San Diego Tourism Authority - Shifting to an ‘Always-on’ Content Strategy

The case study discusses how San Diego's marketing activities have grown & evolved significantly over the last 10 years.

Tourism constitutes the second-largest export industry in the American city of San Diego, employing 194,000 and receiving 35.8 million annual visitors who spend a whopping $11.5 billion (2018).

Tourism constitutes the second-largest export industry in the American city of San Diego, employing 194,000 and receiving 35.8 million annual visitors who spend a whopping $11.5 billion (2018).

Tourism constitutes the second-largest export industry in the American city of San Diego, employing 194,000 and receiving 35.8 million annual visitors who spend a whopping $11.5 billion (2018).

It’s clear to see that San Diego is not short of visitors, but with 50 other states to compete with and Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Hawaii as direct competitors, how can San Diego stand out, attract the right visitors, engage in multiple global markets and stay top of mind in this increasingly competitive marketplace?

We were keen to delve into the strategy behind these figures a little further, so we visited the San Diego Tourism Authority offices in Spring 2019 and met with the Director of Communications, Candice Eley, who is responsible for telling San Diego’s story around the world. Candice gave us an insight into how the DMO’s marketing activities have grown and evolved significantly over the last 10 years, and how that has successfully positioned San Diego today.

Brand Orientated

The San Diego brand prides itself on the destination’s ‘sunny outlook’, and is known for its positivity, optimism and open-mindedness. Over the years, San Diego Tourism has solidified its unique values by crafting a strong brand aesthetic and a series of engaging campaigns to represent this ethos and the elements that make San Diego an attractive destination to visit.

San Diego branding journey embraces the idea that when it comes to Destination Marketing, branding is not just about logos. It is a holistic, 360-degree approach that considers crafting, developing and nurturing an identity for the destination. The destination brand has to be defined strategically as well as authentically aligned to the destination values and proposition. A solid brand foundation then shapes all the marketing activities created to promote the destination, with the brand always central to the messaging and positioning.

Past campaigns such as ‘One Bright Idea’, ‘San Diego’s Guide to the Good Stuff’ and ‘Bliss Break’, clearly demonstrate the strong overarching brand message through brand-focused storytelling, thoughtfully crafted on the basis of the destination's core values.

One of the campaigns launched in January 2019, ‘Something to Smile About’, expands on those previous campaigns to continue to effectively communicate San Diego’s distinct sunny outlook and positive vibe that attracts so many visitors. In addition to communicating the different activities on offer in San Diego, these video campaigns consistently convey the core brand message and an additional depth of experiential storytelling.

The key here is that San Diego is able to successfully communicate the same brand message to different global markets by adapting the messaging to the different market needs, demographics and motivating factors. As a result, content is carefully adapted and targeted to each market, tapping into what that particular market wants to see and the channels on which they choose to see it. For example, the Mexican market is typically family-driven and likes to see themselves represented within the content. This, therefore, shapes San Diego's content and messaging for this specific market so as to resonate directly with their values and interests. Visit San Diego is able to adapt their brand to digital and social media, using user-generated content and tons of video footage transforming them into fun and playful pieces of content on the brand’s platforms. This emphasis on brand-first plus market-specific insights allows San Diego to craft highly targeted content with strong messaging throughout the year.

Always-on Content

The challenge of the always-on consumer and increasing social media consumption means that brands need to actively keep up with this need to stay competitive in the marketplace, which ultimately means constantly creating content. However, it is not a simple case of creating new content, it is ensuring the content is relevant to the specific audience and distributed on the right channels at the right time whilst also demonstrating a diversity of interests and experiences.

San Diego Tourism shifted to an ‘always-on’ content strategy in order to keep up with the increasing demand for information. Research has discovered that visitors need very specific information at different points in the customer journey, for example searching for ‘the best taco shop in San Diego’. As such, the strategy ensures that the campaign programme is responding to consumer interests and it is aligned to the customer journey, 365 days a year, shifting consumption from peak season interests to year-round.

Visit San Diego’s content is successfully created via 4 clear steps:

  1. Brand: the brand should always be the foundation on which to develop content and campaigns. Stay true to the brand and on what differentiates you from the competition.
  2. Proof Points: the content must be not only aligned with the brand but should be also crafted around specific audience needs, providing them with specific reasons to visit the destination.
  3. Best Practice: in order to be always-on, every campaign should be developed taking into consideration best practices for content consumption.
  4. Existing Assets: to optimise resources and create efficiency, it is important to leverage existing assets within the destination that can be used to develop content and campaigns.

This strategy demonstrates that the brand is always at the forefront of every campaign and piece of content that is created and it is constantly optimised to stay relevant to the marketplace.

An always-on content strategy is made possible through a community of both in-house and external content creators, which include:

  • In-House Content - A team of 6 managing content; paid, earned and owned media, in addition to a PR team and Media team.
  • Agency Partners (in-market) - Which also include social media agency and brand agencies. San Diego actively markets in 8 countries: UK, USA, Canada, Mexico, Germany, China, Australia and Japan.
  • Membership - There are currently around 1,000 organisations showcasing and publishing their own content on the DMO website. Members effectively act as content publishers and as an important extension to the DMO’s content team. The SDTA membership gives businesses exposure to key markets reaching leisure and business travellers and travel trade contacts that can help grow their business, creating a successful content ecosystem within the destination.
  • Third Parties - San Diego works with a variety of relevant and brand-aligned third-party publishers such as Tripadvisor, creators such as Buzzfeed and Tastemade and macro and micro-influencers. This provides an engaging first-person perspective on the destination and on the experiences available, while third-party validation successfully enhances the brand message.  

This strategy is successful for a variety of reasons:

Firstly, San Diego prioritises teamwork and communication so that partners can successfully collaborate instead of operating in silos which is much more beneficial for the destination and stakeholders alike.

Secondly,  the DMO works closely with market partners to ensure all parties understand the brand inside and out. Each member is provided with training and a San Diego brand toolkit which includes everything from brand language to typography and brand assets. As mentioned previously, San Diego Tourism’s content strategy is always 'brand-first' so it is extremely important that partners understand the brand to communicate this message across the board.  

Finally, this multitude of perspectives, channels and platforms results in a strong and effective ecosystem of content creators and distributors. This effectively communicates the San Diego brand through a mix of storytelling across multiple places and touchpoints. This strategy achieves a strong reach in terms of positioning and messaging within the marketplace.

We can see that San Diego Tourism has effectively created a community of content creators, where all partners really understand the core of the brand and where collaboration is key. As such, the DMO has developed a strong content ecosystem across all markets, maintaining brand consistency throughout to achieve a clear positioning in the global market.

The Results

Kerri Kapich, COO at San Diego Tourism Authority joined us at #DTTTGlobal in November 2018 to share insights on how the DMO began its shift to always-on and shared the results achieved. The slide below illustrates the impressive results obtained by the campaigns.

Key Takeaways

1. Be Agile

In today’s fluid marketplace, it is important to be agile and ready to respond quickly to new trends and changes in the consumer behaviour to stay competitive and relevant. This has to be refelected by the content of your campaings, which has to address the updated needs of your target segments.

2. Trial and Error

One of the best ways to identify what works and what doesn’t work is through trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try new things and think outside the box. It is also important to consistently review campaigns and conversions to see what is working and where so as to tweak your future campaigns to achieve the most effective reach and results.

3. Adopt a 'Brand-First' approach

Identify your core brand values and then align everything else to this: these values should not change. Your destination brand is the foundation of your messaging and positioning, and strong brand values mean your campaigns will always remain consistent even if they are varied.

4. Constantly optimise

Always-on content involves constant reviewing, adaptation, refining and optimisation. If your content is doing well, review it, as maybe... it could do even better! Try not to become complacent. Also, changes in the market may mean changes to your content: even if it’s something small, it is always worth doing.

5. Personalise your message

San Diego is actively marketing in 8 key countries, and the content is adapted and personalised to meet each market need. For example, San Diego Tourism has developed its presence on platforms such as WeChat and Weibo to directly engage with the Chinese market. This is important if you want to capture each specific market’s attention. But don't forget to keep your brand in mind whislt doing so.

Published on:
November 2020
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