Content marketing is storytelling to gain strategic advantage with target audiences

A bit of background

For those who don't know where Saskatchewan is located, ours is a beautiful Canadian province located in the heart of the North American Plains region. Stunning in the diversity of its natural environments from grasslands to boreal forest environments, home to thousands of lakes and rich ecosystems. Generating awareness about Saskatchewan as a tourism destination among international audiences has always proved challenging. Awareness of Saskatchewan's tourism resources may be relatively high with audiences in neighbouring provinces like Alberta, U.S. states like North Dakota, and Saskatchewan expats who return each summer to visit friends and relatives, but the lure of Saskatchewan among potential medium and long haul visitors is still a work in progress.

Air connections have steadily improved with major U.S. hubs like Minneapolis, Denver and Chicago, making it easier for international visitors to get here but, but better known destinations with direct international flights and mightier marketing budgets bring considerably more clout in travel markets at a time when factors that affect tourism industry competitiveness worldwide make it difficult for emerging stars to play in the major leagues.

It is easy to understand why destination marketing organizations like the Canadian Tourism Commission would bet on winning horses like the Calgary Stampede, which has greater potential to generate a return on investment, than on a small town rodeo in rural Saskatchewan which would provide just as evocative an experience for visitors, but might be more difficult to get to and require a somewhat more "specialized" outlook on what a Canadian holiday might feel like in the client's mind.

For the record, I have been bringing clients from around the world who didn't know anything about Saskatchewan before getting here for quite some time, through my former tour operator activities with Great Excursions. The main resource I used to engage these clients is sharing with them:
  • the authenticity of experiences they would enjoy while in the province;
  • documenting the distinctive character of the journey they would embark upon;
  • generating content and communicating that content to them.  
Storytelling - that is all it is!

I knew from available market research what my target audiences sought in terms of quality of experience indicators. I proceeded to look for these in the holiday products I would offer them, and I looked to incorporate the right partners as suppliers and agents in the travel trade that were in a position to capitalize on that kind of editorial content availability. Chronicling facts about places, people, communities, and about how hosts are grounded in their respective communities does makes a difference, as you will see.

An international tourism organization where content marketing is central

Perhaps the most vivid illustration of how I was able to harness the power of editorial content for partners, customers, and ultimately the corporate bottom line, is the partnership initiative I established with UK-based responsibletravel.com in 2002, a specialist online travel agency that uses content marketing tactics to sell accredited responsible travel products to discerning travellers around the world. That company came into being with the financial support of Anita Roddick, founder of  The Body Shop. They actually initiated the conversation with me, and likely found Great Excursions because content marketing was also a core strategy for us. was in a position to provide us qualified leads in difficult to access European markets. We were able to provide the content they needed to market our products in the segments they targetted.

Using available market intelligence, I conducted intensive research to identify Canadian product suppliers I might wish to establish a travel trade relationship with as an international wholesale tour operator. I conducted comprehensive interviews with company owners and staff about their business practices on environmental, economic and social fronts. The body of my research was used to craft responsibility policies documenting how each of these products was made possible and impacted favorably on local host communities, thereby creating a competitive advantage in the eyes of those customers for which travelling responsibly is an important consideration.

My company’s customer relationship management system required that the communication of these beneficial practices be shared with clients from the lead generation phase to the published independent review that was authored by the client at the end - enticing new clients to come on our trips.

In my next post I will elaborate on specific examples of tourism operations and products with which content marketing tactics proved a pivotal strategy.


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