While “Yellowstone” is widely known as the name of one of the premier national parks in the United States — and as the title of one of the most popular dramas on network television these days, too — Montana's Yellowstone Country remains one of travelers’ best-kept secrets. But hopefully, not for long.
The northernmost area of the national park, which encompasses encompasses a mixture of small cities and rural towns like Bozeman, Big Sky, Columbus, Red Lodge, Silver Gate, and West Yellowstone, is home to three of the national park’s five entrances, one of which (Gardiner) is the only one open year-round to motor vehicles. An ideal all-season travel destination, Yellowstone Country has plenty of skiing in the winter, thanks to its three ski areas (Bridger Bowl, Big Sky Resort, and Red Lodge Mountain) and in the summer, it’s a perfect base camp to engage in all manner of outdoor activities, from hiking and fishing to biking, trail running, as well as driving along one of the most scenic roads in the country, the Beartooth Highway.
While the park draws millions of tourists each year, it’s worth exploring these rural towns just north of it for fewer crowds, impeccable natural beauty, and endless opportunities for adventure.
Tasked with bringing visitors to explore this beautiful part of Montana is the Yellowstone Country destination marketing organization (DMO), which works with Missoula, Montana-based Windfall agency to assist them with their destination marketing needs.
“It’s a little slice of heaven,” says Colin Bonnicksen, senior account manager at Windfall. “It’s got all of these awesome places, and you can meet some really great people that really care about where they live, and they’re excited to share that with people that come to visit.”
Bonnicksen, along with a team of eight Windfall staffers, works on Yellowstone Country’s destination marketing efforts, and for them, their No. 1 objective since they took on the account in 2017 has been to tell the story of Yellowstone Country through visual digital assets: “We try to let the imagery tell most of the story, because that’s what people are coming to Montana for,” Bonnicksen explains. “We try to have people envision themselves in this natural beauty, and to think of how they might feel in that moment. Yellowstone is unique - we have some things here that you can’t really find in a lot of other places.”
So in August 2022, when the state-level DMO invited local-level DMOs to be a part of the first group of marketers to access Localhood, a short-form visual storytelling tool for DMOs, Yellowstone Country’s DMO decided to sign on. Ever since, they’ve been enthused with the results, seeing gains in efficiency, productivity, search engine optimization (SEO), and driving traffic to their website.
One of the most successful Localhood Stories that Windfall created on behalf of Yellowstone County highlighted Montana’s Beartooth Highway. In less than six months, it has achieved:
36,661 Impressions on Google
29.27% Completion rate
3.40% Click-through rate
“The video is filled with a lot of really breathtaking content,” notes Lauren Poppen, brand planning coordinator for Windfall.
It’s just another example of how the DMO uses visual storytelling to entice people to explore a part of Yellowstone they might not have considered before. “[The highway] is breathtaking and it's still relatively unknown,” says Bonnicksen. “I would imagine there's a lot of people who saw that video and thought, ‘I've never heard of that highway. What is this about?’, and then they click on it and think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is absolutely gorgeous. I need to find out more about this!’ So that's our goal: to use some of this incredibly beautiful imagery that we have to get people more interested in coming to Montana.”
In addition to drawing attention to the destination, what Bonnicksen and Poppen appreciate most is how easy it is to use Localhood. “We’ve most appreciated our ability to repurpose the Stories for multiple use across different platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook,” Poppen notes.
“It’s a way for us to be efficient with our hours for our clients,” adds Bonnicksen.
“When we spend the time to build these Stories with Localhood, we have these assets that are ready to go that we don’t have to remake for different uses.” He also says it helps the DMO reach more of their target audience — “high-value, low-impact travelers seeking an authentic experience in Yellowstone Country” from city dwellers and families, to active outdoor enthusiasts who appreciate and value responsible, or sustainable, recreation.
“I think it just makes our website more dynamic,” adds Poppen. “You know, you can read about Montana until your face turns green, but actually seeing the visuals, I think, makes a big difference. The Localhood Stories really create this emerging dynamic, and I think it’s also just a more user-friendly kind of page. We do use CrowdRiff Galleries on our website, too, so you can see a picture of Montana and actually picture yourself here.”
In addition to driving traffic to its website (the site recently surpassed 1 million unique visitors this year), increasing SEO, and helping Yellowstone Country’s videos appear in Google’s Visual Story section in search, Localhood has had the added benefit of making Windfall’s storytelling efforts that much more productive, too, says Poppen.
“We found it to be really easy to build a Localhood Story with a mix of still imagery and video, which is pretty unique to be able to do those two together,” she says. “Gathering content for Localhood also really increased my familiarity with our photo video library, which I think would really help others to do the same as well.”
She continues, “This was a really good opportunity for me to actually kind of dig into our library and learn what kind of assets we have, because it's extensive. It takes a little while to kind of build up your knowledge of what is available, and Localhood kinda really helped us do that.”
The cost savings are another bonus:
“It's really a nice way to promote some of the niche activities that you have, and you might not want to spend a lot of your marketing budget to promote those niche activities,” Poppen notes.
“It’s a great way to use photo or video assets that might otherwise just sit in a folder once they’ve had their initial use. We’ve had to get a little creative with our asset library — it’s not exactly cost effective or time effective to get live content constantly, but we’re able to get creative and use these assets we already have on hand, and give them a second life with Localhood.”
Her advice for other DMOs looking to use Localhood? Get organized. “I definitely recommend setting up a folder structure based on the topic that you want to create a Localhood Story around, and then as you run across relevant content, you bring it over to that folder and then you can just add it straight into Localhood and everything's at your fingertips.”