Molly Allwein is the Digital Marketing Manager at VisitPITTSBURGH. She manages the organization's digital content including the website, blog, and social media, with the intent of showcasing Pittsburgh as an innovative and evolving destination for leisure and convention travelers alike. Molly hosts the workshop 'Changing Visitor Perceptions through User-Generated Content' at #DTTT Campus, with Amrita Gurney from CrowdRiff. We caught up with her in order to understand more of how the team at Visit Pittsburgh authentically represents their destination.
One challenge I believe all DMOs face is how to authentically represent their destination. As marketing and sales organizations, we can sometimes fall into the trap of using marketing-speak in a way that sounds sales-pitchy, or promoting the same handful of restaurants, hotels, and attractions time and again. It can be hard to take a step back, realize that you may not be representing your destination as fully and authentically as possible, and break out of the rut. So, I’ve identified three challenges that are common for DMOs and given examples of how VisitPITTSBURGH has responded to these challenges.
Challenge 1: Your Destination Doesn’t Have a “Thing”
Some cities have a “thing”. They have been able to unite all the tourism and hospitality organizations in their destination under one theme. A great example of this is Nashville, which is self-branded as “music city”. The hotels, restaurants, convention center, and attractions are all centered around music. They are living and breathing the city’s brand and are all participating in authentically representing their city. Although, having a “thing” may send a message that you don’t have other “things” to offer.
But what happens if your city doesn’t have one major overarching theme? In a lot of destinations, if you ask 10 people at your organization what your city is all about, you might get 10 different answers. In some ways, this is great – you have a plethora of things to promote, such as the culinary scene, craft beer, outdoor recreation, family fun or kid-centric attractions, sports…You name it. There is a lot to talk about, but does your destination have a unified message?
How Pittsburgh Responds to This Challenge
Our branding gives us the flexibility we need to promote many different aspects of our city. The tagline for VisitPITTSBURGH is “Mighty. Beautiful.” Often in our marketing campaigns we’ll add another word on the end to highlight our theme. For example, “Mighty. Beautiful. Historic.” when we’re promoting our history and heritage attractions, or “Mighty. Beautiful. Delicious.” when promoting our culinary scene. To this end, we developed a social media campaign targeted to locals where we asked them to submit THEIR word that best describes Pittsburgh on social media using #mightybeautiful. We also produced a video to help explain the campaign and provided branded posters where they could write their word submissions both in our welcome centers and via download on our website’s campaign landing page.
Our video was watched more than 137,000 times on Facebook alone. Raising local awareness was the main goal of this campaign, and it resulted in great positive exposure for both VisitPITTSBURGH and the city of Pittsburgh. It also got us out of our offices and engaging with the community in local events and activations throughout the year. You can’t get much more authentic representation of your city then having your locals speak for you!
Challenge 2: Outdated Perception of Your Destination
There are many cities, not just Pittsburgh, that are still fighting against an outdated view of their destination. Pittsburgh, like most rust belt cities, is no longer a smoky steel town. The ‘Burgh is a center of technology and innovation, with self-driving cars roaming our streets and several robotics and engineering hubs. We have three rivers and tons of green space for outdoor recreation. Our cultural assets are second to none – our Symphony just won two Grammys last year! So, how do cities like Pittsburgh who are facing outdated negative views of their destination convey this to potential visitors?
How Pittsburgh Responds to This Challenge
When it comes to outdated perceptions of our cities, we rely heavily on locals to represent and endorse our destination. First, we have a very active guest blogger program. These guest bloggers are local Pittsburghers who love their city and want to share their insights. Their perspective often reveals hidden gems, insider’s guides, or how to experience the city like a local, which resonate strongly with the increasingly millennial and Gen Z visitors that Pittsburgh is attracting. Secondly, we rely heavily on User Generated Content (UGC) to visually show off the beauty of our destination. These photos aren’t manipulated in Photoshop, and they’re not glossy gallery style beauty shots of the city. But, they feature people living their lives, enjoying our destination and all it has to offer. These photos are authentic representations of our city and act as recommendations from the locals or visitors who posted them.
We also involve many of our local partner organizations when a press tour or FAM tour is in town. That way, journalists and meeting planners get to hear directly from the owners and managers of our locally owned businesses and attractions. When people see for themselves the beautiful scenery and many “only in Pittsburgh” attractions the city sells itself. A photo is worth a thousand words, and we’ve used that many and more to try to describe our destination. The galleries full of UGC that we have throughout our blog, website, and marketing materials demonstrate our sparkling rivers, gorgeous skyline, and the cleanliness and walkability of our city way better than our words ever could.
Challenge 3: How to Get Your Locals to be Brand Ambassadors
DMOs are traditionally externally-facing. Our job is to bring business and leisure travelers into our city, and therefore many DMOs do not focus on their local community. When planning tourism-focused strategy and marketing campaigns for our destinations, DMOs want to be the leaders and key decision makers and expect the community to embrace our plans. However, how often do we actively seek feedback and input from our local community? How can we better use our locals to become our city’s brand ambassadors?
How VisitPITTSBURGH Responds to This Challenge
As you can tell by now, we’ve been doing a lot of work at VisitPITTSBURGH to let our locals speak for us. At VisitPITTSBURGH we’re working to focus on community building and being visible in our own backyard. We are developing closer relationships with economic development organizations, local politicians, technology and innovation organizations, nonprofits, and arts and culture organizations. If we expect to be at the table when the Pittsburgh community’s decision-making process happens, we need to extend the same courtesy and invite the community into the room when our marketing and branding plans are being made. Not only does this invite a diversity of thought, representation, and authenticity, it also means these organizations are bought into the final product and become the destination’s (and the DMO’s) advocates.
We have found that when you’re a part of the community you are top of mind. Your input is sought after more often. You have the respect of your community because you’re showing up, and you’re supporting their efforts. This is a lot of work, and it takes time to build these impactful relationships. We believe that it is one of the most important things DMOs can do to create a more unified brand for their destination as well as to create local community ambassadors that are spreading your mission for you.
Representing our destinations positively and attracting travelers is what all DMOs exist to do. Hopefully by understanding and utilizing the vast resources that are available in our local communities, we are able to bring authenticity to our sales and marketing efforts and gain community brand ambassadors as well.
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