New Orleans wants people to know there's more to the city than just the French Quarter and Mardi Gras - and a new interactive media campaign is helping them drive that message home.
The campaign, which relies far more on digital marketing than in the city's past promotions, began with the recent unveiling of a new experiential website with a whimsical layout designed to get people exploring the city. Using the slogan "Follow Your NOLA," the centerpiece of the site is a fleur-de-lis - often viewed as a symbol for New Orleans - superimposed over an interactive map of the city. Clicking on the symbol pins it like a roulette wheel, allowing users to follow where it leads to explore seven different aspects of the city: rhythm, fun, curiosity, flavor, instincts, fire, and spirit.
Each of these categories leads to tips on specific spots of interest and places them on the map, and provides links to their websites for further information. Users can also forego the roulette wheel and just click on the categories that interest them.
"We want to allow visitors to explore the city at their own pace and level, whether it's a leisurely walk through historic homes or dancing all night on the street during a festival," says Mark Romig, president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, which promotes the city as a tourist destination. "We are approaching our market as a way to discover things."
Whereas previously the city targeted potential visitors by age group, it is now looking at them psychographically, or according to the way they think, says Romig. In particular, the city wants to attract travelers who seek to discover new, exciting experiences, whether they are 22 or 65. "Once we overlaid those types of people with New Orleans, we found that our city is very much parallel to those types of visitors," Romig says.
This also means getting people off the beaten path, out of the over-traversed French Quarter, and into other interesting parts of the city. For example, website visitors who let the fleur-de-lis take them to "Follow your Rhythm" - an overview of the city's hot spots for live music, clubs, festivals, and concerts - learn about the Maple Leaf Bar, a former chess and music club that now also hosts poetry readings and pianist James Booker; Euclid Records, a vintage vinyl record shop housed in a hot-pink building; or Siberia, a heavy metal spot favored by locals. None of these is in the French Quarter.
"We know that 80 percent of the visitors to New Orleans will visit the French Quarter, so we don't need to mention it that much," says Romig. "Instead we can introduce them to places they might not know such as the aquarium, the city's parks, or the new lighthouse restoration." The recently reopened Canal Lighthouse, located on the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, houses a museum and educational center that teaches people about the region's history.
Visitors who like what they see can also share their specific discoveries and stories via Facebook and Twitter. Romig says any aspect of the website can be shared, so that, say, a group planning a bachelorette weekend in the city can share specific tips and ideas in a dedicated Facebook group. There are also plans to build in new interactive features as the tourist board gets feedback from users.
The new campaign also significantly increases the digital component of the campaign to 75 percent of the overall mix, relying far less on print media than in the past, according to Romig. The traditional media portion of the campaign consists mainly of :15 and :30 television spots, which will seek to drive people to visit followyournola.com for further information. The spots will also be shown online on websites such as Travel and Leisure, Garden and Gun, and Pandora, along with banner ads seeking to drive people to the website.
"Research has shown that digital is the primary way that people are now planning and researching travel, so the campaign is focused more on digital," says Sarah Hofstetter, president of 360i, the agency that worked with New Orleans Tourism Marketing to develop the digital components of the campaign.
The new site is also linked to the larger umbrella site for New Orleans, neworleansonline.com, which gets around six million visitors annually. The campaign will also be tied into the new Google Glass campaign, in which Google invites selected users to wear its augmented reality glasses to record experiences. New Orleans Tourism was invited by Google to join the program and plans to integrate the use of the glasses into selected live events held throughout the city.
Separately, the mobile app for the city, "GO NOLA," continues to serve as a resource once people are in the city and seek information.
The campaign also underscores the city's ambitious goal of having some 13.7 million visitors come to New Orleans in 2018, also designed to create 33,000 new jobs in the city. Last year, about nine million people visited New Orleans and stayed an average of 4.1 nights per visit. Romig wants them to come back more frequently and hopes that visitors willing to share their experiences over social media will help foster that. "We want to create brand ambassadors for the city who will encourage people to come back for more," says Romig.
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
March 19, 2014