Prior to 2012, the state of New Mexico didn’t have a cohesive tourism marketing strategy. Its tourism department focused mostly on providing administrative services and support for its regional destination marketing organizations.
But that all began to change with the election of Governor Susana Martinez in 2011, who challenged the department to shift their focus towards initiatives that provided a greater return on investment, primarily, marketing their destination as a whole. Since that time the organization has evolved from a support system to its own tourism and economic activity powerhouse.
Starting Point: Understanding Incorrect Impressions of New Mexico
The first step in that transition was to conduct focus groups and research in order to understand the impression held about New Mexico in key markets. According to the tourism department’s Cabinet Secretary, Rebecca Latham, the results weren’t flattering.
“What they thought about New Mexico, if they thought about New Mexico at all, was wrong. To them New Mexico was a dry, barren, desert wasteland, which was tough to hear.”
To make matters worse, the tourism department gathered all of the state’s DMOs and had them present their marketing approach. “It was total clutter and chaos,” Latham said, adding that the messaging varied widely between neighboring cities and towns.
With a mandate that now dedicated three quarters of the annual budget to marketing, the New Mexico Tourism Department began their rebranding effort in 2012. The goal was to unify the various campaigns, change the perception of New Mexico as a tourism destination and also inspire pride amongst the local population.
In a direct nod to the many misconceptions about the state, its tourism department united regional marketing efforts under a new banner: New Mexico True.
New Mexico True: Inspiring Pride and Unity within the State
“With New Mexico True we were able to provide templates and uniformity where smaller destinations can leverage the New Mexico True brand, and then those budgets help drive impressions for all of us,” said Latham, adding that the state has invested approximately $35 million into developing the brand since 2012, alongside another eight to ten million provided by industry partners.
Then, in 2014, the New Mexico Tourism Board elected to create content of its own, educating potential visitors about various niche activities while encouraging New Mexicans to explore their home state further.
“We felt the stronger approach was to make New Mexicans have this overwhelming sense of pride, so not only would they keep their vacation dollars in state but they’d invite their friends and family to come and visit.”
Video Storytelling with New Mexico True Stories
“The original attempt was to profile the people and passion that you can’t find anywhere else but New Mexico in these one to three minute video profiles,” said Latham.
“As the series has evolved it’s taken on a completely different purpose, which is to brand the state within these niche audiences as a destination for high altitude training, or unique culinary events, or bird watching or fly fishing or extreme skiing.”
Since that first profile the tourism department has produced 12 high quality videos, each focusing on a niche interest or unique attribute of the state with a distinctively cinematic feel. Latham explains that the format was the brainchild of their creative agency partner, Talweg Creative, which was also responsible for sourcing profile subjects.
The instructions passed onto the creative agency required them to meet three criteria in each video:
- Is the subject proprietary?
- Does it speak to a niche interest that will motivate travel?
- Will it also inspire local pride and advocacy?
One instalment titled Aunt June profiles a 93 year-old green chile farmer from Hatch, New Mexico, which Latham describes as the Napa Valley of chile. While most of the videos are promoted on social targeting niche interest groups, Aunt June didn’t need any extra buzz.
“Before one penny went into promoting it, New Mexicans just blew it up. It has this outrageous engagement on social media because it’s such a point of pride for New Mexicans.”
Aunt June has been viewed 1.68 million times, with nearly half a million engagements on Facebook alone. Thus far New Mexico True Stories has achieved just under 12 million total views. Coupled with other efforts under the New Mexico True banner, Latham has reason to believe it’s had a real impact on both economic activity and combating misconceptions about the state.
How New Mexico True Has Changed Tourism in the State
“Over the past six years we’ve seen remarkable increases in the amount of visitors to New Mexico, and the amount of money they’re spending,” she said. “We’ve gone from about 5.1 billion to 6.3 billion since the launch of the New Mexico True brand.”
The New Mexico Tourism Department also recently participated in a halo effect study to measure how the campaign is changing the overall perception of the state.
“Overwhelmingly, people who had an awareness of New Mexico True advertising had a higher likelihood of having a better perception of New Mexico as a place to do business, go to college, relocate, buy a second home or retire.”
Latham adds, “We know we are having a huge impact on perceptions of New Mexico as more than just a place for a vacation, but as a place to invest and relocate.”
While the New Mexico True campaign has been a success Latham says there was a lot of political pressure at the start as a result of the significant investment made by the state. She explains that such pressure can be detrimental to the creative process, as the best ideas typically require a little bit of risk taking.
“I would say trust your gut, and don’t be scared to try something different,” she advises, adding that the value of a strong creative agency partner cannot be overstated.