How do you market a place that has the potential to be all things to all people? How do you communicate a brand message without sounding like a brand trying to communicate a message?
How do you get people to explore a place they think they already know?
These were all questions Ali Daniels, the Vice President of Marketing for Visit Seattle, was considering in 2011 when her organization received funding to promote the city as a leisure destination for the very first time.
There is much that makes the city of Seattle unique, but as Daniels explains it’s a city that many people think they already know.
“When people think about Seattle they think about the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, ferry boats and Starbucks.”
But the story doesn’t end there. “Those are the things we love to embrace, but we want to show them that there’s so much more,” said Daniels.
Visit Seattle knows that it’s also the music city that gave birth to Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis; they know it’s a city with a robust and diverse food industry, and one situated in America’s second largest wine-producing state, boasting over 900 wineries.
Visit Seattle also knew that they couldn’t be the ones to tell the stories of such a unique place directly, as it would lack authenticity, so they devised a solution.
User-Generated Content Campaign: #TwoDaysInSeattle
“Our first campaign that we launched in the beginning of 2012 was called Two Days in Seattle, and we brought social media influencers into the city, gave them a little bit of money, told them to explore and use the hashtag ‘#TwoDaysInSeattle,” said Daniels.
“We know people trust people like them more than they trust people like us that get paid to talk about a destination, so we knew that there was something there with this user-generated content piece.”
It was around this time that video was starting to emerge as the social media’s most popular storytelling medium, which inspired Daniels and her team to adopt the medium for the campaign moving forward.
“We didn’t really have any video content [previously],” she said. “We had a three-minute video, but it was very travel-specific.”
“What we wanted to do is create content that people would look for, not just when they’re thinking about travel.”
And that led to Visit Seattle’s ground-breaking online video channel: VISITSEATTLE.tv
Today, the videos Visit Seattle and its partners have uploaded have been consumed for over 40 million minutes total, spread across seven distinct series. There are two more scheduled for 2017.
These series include:
- Been there Made That, which follows visiting artists as they incorporate the city into their works, produced in partnership with Vox Media
- Culture Trippers, which pairs locals with visitors who share similar passions, made in partnership with the Matador Network
- Project Five by Five, which invites five notable filmmakers to Seattle to find inspiration for a short film about the city, in partnership with Sundance TV
- +Play, wherein a group of local children guide viewers through the city’s museums, in partnership with NBC
- Sounds by the Sound, which showcases local artists as they perform in the city’s most scenic locations, produced in partnership with Revolt TV.
Visit Seattle also has two series that they produce independently: Seattle First Takes, which shares the stories of first time visitors, and Hey Seattle, which acts as the Visit Seattle’s FAQ section, hosted by Seattle musician and podcaster John Roderick, who answers tourists questions from the desk of a mobile talk show set sitting on a flatbed truck.
While each of these videos differs significantly in their content, there are a few running themes — most notably the brand’s role in the content.
“Seattle is a supporting actor, not the star.”
Producers also try to take cues from the city’s laid-back nature, an intangible but noticeable quality of both the destination and the videos.
“We want it to be authentically Seattle, so it needs to be a little laid back,” said Daniels, describing the city as the kind of place where people wear jeans and Birkenstock sandals to steakhouses and upscale restaurants. “We’re not Vegas, and we would never try to be Vegas, so we’re not in your face. It just has this sort of mellow energy to it, and we find partners that help bring that to life.”
These partnerships are key to making the whole project a success.
“Find a media partner that has the audience that you’re after, and an attitude that matches yours.”
The other key to the project, says Daniels, is a certain confidence in the brand, and a willingness to relinquish control of the messaging in order to achieve greater authenticity.
“That was one of the scariest things, when you put your brand into someone else’s hands and ask them to create something around that,” she said, in reference to those first influencers who were brought in for Visit Seattle’s first campaign. “But that’s what’s been so fun; they tell the story so differently than what we could have ever imagined,” she adds.
Since the end of 2015 Visit Seattle has produced 128 individual pieces of content, which have achieved a 67% view-through rate; an impressive fete considering videos can last as long as 22 minutes.
Since the start of the campaign tourism has increased and extended later into the season, and hotel occupancy rates held steady at an annual average of 82% in 2016, buts it’s impossible to determine which factors have the greatest influence on the city’s strong tourism industry.
No matter what the impact of the videos has been, however, Daniels and her staff take pride in their ability to showcase the city in a way that is both uniquely authentic and representative of the best it has to offer.
“It’s nice when you love your brand, and when your brand is your home,” said Daniels. “When you have a special connection with it — and I think everyone that works on this project, whether it’s our agency or our partners or my team, feels that there’s something extra special about it — they give it a little bit more than they normally would.”
Header photo credit: @a_jgav28