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Destination Storytelling 2020:

A Guide to Telling Great Stories

Great stories move us. They have the power to tap into our emotions and inspire a sense of wanderlust. Stories have the potential to take us from the glow of our various screens to places across the world. But what makes a story great? And how can Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) tell stories that move people? We wanted to find out.

SkiftX and Brand USA surveyed over 400 storytellers and creators, and interviewed numerous industry leaders to discover how destinations are using storytelling to inspire travel. We asked them about strategy, campaign goals, content distribution, and what’s top of mind for 2020. Here’s what we learned.

The Heart of Destination Storytelling

Skift X Brand USA

Travel brands are finding success by creating content that emotionally resonates with travelers. Good storytelling-based marketing campaigns evoke a feeling, which leads to increased interest, brand loyalty and ultimately, a transaction.

68%
of storytellers say the most important consideration when creating content is:
to create stories that are emotionally resonant.
Get inspired by locals
65%
agree that telling personal, local stories is a better content strategy than focusing on highlighting beautiful imagery and locations within a destination.
There has to be something that is absolutely special and magical about [the trip]. Using the voices of the people, who can tell you the hotspots, the cool spots, the iconic spots, is a great way to tell the story.

Tracy Lanza, Vice President, Integrated Marketing

Brand USA

But where do you start?

We asked our survey respondents which factors are top of mind when looking for inspiration.

Q:
Which considerations are most important when coming up with destination storytelling ideas?

Group 7 Created with Sketch. Utilizing unique selling points of the destination as jumping off point for stories Talking with local businesses, entrepreneurs, and creatives Evaluating the latest trends in tourism Consumer research 75% 47% 45% 42% 12% Looking at what similar destinations are producing

There's a Method to the Madness

What’s top of mind for creators when they sit down to come up with their destination’s next story? We asked industry leaders to give us the secret to their strategy.

Q:
What three words would you use to characterize your storytelling strategy?
See our favorite campaigns.

A More Intimate Side of Vegas

Campaign: Now and Then
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA)

Visit Las Vegas’ One and Only campaign aimed to show a gentler, more intimate side of the world capital of gambling and entertainment.

There are things here that can happen to you that aren't the party, that aren't the staying up late, that aren't the naughty things.

Arnie DiGeorge, Executive Creative Director

R&R Partners (LVCVA’s agency of record)

In order to bring the story to life, DiGeorge wanted a more delicate aesthetic for the videos than typical Vegas commercial spots, bringing on director Sasha Levinson to create a warm, intimate look.

“She didn't film the town in the usual way. She made it feel beautiful, kind of soft, and it went with the whole mood of what was going on. It just all came together really, really nicely. It turned out to be a beautiful piece.”

The videos have struck a nerve with audiences, earning a top spot on YouTube’s 2018’s top videos. But still, the best feedback is from real people.

“My favorite ones were people saying ‘I can't believe I just watched a Vegas commercial that made me cry,’” DiGeorge said. “They were in disbelief of themselves that they watched a commercial and they cried with joy. People would say things like ‘I can't wait to go to Las Vegas’ because of that. You don't get that very often with any kind of work that you put out there. When you really touch emotions like that, it shows you what real art can do at times.”

TAKEAWAY:
Don't get caught up in viewing your destination's brand the way it's always been seen. Create stories that dimensionalize the experience in different, nuanced ways.

An Unreal Way to Illustrate Real Feelings

Campaign: Only Slightly Exaggerated
Travel Oregon

Most destination content marketing focuses on looking and feeling “authentic,” Travel Oregon chose a very different path while producing Only Slightly Exaggerated, an animated video spot that feels more like a dream than reality, taking viewers on a fantastical cartoon journey throughout Oregon. It’s silly, abstract, and dreamlike, featuring flying whales and a mountain biking caterpillar. You can’t help but feel a childlike joy while watching.

While it is fantastical and very fairytale-like, it's still feels genuine to the experience that you have in Oregon.

Linea Gagliano, Director, Global Communications

Travel Oregon

Despite other-wordly visuals, Travel Oregon ensured that viewers would still connect with the content and relate it to the destination. “We made sure that all of the locations were spot on, so that nothing was exaggerated there. You might not have a giant bunny ride, and you might not have lunch with a Yeti, but the feeling that is evoked here [Oregon] is authentic and genuine.”

TAKEAWAY:
Reflect on how your destination makes travelers feel. Then, engage the right creative team to interpret these abstract thoughts into something otherworldly.

Am I Doing This Right?

Skift X Brand USA

Success comes in many forms, and the same is true for destination storytellers. The ultimate goal of any destination marketing effort is to drive visitation. But in terms of individual campaign success, it’s not just about one metric — it’s about the overall impact of a campaign.

74%
said driving intention to visit is the main goal for destination storytelling.
It always starts with the goal, and that’s data-driven. We love the creative, but it needs to come from a spot that we know data-wise is going to drive visitation.

Linea Gagliano, Director, Global Communications

Travel Oregon

That’s not to say the results of the campaign aren’t important. But the specific metrics marketers are looking at is dictated by the specific campaign. The ‘most important’ KPI is not one-size-fits-all.

Q:
What KPIs do you view as most valuable when determining if a content campaign has been successful?
Group 14 Created with Sketch. 31% 35% 6% 7% 7% 12% Audience engagement Increase in arrivals or intent to visit Views/Impressions Increase in awareness of destination’s offerings Transactions Personal outreach

It’s playing the long game. Success can be measured by more than whatever immediate engagement is garnered during the initial launch of a marketing campaign.

See our favorite campaigns.

The Best Stories Aren't Written Down

Campaign: A Tangled Tale
Newfoundland & Labrador

Any great travel experience results in a great story about the people and culture you connected with along the way. At least that’s how Dave Sullivan, creative group head at Target Marketing, the agency of record for Newfoundland & Labrador sees things.

“The idea of using storytelling came about through one single insight in that when people travel, they're largely in search of stories to tap,” said Sullivan about A Tangled Tale, a spot that lives within the destination’s decade-long, ever-evolving Find Yourself campaign.

“When we'd go out and see the world, most of the time the things that we remember are not the things that we buy, the knickknacks that we pick up in the shop. It's generally the people that we meet and the experiences that we have. We wanted to devote a campaign toward the stories that people may hear when they get here and could possibly leave with and tell their friends and family when they return home.”

The spot marked the launch of Tall True and Tangled, a platform where Newfoundland hosts a library of beautifully-crafted stories that chip away at the nuances of the destination’s people, culture, and history.

To find subjects to feature, the agency taps into locals to uncover rich, personal stories.

We do a lot of research and many of the stories that exist in this province aren't written down in any kind of a book.

Dave Sullivan, Creative Group Head

Target Marketing

“They exist in the minds and memories of the people that live here. A lot of the stories do. And a lot of the times it's just going out and talking to people. Going to communities, talking to people that live there, speaking with folklorists, and just doing legwork, getting out there and finding out the stories that aren't easy to find that aren't... they're not the stories you come across on a Google search.”

TAKEAWAY:
When it comes to creating authentic destination stories, desk research is not enough. Go into the community to have deep, thoughtful conversations with people to discover the “lore” and traditions of the place.

Let's (Not) Talk Politics

Campaign: Discover the Real DC
Destination DC

Discover the Real DC, a campaign highlighting the non-political side of Washington, D.C., was born out of another highly successful social media campaign called MyDCCool.

“Discover the Real DC takes us basically to the next layer, which is really just owning that this city is not what you may think. It is beyond the news that you hear every day (about the swamp or the federal government). There is a city that's real and vibrant beyond that.”

This most recent campaign — which has helped contribute to the DMOs strongest year of digital engagement — had a strategy rooted in data. Destination DC worked with an outside research partner to identify eight consumer personas and then target the right content to the right audience. “We are always looking for what's next and how to best tell our story, or better tell our story. But we really felt like we needed new research to help inform it.”

The personas range from family-travelers to foodies to the LGBTQ community.

What we're seeing is more engagement from folks who are seeing our advertising.

Robin McClain, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications

Destination DC

Destination DC doesn’t just use a data-strategy when it comes to creating storytelling campaigns. The DMO also works to make sure they stay on top of the latest marketing technology and best-practices.

“You have to get out there and get into a variety of paid media channels. We're also consistent with that digital always-on approach. That's important.”

“Maybe a year ago we were doing more banner ads. Now we're doing HTML banner ads. As technology advances and you see how that's happening every day, we're trying to learn more about how to engage in those ways and what to invest in, because you can't choose it all.”

TAKEAWAY:
Make the effort to truly understand who your visitors are — or could be — and what drives them to travel, then find ways to show them that your destination has what they’re looking for and more.

How Stories Spread

Skift X Brand USA

It’s all about the distribution. The majority of marketers agree that getting the right content to the right audience at the right time is a top consideration when creating marketing campaigns.

Social media is still leading.
Q:
Which platforms are most effective in distributing destination content and reaching the right audience?

Sec3-bar-graph Created with Sketch. Instagram Facebook YouTube Twitter Pinterest Messenger App by Facebook LinkedIn WeChat Snapchat Sina Weibo

Content-based social platforms that use both text and imagery (i.e. Instagram and Facebook) were ranked top content distribution platforms for reaching the right audience. In fact, 74% said that producing content for Instagram is more important to their marketing strategy this year than it was last year.

When it comes to creating well-performing posts on social, Tracy Lanza of Brand USA says it’s important to trust both your intuition and the data. “Everybody has a bias about what they like to look at, or what inspires them. You can’t let your own personal bias get in the way. I think you have to be willing to be proven wrong.”


Going viral is never unwelcome, but not the focus.
49%
say the use of social media and influencers to distribute content is important to the content's success, but only within a larger marketing effort.
44%
agree that going viral is VERY important when gauging the success of a destination content campaign.
See our favorite campaigns.

Playing to Your Strengths Pays Off

Campaign: SheepView
Visit Faroe Islands

Faroe Islands had a simple goal: to get themselves noticed. With a small budget and small presence on the world stage, the islands’ destination marketing team took a unique approach to getting the world’s attention. Before 2017, Faroe Islands was largely undiscovered by Google, which the destination saw as a big hindrance to its tourism. So, how do you get Google’s attention? The island might not have had a lot of recognition, but it did have over 80,000 sheep (about twice the number of people on the island). By harnessing a 360-degree camera to the back of sheep running wild around the island and letting the world watch, the Faroe Islands got way more than just Google’s attention.

We'd never envisioned that it would be this massive.

Súsanna Sørensen Leisure Marketing Manager & Press Officer

Visit Faroe Islands

The campaign called SheepView was picked up by media outlets all over various Nordic countries, Western Europe, and the USA. The content was all from the perspective of a local Faroese woman, and involved other locals in the project. SheepView reached over 3.5 billion people.

“I think that resonates with people because it's genuine. It's not just a tourist board trying to sell something, but it's actually the locals who are behind it, and I think that's why people find that interesting.”

TAKEAWAY:
Even with a limited budget, there’s no substitute for a great concept that piggybacks off of the unique resources you have available to you. Take stock in what’s available and utilize it in unexpected ways.

The Greatest Movie Never Made

Campaign: Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns
Tourism Australia

When Tourism Australia wanted to “go big” on driving visitor intent from the US, they chose the country’s biggest event to make their mark: the 2018 Super Bowl. The spot? The official trailer for the reboot of the beloved classic movie Crocodile Dundee. The only catch was, none of it was real.

For weeks leading up to the Super Bowl (the most watched television event worldwide), fans saw teasers online for Dundee, with Danny McBride playing a typically brash American role alongside the laid-back Australian Chris Hemsworth. The scheme, concocted with agencies Droga5 and Covert, sparked excitement from the Hollywood press and film fans.

“Tourism marketing tends to have a sameness to it. We knew that we needed to leverage creativity that really just comes through,” said Susan Coghill, chief marketing officer at Tourism Australia. “We looked at what’s going on in Hollywood currently, with all the remakes and strange miscastings, and it just felt really of the moment.”

To complete the ruse, they created a website for the movie along with a fake IMDB page (not easy to do). New Yorkers saw Dundee billboards go up in Times Square, and film bloggers fanned the flames by picking up the story under the pretenses of it being a real movie.

We wanted to engage movie fans, we wanted to get the public talking about, ‘Oh gosh, it's a real... is this a real movie, or not?

Susan Coghill, Chief Marketing Officer

Tourism Australia

TAKEAWAY:
Don’t be afraid of humor and surprise. In a sea of sameness, the right cast and story can differentiate your destination and brighten a viewer’s day, even after they find out the joke is on them.

What Matters For 2020?

Skift X Brand USA

DMOs are already talking 2020. Looking forward, 90 percent of survey respondents stated that their organization will spend more effort and resources on creating original content than in 2019. Top subject matter for next year include food tourism, nature and outdoor activities, sustainability, and living like a local. Creating an “emotional narrative” through stories is also top of mind.

Q:
Which of the following formats will you likely incorporate into your 2020 content efforts?

Group 4 Created with Sketch. Video Games Augmented Reality Virtual Reality Digital Content Print Content Images (Infographics, GIFs, Slideshows) Experiential (Events, Workshops) Chatbot Voice-Assisted Skills/Features Audio-Only Digital Content (podcasts, audiobooks) Interactive Itinerary Maps Mobile App Other 3% 2% 75% 26% 25% 71% 44% 70% 48% 19% 9% 15% 48% 34%
It's about getting our strategy right, having the right big ideas to tell our story.

Susan Coghill, Chief Marketing Officer

Tourism Australia

Q:
Who do you have in mind when you create content?

Group 2 Created with Sketch. 61% Millennials Families Boomers Couples Generation Z 51% 43% 41% 22%
And as for platforms — it’ll be (mostly) all about video.
76%
say they plan to focus on video in 2020, but will keep it short.
Q:
Which video formats would you like to create more of in the future?

Group Created with Sketch. Short Form 360-degree Video Animation Long Form 82% 38% 24% 19%
Destination DC
YOU DON'T WANT the big general stories. You want to set your destination apart. I think we're getting a good mix, but we'll still continue with what is at the center of this whole [Discover the Real DC] campaign currently, which are these local voices.

Robin McClain, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications

Destinations DC

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
WE'VE ALWAYS put a pretty heavy focus on video and that's not going to change. We're always looking for ways to do things differently, and we're constantly looking for ways to deliver the campaign in an unexpected manner, like geo-mobile marketing where we actually pinpoint people on their mobile devices in specific areas and send them ads.

Dave Sullivan, Creative Group Head

Target Marketing

Tourism Australia
THERE'S A LOT of other destinations that have much more money than us. We don't have enough money to be boring, so let's make sure that we're spending money on stuff that really engages and ultimately then makes all of our other communications that much more effective.

Susan Coghill, Chief Marketing Officer

Tourism Australia

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
WE'RE REALLY INTO THE VR WORLD. We're obviously looking into augmented reality. WE're looking into AI because we might be able to build things that will help people build itineraries and get them info on how they can get groups together.

Arnie DiGeorge, Executive Creative Director

R&R Partners (LVCVA’s agency of record)

Visit Faroe Islands
WE WANT TO ATTRACT people who are interested in being outdoors, people who are interested in the other Nordic countries, and maybe have been to Iceland, and people who are interested in engaging in the local community.

Súsanna Sørensen, Leisure Marketing Manager & Press Officer

Visit Faroe Islands

Travel Oregon
CERTAINLY WE KNOW the importance of video and the power to inspire people through that medium. We'll continue to look at that as we move forward — it will always be part of our plan to inspire people.

Linea Gagliano, Director Global Communications

Travel Oregon

Brand USA
I LIKE TO BUILD story-based campaigns that are like machines, they are built for the long-term, so that they are sustainable, they grow, they change, and they become more efficient and effective. This was an important part of the strategy for our current campaign, United Stories.

Tracy Lanza, Vice President, Integrated Marketing

Brand USA

This project was created collaboratively between Brand USA and SkiftX, the creative studio at Skift. Check out Brand USA's latest campaign: United Stories here.