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Visit Dallas tapped into basic motivators like civic pride and creative expression to drive serious increases in social media reach, providing an attractive benefit/cost ratio for the cash-strapped bureau.
When Noelle LeVeaux took over as chief marketing officer for Visit Dallas in early 2013, the city had some lingering image problems nationwide.
Even though there had been major infrastructure and attraction upgrades—like the new Dallas Arts District, Perot Museum, Bush Library and ongoing park expansions—the city’s reputation was still tied to the “Everything’s Bigger in Texas” narrative. Locals and visitors had long grown weary of that phrase ever since the Ewings went off the air.
To shift its message, Visit Dallas launched a $4.2 million “Big Things Happen in Dallas” campaign last year designed to engage the public and convert them into brand advocates.
The heart of the promotion revolved around placing sets of large blue “B” and “G” letters at over 100 spots around the city. The space between the letters compelled passerbys to stand in the empty area to complete the word “BIG,” and then people took photos and shared them with the provided #DallasBIG hashtag.
LeVeaux spoke recently at the EyeforTravel Online Marketing conference in Miami where she explained why she thought the promotion was so successful.
“The concept is we took the word ‘big,’ which oftentimes has a negative connotation in Dallas—big hair, big belt buckles, we get that all the time—but the truth is it’s about moments, it’s about big moments.” said LeVeaux. “What we’re really trying to do is tell people in Dallas that big things don’t just happen in Dallas. People in Dallas make big things happen.”
LeVeaux explained that $4 million doesn’t go very far today for one of the fastest growing cities in the country. So by activitating the local population, she felt she could exponentially expand the reach of the 64-person bureau.
One year later, Visit Dallas won a host of MarCom and HSMAI Awards due to the bump in numbers across its social media channels, resulting in 130 million media impressions. Facebook jumped $139%, Twitter followers increased by 113%, and visits to VisitDallas.com shot up 60%.
“Our results were significant,” said LeVeaux. “To be honest, we were kind of surprised…. What we found, individuals were going to let us into their lives. And without them, we really didn’t have a brand message.”
Originally, the agency people wanted LeVeaux to design the promotion around an Instagram contest. She declined, preferring instead to let people use whatever platform they wanted. Here are her four reasons why the promotion resonated so well with locals:
- It’s really, really easy. By not doing a contest and opening the campaign up to all social media, Visit Dallas ensured more people were likely to share their photos.
- It’s visual. People like to share visual things, especially something they can interact with that will catch attention on social media.
- It’s very natural. The letters were placed where people were already taking photos, so people were in the mood to participate.
- We live in the world of the selfie, and the Big Things Happen in Dallas promotion gives people a global stage.
Regarding that last point, LeVeaux said, “That’s the world we live in. It’s all about them, and we have to understand and adapt to that. If we make this about ourselves, people typically don’t respond to that.”
Meanwhile, something Visit Dallas hadn’t anticipated, corporate America came calling to leverage the success of #DallasBIG. Southwest Airlines co-opted the letters and branded them in the carrier’s livery when they launched new service out of Dallas Love Field.
LeVeaux wanted to start changing the colors and sizes of the letters to mix things up a bit over the duration of the campaign. When she looked into that however, her budget kept her imagination in check.
“It turned out it was a better decision because we needed the consistency of the message, but the decison was made because I’m broke,” she explained. “Which is why we did the public engagement campaign overall. I would never have reached the people I needed to reach to promote Dallas as a destination, but the people in my city can based on social media.”
Summing up, LeVeaux provided the audience with her biggest takeaway about using social media in destination marketing.
“It’s really a digital way to build and promote community, and it’s a way for us to feel part of something bigger than ourselves,” she said. “In most cases it’s a community that already exists. Whoever you may be as a corporation or as an organization, you have a local audience. And that local audience really is already ready to help promote the binding characteristics of your brand and what you’re trying to accomplish.”