By UTalkMarketing Editor, Clark Turner.
Generally across most industry sectors, companies have embraced the digital challenge to a varied and mixed degree. Travel is no different.
As consumers’ lives shift online, travel marketers are fighting for eyeballs and to reach consumers at the best place, at the best time in a bid to encourage them to purchase their products.
There are obviously those who have carried out good and methodical digital campaigns, but at UTalkMarketing Towers, there’s nothing like a bit of creative innovation to catch our eye - and hopefully inspire other marketers.
One of the better tourist bodies to both practice and PR this Innovation Norway, the trade marketing arm of Norway Tourism. What about your own personalised Northern Lights on your PC? Or what if by simply working on your keyboard, the taps could win you a holiday?
“The UK has been hit hard by the recession and the travel industry in general has had a very tough time of it,” Country Manager, Innovation Norway UK, Catherine Foster (pictured).
“Our visitor figures have been hit, but they could have been worse, and we actually gained market share in 2009. Beyond that there is increasing pressure from our partners in Norway to demonstrate ROI.”
She added, “I’m not sure if the recession has forced a radical change in our marketing strategy but we are looking to become more sales driven, making it easier for consumers to make bookings though the work we do.”
One of problems is that Norway remains a ‘great unknown’ in terms of its tourism offerings to most UK consumers. Beyond some knowledge of the country’s famous fjords, many are unaware of extreme sports, cuisine, culture and nature products available.
Visitor figures have also been hit the closure of the North Sea ferry which provided a busy artery into Norway for Brits but closed in 2009.
The fall in visitors is now forcing Innovation Norway to make its efforts work harder concentrating on the key territories of Norway, Sweden, UK and France, while shaping projects on the back of a significant piece of research in to travellers’ needs – the results of which are due to be released shortly.
“At the end of the day, the marketing has to deliver. Partners want to see sales to attractions rising and higher occupancies in hotels,” admitted Foster.
“Digital is a specialist area but everyone’s been saying, ‘We need to be doing something’…We need to be in social media’. It’s like the train is leaving and we need to be on it. So we’ve been looking a digital more and more, and learning quickly.”
She continued, “But the positive aspect of the space is that it allows a different way of engaging with consumers while reaching new target groups too.”
Innovation Norway’s first digital project aimed at the UK launched just over a year ago (July 2009). The downloadable Office Energy Converter widget converted office energy (typing and mouse movements) into points.
The hardest worker that clocked up the most points every fortnight won a high-energy holiday - skiing, kayaking, mountain biking or surfing in Norway.
Supported by Facebook activity, a quirky video was also included in the marketing mix, with the campaign from Amp seeded to a network of 50 bloggers who wrote about extreme sport and outdoor activity.
Despite it being somewhat innovative at the time (and getting big thumbs up from UTalkMarketing) Foster admits the pick up was somewhat of a disappointment.
“It didn’t work as well as we had hoped because it was too labour intensive for the users. There was no real incentive to spread the widget so it became viral,“ she confessed.
“But what we did learn was to keep things simple and create campaigns that have the capacity to go viral easily.”
Those lessons learnt were brought into play in a My Northern Lights online project, which allowed users to play with a tool, creating their own Aurora Borealis.
Prompted with a dedicated blog, the project allowed personalised Northern Lights displays to be saved and then shared with friends via Twitter, Facebook or email.
Launched as a branding exercise, it was initially rolled out to five key European markets plus the US. This year it is being updated and relaunched in October to include the Russian market while also being redesigned to give Innovation Norway’s partners’ more visibility.
“The aim is for Norway to take ownership of the Northern Lights. When people think about Aurora Borealis, we want them to think about Norway,” explained Foster.
“Working digitally has presented us with a new way of reaching a new target group. While the project has not had as many visitors from the UK as other territories, British visitors had a higher dwell time of four minutes.”
Most recently the tourist body has launched a major social media campaign to find models in the UK to star in a new postcard drive promoting depicting adventure activities in the Northern Norway region.
The Northern Norway Postcard Models competition, which was hosted on Facebook (facebook.com/postcardmodels), was advertised on the London underground and in UK print publications.
It attracted an impressive 3,500-plus photo submissions and 11,000 votes from May to July 2010.
Facebook users were asked to ‘like’ 10 finalists who demonstrated passion and enthusiasm for the great outdoors and taking part in the photo shoot.
In addition to starring in the shoot and to add momentum to the campaign, the four winners have been updating both the Visit Norway and Postcard Model Facebook pages with diary entries and images of their trips throughout August and September 2010. The resulting set of postcards will be on sale throughout the UK in 2011.
“The underground and press activity the launch the campaign was backed by PR, seeding activity and advertising on Facebook. But I think that we should have actually put everything online, in my personal opinion,” said Foster.
“The thing about social media is that it can deliver more ROI than traditional channels, but it is very labour intensive and demands a real commitment to updating pages and engaging with users.”
Rolling the Innovation Norway brand out across different territories presents a number of challenges. Foster explained that brand guidelines existed but that the product offering message was tailored for different markets. So, for example, focusing on culture in France and local cuisine in the UK.
“Ultimately though, it’s a nature-based positioning,” she added.
So does the Country Manager for Innovation Norway UK have any advice for her marketing peers?
“You have to follow your instinct but also need to be constantly looking forward,” she said.
“I also believe that knowledge is king, justifying everything we do with findings from research and focus groups.”
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