How to benefit from influencer marketing in destination branding

Picture: Unsplash

How can DMO’s benefit influencer marketing in destination branding? How have the DMO’s used influencers in their branding strategy so far?

In recent years, the rapidly growing use of influencer marketing has caught the attention of researchers and marketers alike. Influencer marketing has also opportunities for the tourism industry, of which destination branding is explored here in detail. Some DMO’s have already had a go of this non-traditional type of marketing, however, limited examples exist in the tourism research literature so far. This post briefly reviews the literature around the topic and gives suggestions on how destinations can harness influencer marketing on their brand management. Case examples from the tourism industry are presented of Greece, Spain and China.

Influencer marketing

The fast evolution of the influencer industry has introduced several definitions around the word influencer. What is common for the majority of these definitions is the influencer having large numbers of followers, active engagement, promotion of brands and skills in certain niche 1;4. Here, the following definition applies by De Veirman et al: “people who built a large network of followers and are regarded as trusted tastemakers in one or several niches” 10. What separates them from traditional celebrities, is influencers being “regular people”, who have achieved influencer status by the creation of content in social platforms such as Instagram 4. Whereas traditional celebrities remain distant for the “regular people”, influencers connect with their followers on a more personal level 11. The more interactive, predictable, and competent the influencers are seen by their followers, the more their followers feel kinship and trust towards them 1. In a nutshell, influencer marketing can be regarded as commercial eWOM: marketers invest in influencers, then influencers create or promote their branded content for their followers 2;4.

Influencer marketing for destinations

Similar to traditional WOM, destinations today can benefit from the effects of influencer generated eWOM has on consumer behaviour. Research of Spanish DMO’s has shown how influencer marketing has already adopted a profitable place in their media 8. Influencers are a natural way to reach customers who throughout the customer journey seek information from social platforms, where influencer generated content is consumed and a growing amount of time is spent 2;4;8. Especially the younger generations and millennials can be reached via influencer marketing, the latter of which is the generation with the most purchasing power 4;7;8.

Picture: Unsplash

The power of influencer marketing is based on the special relationship between the influencer and their followers. The influencer’s followers identify with them and try to imitate them, and the brands influencers use are seen real and attainable by their followers 1. As influencer generated content is seen as more trustworthy and authentic by consumers, influencer marketing is found to be more effective for boosting brand awareness than traditional brand or celebrity generated content 1; 4; 8. This results ultimately the followers to have higher purchase intentions of those brands endorsed by the influencers 1.

Destination branding with using influencers

Regarding brand management, influencer marketing is a powerful way of branding on social platforms for destinations to benefit from 1. Today tourist’s choice of destination is a lifestyle indicator, where the destination image plays an important role 3;6. The destination image is defined by Echtner as: “not only the perceptions of individual destination attributes but also the holistic impression made by the destination” 12. To influence the destination image, brand management is needed. Influencer marketing can be benefited in branding strategy, as it is a way to improve a destination’s image 8. Influencers can act as effective intermediates to create awareness of destination image between potential tourists and destinations. Moreover, destination branding gives a potential tourist an assurance what can be expected, lessens the burden of their search process, and allows destinations to communicate their unique selling proposition 3. Branding contributes also to building local pride and identity 5;6. Together these positive impacts of branding enhance the attractiveness and vitality of a destination.

Picture: Unsplash

Influencer marketing can be of help for destinations in brand management especially in times of refining the brand: influencers can attract more of certain types of tourists and influence the perceptions of the destination image 8. For example in Benidorm, influencer was used to rebrand an older Spanish beach destination appealing to younger people interested in responsible tourism, whereas in Greece influencers were used to revitalize rural quiet destinations by attracting millennials 7;8. Moreover, the findings in Spain demonstrated influencer marketing to help recapture DMO’s control of its brand and promotions, while benefiting the eWOM on social platforms 8. Following chapter moves to instruct how destinations can successfully use influencer marketing for brand building.

4 tips for successful use of influencers in destination branding

1.Congruence between brands

Perhaps the most important factor for influencer marketing is choosing the right influencer. Many studies support that both the brand and the influencer brand must fit each other for positive outcomes 1;2;9;13. The fit affects the perceived expertise and trustworthiness of the influencer, where stronger fit has better results for follower’s brand attitudes and behavioural intentions 3. In addition, the similarity between the influencer and their followers should be congruent 4. Therefore, the research process for finding the best fitting influencers should not be neglected.

The importance of the fit was also supported when researching influencer marketing impacts on Chinese generation Y’s choice of destination 9. In addition to the fit between influencer and brand, it was found that the fit between the influencer and followers’ ideal self-image had a significant positive impact for follower intention to visit a destination endorsed 9. Interestingly, however, the fit between follower’s actual self-image with the influencer did not affect the intention to visit the destination 9. Thus, marketers should not only look into the influencers follower’s actual self-image but also focus on the signals of the ideal self-image of those followers. This is definitely a potential challenge for marketers when planning on influencer marketing campaigns.

Picture: Unsplash

2. Control over content

When doing influencer marketing, both the DMO and the influencer should have control over certain things for successful collaboration. First, DMO should leave room for freedom for the influencers to express them in their own way 2. If certain freedom for content creation is not given, the followers’ attitude can turn negative towards both the influencer and the brand 2. To avoid these negative effects, the content should also avoid too commercial tone and give the followers honest, useful comments of the destination 2. However, the DMO should also have a certain level of control and establish guidelines for influencers to avoid negative effects 2;8.

Research of influencer marketing in Spanish tourism destination of Benidorm, tourism marketers suggest that DMO’s should control the influencer marketing process as much as they can 8. Here, it is recommended that DMO and influencer have a clear control where they are the best at: the DMO provides tools (e.g. accommodation, activities) and messages (e.g. values, image), whereas influencers convey this information through content creation in their own style. This way, collaboration has potential for positive results to both destination and influencer.

3. Data and planning

Picture: Unsplash

As in all marketing decisions, planning on influencer marketing should benefit data for success. When choosing an influencer, DMO’s should pay attention to statistics of the influencer’s trustworthiness, attractiveness and the informative value of the content generated 4. Together with the earlier mentioned fit between brands, these factors are studied to positively affect influencer marketing results 4. Moreover, the influencer marketing campaign should be measured throughout for evaluation and further development 8. DMO’s in Spain suggest influencer marketing to be included in destination strategy and long-term planning 8. Today, long term consistent branding can be a difficulty for destinations as the pandemic disrupts the situation and actions to reach new target markets have to be taken apace.

4. Alternative for traditional marketing

Most destinations find best to compete for niches with branding strategies focusing on certain customer segments 6. For these destinations, influencer marketing facilitates their small marketing budgets to reach those specific target audiences 6;8. Moreover, influencer marketing is relatively affordable, especially when using micro and niche influencers, hence accessible also for destinations with limited budgets 7. Spanish tourism marketing professionals have found micro-influencers to be very effective in marketing 8. In rural destinations of limited resources, where traditional marketing means are found ineffective, influencer marketing is a promising marketing alternative 7. As an example from Greece, influencer marketing was found useful in reaching millennials to visit Greek rural tourism destinations 7. To conclude, influencer marketing can be useful especially for those DMO’s of smaller destinations targeting younger generations with specific interests.

Concluding words

In summary, influencer marketing can be a valuable tool in today’s destination brand strategy. It can help the destination brand to reach those tourists who share their brand values and to whom they appeal as a desired choice. Especially in times of brand refinement, influencer marketing can effectively create awareness of desired destination image for relevant tourists via good influencer fit. It is seen particularly useful for smaller destinations struggling to convey their brand with traditional marketing means.  However, it could also help bigger destinations tired of too large visitor numbers rebranding themselves to attract customers of ‘quality over quantity’. To put simply, influencer marketing can attract new and better tourists for a destination. At its best, influencer marketing introduces benefits for all stakeholders involved from destinations to tourists, thus being a powerful way of value co-creation.

Acknowledgements

This blog post was written as a part of the Information Technology in Tourism Business course at the International Master’s Degree Programme in Tourism Marketing and Management (University of Eastern Finland Business School). Read more about the programme at https://www.uef.fi/tmm

References

1Jin, S., Muqaddam, A., & Ryu, E. (2019). Instafamous and social media influencer marketing. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 37(5), 567–579. doi: https://doi.org/10.1108/mip-09-2018-0375

2Martínez-López, F. J., Anaya-Sánchez, R., Giordano, M. F., & Lopez-Lopez, D. (2020). Behind influencer marketing: key marketing decisions and their effects on followers’ responses. Journal of Marketing Management, 36(7-8), 579-607. doi: 10.1080/0267257X.2020.1738525

3Blain, C., Levy, S., Ritchie, J., & J. R. Brent. (2016). Destination Branding: Insights and Practices from Destination Management Organizations. Journal of travel research, 43(4), 328-338.

4Chen, L., & Shupei, Y. (2019). Influencer Marketing: How Message Value and Credibility Affect Consumer Trust of Branded Content on Social Media. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 19(1), 58-73. doi: 10.1080/15252019.2018.1533501

5Campelo, A., Aitken, R., Thyne, M., & Gnoth, J. (2014). Sense of Place: The Importance for Destination Branding. Journal of Travel Research, 53(2), 154-166. doi:10.1177/0047287513496474

6Morgan, N. J., Pritchard, A., & Piggott, R. (2003). Destination branding and the role of the stakeholders: The case of New Zealand. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 9(3), 285–299. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/135676670300900307

7Chatzigeorgiou, C. (2017). Modelling the impact of social media influencers on behavioural intentions of millennials: The case of tourism in rural areas in Greece. Journal of Tourism, Heritage & Services Marketing, 3(2), 25-29.

8Femenia-Serra F., Gretzel U. (2020) Influencer Marketing for Tourism Destinations: Lessons from a Mature Destination. In: Neidhardt J., Wörndl W. (eds) Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2020. Springer, Cham. doi: http://doi-org-443.webvpn.fjmu.edu.cn/10.1007/978-3-030-36737-4_6

9Xu, X., & Pratt, S. (2018). Social media influencers as endorsers to promote travel destinations: an application of self-congruence theory to the Chinese Generation Y. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 35(7), 958-972. doi: 10.1080/10548408.2018.1468851

10De Veirman, M., Cauberghe, V., & Hudders, L. (2016). Marketing through Instagram influencers: impact of number of followers and product divergence on brand attitude. International Journal of Advertising, 36(5), 798-828.

11Kowalczyk, C.M., & Pounders, K. (2016). Transforming celebrities through social media: the role of authenticity and emotional attachment. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 25(4), 345-356.

12Echtner, C. M., & Brent, R. (1991). The Meaning and Measurement of Destination Image. Journal of Tourism Studies, 2(2), 8.

13Breves, P., Liebers, N., Abt, M., & Kunze, A. (2019). The Perceived Fit between Instagram Influencers and the Endorsed Brand: How Influencer–Brand Fit Affects Source Credibility and Persuasive Effectiveness. Journal of Advertising Research, 59(4), 440–454. doi: https://doi.org/10.2501/JAR-2019-030

 

Digital Tourism Think Tank 2019 – Day 1

#DTTT 2019 What did I learn?

 

I had a great possibility to participate in Digital Tourism Think Tank Global 2019 on 4rd and 5th of December, which this year took place in Espoo. DTTT Global is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting conferences as it gathers a bunch of tourism DMO’s and other professionals to hear the latest innovations and good practices made around the globe. As it was my first time in participating anything this big of an event, it was a great chance for me to test what I have learned during my year in UEF Master’s Degree studies and put that knowledge in practice.

The overall impression from the two days was, well, impressive! Both days were all about technology and digitalization, but the theme was viewed from different angles; the first day was all about how technology can be used in sustainable destination design and the second-day topic was all about AI and digitalization. We saw great examples from around the globe on how to do things a bit different view. The repetition, which still rings in my ears, was: DMO’s role is shifting, DMO’s role is changing. I will try to cover a few examples of how this topic emerged during those two days. You can see the whole program and key take-aways here

DMO’s shifting role – What’s this about?

Traditionally DMO, a Destination marketing organization, focuses on MARKETING. Building a brand, getting the stakeholders together, promoting the place and focusing on tourism flows. However, in most presentations, you could hear how DMO role was merged as DMMO (destination marketing management organization) or DxO where x stands for anything that the future holds for us and tourism organizations must be ready to modify their actions on how the digitalization and travel behavior change. As written in the article at Atta.travel

“A DxO is better-equipped to manage disruptive business methodologies, to pivot when it comes to times of change and to be agile in the face of challenges. For example, A DMO in a time of water shortages cannot simply sit back and continue to market a destination as if oblivious to the challenge faced by locals and, ultimately, visitors. A DXO tackles the challenge head-on, collaborating with relevant bodies in the private and public sector to drive tangible change, having a positive impact on the very environment in which tourism takes place.”

As the growth of tourism flows has not only had a positive effect, UNWTO, (United Nation’s World Tourism Organization) has instructed DMO’s not only to focus on marketing and sales but also to the elements of government and coordination towards collaboration. Therefore, DMO – or should I say – DxO’s role is constantly shifting towards more holistic governance of the area and tourism flows.

So, how this is seen in practice?

Case: East Iceland

I was impressed by the work done in East Iceland (Austurland) and in the Faroe Islands on how they have managed to do collaborative work together with the locals, aiming at the commitment and destination loyalty and most importantly – that the locals are proud of their destination. East Iceland current destination strategy and branding building process started in 2012 when they got familiar with Swedish Destination Designer Daniel Byström. Two years later East Iceland DMO together with Byström started to blueprint the touchpoints and putting the stakeholders in the center of the whole design process.

They did a lot of workshops and interviews with local residents and formed a brand tagline “Think outside of the circle” referring e.g. to the circle (1-road) going around Iceland and from which you have to deviate from to get in most of these cities in East Iceland. (I accidentally visited Seydisfjördur and Egilsstadir in 2017, as we were circling the ring road and thought on do a day-trip to this city, and especially first mentioned it is worth stopping by!). They build a strong brand around local people, around emotions and storytelling. The brand was build and communicated openly with stakeholders and local people. The brand mission is as follows:

Our mission

“We are communicating experiences and emotions with a personal the approach that inspires and surprises the audience, while working with every visitor, resident, and company as a part of the Austurland story”

I think they have done a splendid job in brand building and designing collaboratively with visitors and locals. They’ve managed to build up the communal spirit and “proudness” towards their homeplace. One great example from creating value together was one walking road to church, which became a “landmark” of Saydisfjördur after a bit of a fine-tuning. The story behind it was that there wasn’t enough money to repair the old brick road. Therefore, instead of repairing the road, they painted the road with rainbow colors together with residents and local artists.

(Source: María Hjálmarsdóttir & Daniel Byström’s presentation in DTTT 4.12.)

I think this is a great example of DMO’s shifting role: instead of just marketing, DMO’s role is also bringing local people together, coordinate and encouraging and committing them to build up a destination in where they are proud to live alongside tourists.

Case: Faroe Island

Another marvelous example from that what DMO could do with literally 0-budget – do it as they do in Faroe Island – Do it viral. It was ridiculous to see how many viral hits the Faroe Islands got just being creative. Google Sheep View and Faroe Islands Translate have got. However, it is not all. Collaboratively with locals, they built up a strategy and a brand “Preservolution” – aiming not to have over-tourism, but sustainable tourism.

Unique and authentic experiences are in the focus, instead of mass-events. As for one another example, they did a one-day event where the stage was in private homes. Over 20 concerts in local’s home sound like an experience you can’t get from anywhere else!

However, after successful viral hits and events, it became clear that not everyone wanted Faroe Island as a playground for tourists. Tourists were not always welcome and landowners mind their land to getting ruined by a tourist. Added to that, complicated legislation was ambiguous in topics liability and who takes care of the land if tourists “ruin” it. It created opposition within landowners creating their way of doing things and creating e.g. cash per visit -systems

(Source: Levi Hanssen’s & Jóhan Pauli Helgason’s presentation on DTTT 4.12.)

For that, they built up an idea: Closed for Maintenance – open for voluntourism. The whole country is closed from “ordinary” tourists but open for volunteers who construct and help locals to preserve nature. Collaboratively with locals landowners, local people and tourists they build more sustainable destination and have less annoyance from residents towards tourism. All these actions created by a DMMO of Faroe Island created proudness towards the home country, and willingness to move back and do things for it. More importantly, it connected people to do things together with tourists and destination stakeholders. Another great example of DMO’s shifting role.

Wrap up #DTTT Day 1

This was just a scratch from Day 1 of DTTT. After the first day, my head was filled with ideas and I got the same inspirational feel what I got after their presentations and immediately I started to compose ideas: Could we do something similar in Finland and around Saimaa Region? Maybe we can start a project around these issues to develop a strong place brand around Lake Saimaa and ECoC –process, to build a stronger feel towards the place – for example. Do open workshops and interviews and build a strong destination brand and strategy around Lakeland and Saimaa region. Well, even these cases could not be modeled in these contexts; the key thing for me was realizing how wide scope DMO has to control. I do not envy you guys, who are doing this as your daily job!

For me, these two above-mentioned presentations were the ones, which stood up from the ground from the first day, as there were many touchpoints where I could relate. Not to say that other presentations were bad – the opposite! For example, Lyon have done a great job as a sister “smart city” to Helsinki on the year 2019 in connecting technology to culture by creating a “visitor database” which is shared by the entire destination stakeholders to maintain loyalty and understanding visitors better and communicating with them, referring visitors nearby activities during city visit. That’s how you use technology to create collaboration with destination stakeholders!

(Source: Camille Lenoble & Blandine Thenet presentation in DTTT 4.12.)

Finally: Finland as a sustainable and smart destination – how are we doing?

I cannot end the post without mention our dear beloved Finland. I was proud to see how good work we’ve done in Finland. Comparing to strategies, sustainable travel goals and such things that were seen during the few days. The place, Dipoli in Espoo was a great spot for this kind of event. Espoo in many ways surprised me with all the tech innovations that the “happiest city in the happiest country” had come up to. Automatic transportation pilot Gacha, Uber-style boat on-demand –service Bout, Airbnb-style rent your boat – SkipperiAutomated helicopters which deliver food just to mention a few examples to which I immediately could see business models in Saimaa region as well.

We are ahead in building a sustainable tourism destination, where e.g. MyHelsinki has focused on by encouraging stakeholders to act more sustainable. However, to be frank, in Finland collaborative work still needs some work to do – but we are slowly getting there and seeing the benefits of what we could achieve by creating and innovating our tourism flows sustainably and responsibly. This is also a recognized problem by Visit Finland and noticed in for example in a report where they dive deep to examine the operating models of Finnish tourism agencies (in Finnish).

When we identify and speak out from our problems, it is much easier to solve and develop them together.

Read more about the event on my Day two recap.

The Most Common Problem in Destination Marketing in the World

World’s Most Common Problem in Destination Marketing

What is the difference between successful and non-successful destinations from the destination marketing perspective? In this post, I want to understand the details behind successful destination marketing. What is the one key thing to gain competitive advantage in destination marketing?

When we start to think about the exact reasons for the success, I suppose that most of the people will answer that: “It is all about the strategy”, or “The budget walks hand-in-hand with the success”. Third largely heard opinion is: “There are right people behind it”.

These are all right answers while looking at them from the micro perspective. Anyway, by turning the whole point of view into a larger scale, we can find one rallying point for all of them. That is the collaboration. Collaboration ties all of them together and separates the destinations into a successful and non-successful.

d’Angella & Go (2007) and Fyall, Garrod & Wang (2012) have created an excellent researches about the connection between collaboration and marketing. Main results were that, in tourism destinations collectivism is needed for individual success. In such a win–win situation cooperation brings higher competitiveness for the actors involved. The collaboration allows destinations to expand their reach and tap into wider market opportunities. Collaboration is also natural response to the marketing and management challenges of destinations.

We can pointedly say that to succeed with marketing objectives, it is necessity to re-orientate with organisational level toward the achievement of ‘‘collaborative advantage’’ rather than ‘‘competitive advantage’’. The future norm for successful destination marketing and management will be more collaboration and less isolationism. Good example about the destination marketing with “collaborative advantage” is Iceland.

How DMO can strengthen up the level of collaboration?

There are usually many different aspects affecting for the willingness to do collaboration. In many cases, behind the non-collaborative destination you will find following similarities: trust, fear of change and preposterous expectations toward DMO. These all fits in under the following statement: lack of knowledge. There are tons of small micro companies (SME’s) in tourism industry, which does not have the knowledge about nowadays needs. Many of them do not even know the basics about the current issues in marketing scene.

We have almost reached the 2020’s and the marketing is focusing more and more on different digital channels. To be successful, one must be able to develop itself to answer for nowadays needs. Unfortunately, the fact is that SME’s knowledge toward digital marketing is still limited. These small entrepreneurs are still playing by the rules settled in the 90’s. Posters, brochures, newspapers and letters via postal mail. There are too many whose only digital channel is Facebook without any idea how to use it effectively.

To be successful in destination marketing your every component needs to be at a certain level. In situation where the SME’s do not even know how to be visible in online you don’t meet with this goal. As a DMO, encourage the entrepreneurs to improve their skills in digital marketing. That is the modernity, and it is the necessity. SME’s don’t need to be professionals but if they even know how to be visible in online, how to create content, how to use SEO and how to use social media effectively, you are already one step ahead.

How to learn digital marketing together as a destination?

Content creating is now easier than ever. You do not need to be an engineer to create content anymore. Everyone has a possibility for that in the internet. Social media (SM) and content management system’s (CMS) such as WordPress have unlimited options to share content effectively and more importantly, easily.

Educating people inside the destination is not even time-consuming process for DMO anymore. Most of the programs are available in digital format.  Even better, there are great variety of free courses where to participate in. Encourage the SME’s to attend for these free courses and learn how to use these different online tools. Check out these top free online courses to upgrade your destinations digital marketing skills in to next level:

1. Google Digital Garage: https://learndigital.withgoogle.com/digitalgarage/

One of the most versatile courses is offered by Google. These completely free online courses will guide the participator through everything from search engines, to social media and beyond. There is totally 26 different topics and 106 lessons. You will learn to use SEO, create content, to be visible in online, launch different kind of marketing campaigns and use analytic tools more effectively. This is probably the best place to start learning the basics of digital marketing and E-Business.

2. Alison Diploma in E-Business: https://alison.com/course/Diploma-in-E-Business

Alison is a massive online learning community of more than six million registered users. They offer both, free and paid courses. Now you can take the free digital marketing course, Diploma in E-Business. Taking part for the course you develop your skills in search optimization, Google Analytics and AdWords, campaign tracking and integration, revenue metrics analysis, digital measurement, and much more. Extremely useful and recommend course to upgrade your current knowledge.

3. HubSpot Academy: https://www.udemy.com/inbound-marketing-course/

HubSpot Academy offers an incredibly comprehensive digital marketing courses. They are also offering free and paid courses. Recommend free course is: Inbound Marketing Course. This course has currently more than 35K participators. This inbound marketing course offers over 4.5 hours of instruction with totally 38 lectures, and all of them are completely free. You will learn how SEO, blogging, landing pages, lead nurturing, conversion analysis and reporting come together to form a modern inbound marketing strategy.

Benefits of collaboration

At the beginning, it is enough if you can encourage even couple of companies to take a part for these courses. As a DMO, think about the benefits of educating the people inside your destination.

1. You will get available working hours and other resources for your destination marketing. That does not involve even money transfers. The more people we have creating content about the destination, the easier all of this provides advantage through synergy. Little by little the visibility and awareness of whole destination will start to increase.

2. Togetherness creates strength. It is always better to have more people doing right things at the same time. Professionals are important, but one or two gurus cannot do everything by themselves.

3. You can start to build a common marketing strategy in more detailed level. Exploit the different digital channels as together and create a controlled content network between the individuals inside the destinations.

Once you have reached that, you are ready to take a step for the next level: collaboration between destinations and organisations.

Get a master’s degree in tourism business

Are you looking for an international tourism-focused master’s degree programme in business? Tourism Marketing and Management programme by University of Eastern Finland provides a unique learning experience for students who have finished their bachelor’s degree and are looking for new skills and knowledge in developing tourism industry in a sustainable way. Read more about the programme at www.uef.fi/tmm.