for Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, a Solimar project
Why Storytelling Matters?
Let’s start with a short story, a quasi-anthropological experiment.
A few years ago, two authors initiated the project Significant Objects to check if narratives can affect an object’s value objectively. They went out to thrift stores and garage sales and bought 100 objects for the average price of $1.28. Next, they listed every object for sale on eBay, and the winning bidder was mailed with his selected object. The objects were sold for no less than $3,612, a rise of 2700% in value in trade! So, how did they do that?
All they did was partner with dozens of authors who wrote a fictional story around every object (not without stating its falseness). Through this, they proved storytelling is not just another buzzword, but rather an approach that brings tangible results.
So why is storytelling important for branding? Apart from stories being interwoven in every aspect of human experience, life, and history, they are simply more memorable. Research shows that information conveyed as stories can be up to 22 times more memorable than facts. Moreover, they help create emotional connections between brands and consumers. These are deeper, longer-lasting and create a community around common values which are reiterated through the stories. Their personal nature leaves space for the consumer to dream, relate and engage with the brand, thus increasing interest, brand loyalty and ultimately, a transaction.
Travel Storytelling and Destination Marketing
Traveling is all about stories, and every destination has unique stories to tell. A DMO should have a clear vision about what the destination’s major value proposition for a determined target customer segment(s) is. What differentiates a destination? What can it offer that others cannot? Focus on the feelings your destination evokes, and capture it through storytelling.
Zitna beach, Croatia. Destinations are storyscapes, Jonathan Atari photography
Through local, authentic, and creative stories, a destination can portray itself as human and trustworthy. Instead of loud marketing campaigns, people want to have a sense of discovery, especially when it comes to traveling. In the pre-travel stage, destination storytelling gives potential tourists that exact feeling. They long for a journey or holiday, and discover quality content that nourishes this desire.
A good travel story will ignite a target audience reader’s imagination, and make them lose himself in the story. In a way, his attitudes would change to reflect the story, immerse in it. A DMO should hence create digital content, travel writing, that will move a buyer down the decision making process by inspiring rather than informing. After all, decisions are mostly emotional, not logical, so storytelling is your destination’s best card.
Starting a travel blog can be a fantastic way to share the richness of life at your destination. It is perfect for building a sense of a place through real experience, beyond must-see lists, itineraries, practical information or events. People can comment, share and engage with passionate local people at the destination. This in turn, provides the potential tourist with a more holistic experience of the destination.
As opposed to social media, blog posts are “evergreen”, as they never disappear in constantly changing feeds. It is also beneficial for SEO purposes, targeting certain terms, and this increases visitation to your website and builds authority on the web. For an effective travel blog, keep a well-organized editorial board, to ensure you are reaching your goals. Consider integrating calls to action in your posts, to facilitate and encourage conversion. In other words, through travel articles and storytelling you have more tools to address some of the most fundamental aspects of digital marketing.
How to use storytelling in digital destination marketing?
Here are some pillars you can use for your strategy. It is by no means a complete guide, but introduces the most important tips for what makes dependable destination branding storytelling:
Know your audience – Yes, also in digital storytelling. The more you understand your (potential) visitors and what they care about, the more you can convey a storyline that resonates with what they’re looking for.
The customer is your hero – instead of considering the destination as the main subject, think about the visitor. They should allegorically be the protagonist of your destination stories, and the destination, in its widest sense, the enabler for them to fulfill their desires, overcome challenges or go through transformative experiences.
Be thoughtful, be creative, be deep, be human. Think outside the box, share meaningful stories, be funny, unexpected, nuanced, tell stories for good. Experiment. Ask why? Promote values you believe in and that are at the heart of your destination’s brand. Be authentic. Storytelling is essentially about human experience, and the content about your destination should emphasize its uniqueness and foster deeper connections with readers.
Go local – Immerse in your community to get a deeper understanding of local life, that is, your destination storytelling raw material. There are so many inspiring stories to capture – past and contemporary traditions, local entrepreneurs, artisans, seniors, initiatives, engaged activists, and many more… Don’t shy away from stories about struggles, conflict or success – sometimes they turn to be the most inspiring and personal stories of all.
Go visual – Integrate images and videos into your destination storytelling strategy. When done thoughtfully, creatively, and aesthetically, they can attract your audience’s attention, give them a different perspective of the destination, and intrigue strong feelings that foster a connection to what the destination has to offer.
Explore Minnesota visual storytelling campaign
Social Media Storytelling in Destination Marketing
Some say sharing travel experiences back home is not less important to tourists than the holiday itself. Whether it’s true or not, the digital world, and social media particularly, are saturated with stories about destinations. A DMO cannot ignore it, and must take user generated content (UGC) into account, and online social networks in its marketing strategy to ensure a coherent and impactful destination brand. Storytelling in destination marketing is thus twofold – both creating content and mediating relationships and messages amid this storytelling complex.
Destination branding is a complicated process which involves factors which can’t be fully controlled. A DMO cannot directly influence the quality of food served in a local restaurant or whether the sun would shine on a given day. Added to that is everything every visitor has ever shared about your destination on Facebook, Instagram or any other digital platform. Instead of seeing it as a threat, DMOs can harness these social media posts to enhance the brand, and treat it as an in-depth database to learn about their audience.
Consumers see user generated content as more reliable, accurate and authentic, because it is written by fellow visitors (seemingly without an ulterior motive). In fact, it’s a constant stream of stories describing and shaping a destination’s image. DMOs can sensitively guide these story lines, reacting, engaging, and involving users (including influencers) and stories that benefit their preferred narrative and target market. Lastly, they should consider promoting designated spots within the destination that can be used by visitors for taking photos and sharing them online.
At Solimar International, we acknowledge the benefits of digital storytelling in destination marketing. We keep that in mind for every tourism industry marketing strategy we plan or implement. It proves right over and over again – we see it in engagement figures, online visibility, and ultimately in visitor numbers and visitor satisfaction. Lately, a project Solimar has been working on in Atauro Island’s (Timor Leste) has been selected as part of the 2021 top 100 destination sustainability stories. It’s a win-win situation where users receive original and relevant stories, and local stakeholders, as well as DMOs, have another channel for sharing their passions and promoting their destination effectively.
Storytelling must be at the heart of any marketing plan. Take one of our courses to learn more about destination marketing and management. Visit our Institute for Sustainable Destinations website today: https://institute.solimarinternational.com/