Destination Websites to Reflect the Needs of Audiences: Perspective from California

Visit California has spent fifteen years doing the same thing - maintaining the brand, being stewards of the brand.

Visit California has spent fifteen years doing the same thing - maintaining the brand, being stewards of the brand. For many, understanding the importance of this work can be difficult but it is absolutely not a given and necessary. Visit California, sits right at the top of the funnel, the inspiration stage, creating an incredibly inspirational message.

Visit California has spent fifteen years doing the same thing - maintaining the brand, being stewards of the brand. For many, understanding the importance of this work can be difficult but it is absolutely not a given and necessary. Visit California, sits right at the top of the funnel, the inspiration stage, creating an incredibly inspirational message.

So how does this all come together when trying to address consumer sentiment, desires and ultimately driving demand? The Visit California website has been quite a journey, looking back to 2006 when California was on a .gov domain and part of the government ecosystem; they quickly shifted away as it was clear consumers needed to know they were seeing independent and unbiased information. Bringing us up to today, it has been six years since the last website launch and looking at today it is all about mobile-first. This is the most important step, along with speed where they set very aggressive benchmarks to get speed under 3 seconds. Beyond this, jaw-dropping inspirational imagery needed to be the driving force, driven by consumer research approach focusing squarely on the consumer. This is a major difference where others in the industry focus a lot on cooperative marketing campaigns which forget the consumer; nevertheless, the site must be driven around the consumer.

So how did Visit California undertake the redesign process? Through detailed and rigorous user-empathy, testing and input. Without a doubt, a lot of issues around the overall user experience, technical bugs and content priorities were expected, but some of the less obvious ones were the need for location-based personalisation as well as the increased prominence of maps. With this, Visit California needed to know what users coming from different markets were seeking, needing and looking for.

Road Trips has been one of the big hero pieces with the new site. The catalyst to this stems back to IPW, an event in June 2019, which needed a feature to be brought forward, even ahead of the site rebuild. This is where Road Trips became a pilot on the UI they wanted to explore for the new site, giving a good three to four months to learn from the pilot some of the design features and understand what works and what to focus on. This eventually became 'The Road Trip Republic' and this has now become part of the static navigation on the launch of the website.

Increased in-state audience. Wildfires followed the pandemic: this meant that the website became more important than ever to provide a reliable source of information for travellers, as well as partnership information together with neighbouring states, especially important as restrictions come into place. Another big feature of the new site is the responsible travel hub.

Pivoting to Marketing Recovery Campaigns, Lynn turns to look at what we have learned through this challenging period. What became clear, is that it is never normal. The team knew that they needed to run a public service announcement, yet at the same time keep inspiration at an all-time high, which meant a change of messaging. Working with local advertising outlets, they managed to receive around $7m in match funding. In the US, with a polarised view on the pandemic, they decided to just deliver this message about staying safe in a simple yet fun way.

'Staying safe means staying open' is a key messaging campaign which ran to provide confidence. These videos were the result of a pivot in recognising the messaging that was needed, based on consumer research.

In terms of the homepage strategy, Visit California put things into different content buckets to create a content ecosystem:

  1. Expected content
  2. Promoted content
  3. Searched for content

Layered content message:

  1. What you think you know
  2. What you need to know
  3. Keep dreaming and planning

UGC is also a key priority in their new strategy, where Crowdriff is powering around 40 million assets, with around 30,000 a day to work from. It was a pleasant surprise to see just the volume of tagged content out there. Today 90% of the content is coming from crowdsourced imagery. This represents a major shift from previous years and was unimaginable a few years ago. What is also warming is to see just how many users, often professional content creators and photographers are happy to see their content used with credits given.

So 'Partner Story Network' is where we go with all of this. It's a crucial opportunity to build a true partner network to source, seed and collaborate with partners on content. Looking ahead six months the next opportunity is to create brand stories which can also appear on Google, something emerging out of the story galleries you now see on the new Visit California site.

Key Takeaways

1. You cannot avoid the mobile-first adaptation any longer.

2. Jaw-dropping inspirational imagery is the driving force, driven by consumer research approach focusing on the consumer. The site must be driven around the consumer.

3. Location-based personalisation as well as the increased prominence of maps are crucial right now.

4. The website is more important than ever to provide a reliable source of information for travellers in this crisis.

Published on:
December 2020
About the contributor

Lynn Carpenter

Lynn Carpenter is Vice President of Marketing for Visit California. Lynn oversees all of Visit California’s global marketing, award-winning brand advertising and website design. Lynn steers a marketing budget that has grown from $6 million to up to $131 million.