What It Takes to Reboot a Travel and Tourism Brand—A Q&A with Jennifer Cunningham of RSCVA
Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority (RSCVA) and Noble Studios recently partnered on web development and digital marketing during a complete reboot of the Reno Tahoe brand, a massive undertaking for everyone involved. In the end, the time and effort led to a huge payoff that puts RSCVA at the forefront of digital marketing for destination marketing organizations (DMO). After the dust settled a bit, Noble’s Chief Marketing Officer Michael Thomas sat down with RSCVA Executive Vice President Jennifer Cunningham, an industry veteran, to discuss the ins and outs of rebooting a travel and tourism brand, as well as her thoughts on the biggest trends in destination marketing.
You recently “rebooted” the Visit Reno Tahoe marketing strategy and brand. How did you know it was time to pull the trigger?
Two things factored into the decision. First, it was my personal belief that the current brand did not appropriately reflect our destination. Second, we confirmed our theory by conducting research. The research indicated that the prior Reno Tahoe branding was not resonating with our target markets and, more importantly, it was not motivating people to travel to Reno.
What is the biggest hurdle you faced in rebranding the destination?
Ensuring board and community buy-in was paramount. This required many hours of meetings. Having data to back up our direction was extremely helpful in getting everyone to support the new brand. We also recruited key community representatives to be advocates for our new brand.
How has the destination marketing landscape changed in the past 5 years?
Marketing efforts today are more measurable than ever before. It is much more mobile-focused and visual with the use of creative videos. Travelers have a tremendous amount of information they can consume prior to taking a trip or selecting a destination. Because of this, destinations must continuously ensure they are relevant and inspirational in all phases of the decision-making process. Destinations can no longer be a directory or list of amenities. They need to replace the directory with impactful storytelling.
What destinations inspire you personally and professionally?
Australia and Canada do an amazing job connecting with their audience and leveraging their incredible imagery. Las Vegas’ most recent campaign (“Only Vegas Moments”) is an excellent example of effective and impactful storytelling.
In your opinion, what is the most effective way to connect and market to meeting planners in 2018?
It is still a relationship-based business. Personal connection is always the best. Getting clients to our destination to experience it firsthand provides the highest chance of booking the business. With that being said, it is also important to understand the dynamics of the audience one is trying to reach. Some respond better to a physical mailer while others will be motivated by a digital offer. It is important to customize the approach based on the meeting planner.
How do you use user-generated content for people in-destination? What’s the importance?
We encourage connectivity by sharing through our hashtag. We believe firmly in inspiring visitors while they are in the destination. It’s important because if a visitor has a great experience, it increases the possibility that they will return. Additionally, they will share it with their friends and family. MarketShare recently came out with research that claims peer-to-peer exchange improves marketing effectiveness by up to 54 percent. You can’t beat the authenticity of a visitor sharing their experience with others.
How do you feel traditional and digital marketing work together?
They are both essential components of an effective campaign. They are connected. A consumer may see a billboard and later see another ad served up online. In this way, they reinforce each other and broaden the reach. We have worked diligently to integrate traditional with digital by using social media influencers on our print ads, billboards and digital platforms.
How do locals influence the visitors’ experience or consideration?
Locals have a considerable influence on the visitors’ experience. They help in further positioning the destination. Word-of-mouth (also via social media) has a stronger influence than paid advertising. According to a 2013 Nielsen study, 84 percent of consumers will trust the recommendation of a friend or family member over an advertisement. Visitors want to know what the locals enjoy and recommend about their community.
What are some of the positives and negatives that you’ve seen with the rise of Airbnb in the last few years.
Airbnb has opened up a new experience for travelers. It provides an additional option for visitors and has appeal to another segment of travelers. It also helps to change the perception that our destination is only casinos.
How do you highlight a location such as Reno Tahoe to both a younger tech savvy and an older aging market at the same time?
We focused our campaign more on psychographics to connect with our target audience. Our brand platform is “Ambition,” as in an ambitious lifestyle. This crosses several generations as it is a personal value. However, the campaign does have a particular appeal to GenX and Millennials, which is intentional.
What new trend do you feel will have the most impact in travel over the next 5 years?
Personalization of the marketing message will continue and become even more refined. Companies are going to be expected to be more targeted and hyper-focused on who they are serving their messaging to. They will have to know their different audiences and curate information on a much more personal level.
Jennifer Cunningham is the executive vice president of the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority.
A Reno native and active member in the community, Jennifer serves on the board of directors of EDAWN, the Northern Nevada Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Air Service Corporation. She also serves on the Sparks Tourism Facility & Revitalization Steering Committee. She is a former board member of the Education Alliance of Washoe County, the Educational Foundation and the Marketing Committee of the Reno Arts and Cultural Commission, in addition to the Governor’s Workforce Investment Board on Tourism, Gaming and Entertainment. Jennifer was an active member of the Northern Nevada Planning Committee for the Governor’s Conference on Tourism for 16 years.
She was selected as the ACE Award “Marketer of the Year” recipient by the Reno Tahoe American Marketing Association, as “Travel and Tourism Advocate of the Year” at the Impact Awards and was honored with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the American Advertising Federation.
Jennifer holds a master’s degree in international marketing from San Francisco State University and a bachelor of arts in managerial sciences and finance from the University of Nevada, Reno.