Friday, 5 October 2012

Canmol: The Wales Marketing Awards 2012

More than 200 marketing professionals from across Wales attended the Canmol Awards Presentation Dinner at the Mercure Holland House Hotel in Cardiff on 5 October 2012. Congratulations to the winners and commiserations to the shortlisted entrants who didn't quite make it through.

We have lived through interesting times since 2008, when the Wales Marketing Awards were created by The Chartered Institute of Marketing in Wales. The overall quality of entries has been impressive since day one, but what is more impressive is the way that Wales is continually adopting and adapting to technological change and new opportunities. Canmol demonstrates that not only are Welsh organisations keeping up to speed, they are also adding value through exceptional innovation and creativity. To reach the shortlist of these prestigious Awards is an achievement in itself and many worthy submissions fail by the slimmest of margins - the task of the judging panel gets harder every year.

And the headline winners are ....

In alphabetical order:

An excellent example of the adage "marketing is a process, not an event". Creators of an innovative system for self-produced video ads, the company has continued to refine its product and marketing through research, customer feedback and the credibility and PR gained from Canmol 2011 and automotive industry awards.

Celtic Quest Coasteering
This owner-managed activity provider demonstrates that enthusiasm, curiosity, application and motivation can drive even the smallest business to success. Largely self-taught, Celtic Quest uses dynamic photography, video and copy as part of an integrated Internet and PR strategy that includes excellent use of social media. At the beginning of this year Visit Wales:Share Wales recorded an interview with owner Cleo Browne. To view, go here.
The "Don't drive in high heels" information campaign rings the bells on corporate responsibility and highlights the point that in the modern digital marketing environment useful information is often more effective than the hard sell.

Earthfall (Lewis Gwyther)
The dance and physical theatre company's "At Swim Two Boys" campaign demonstrates sophisticated planning for a wide range of media and mechanisms intended to extend touring reach, increase ticket sales and build profile amongst peers and audiences. All targets were exceeded by several factors and the judges were particularly impressed by the stunning still and video imagery.

Richard Parks 737 Challenge for Marie Curie Cancer Care. In 2011 the former Welsh International made history by completing ascents of the highest peaks on each of the world's continents and standing on both North and South Poles - all in seven months. Limegreentangerine worked on this multi-media campaign for two years, engaging sponsors, film makers and the giving public, for total expenditure of under £6,000.

For more information on Canmol, click here.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Visit Wales : Share Wales

Avid followers of this blog will have noticed that things have been quiet since the end of January. The reason is that interesting developments have been in play. At the end of February I was appointed to the post of Editor, Visit Wales:Share Wales, part of the Welsh Government Digital Tourism Business Programme, which went live in late February. This is a new initiative to encourage information sharing and co-operation between tourism businesses in Wales. Part of my role is to focus on various aspects of the digital environment and to 'horizon scan' for upcoming developments. This pretty much supersedes what I had in mind when setting up this blog and provides the resources to develop much more content. Once fully embarked on my new post I will give some thought to a new direction for the blog. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to sign up to Share Wales, reap the benefits of the information stream and participate in the co-operative initiatives and the Forum. Go to

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Word Clouds & Spiders

A couple of weeks ago I posted a two line blog that gave an example of a word cloud together with a link to the original source text. Since then, coincidentally, word clouds have featured as graphic devices at a number of conferences that I have attended and in more than a few pieces of promotional literature that have been thrust under my nose! It seems that word clouds are becoming trendy again. Whether the fashion will last is, perhaps, questionable; but word clouds have their uses beyond trendy graphics. So my original word cloud blog has been deleted and replaced. For those that know, it is worth remembering that word clouds were also known as "tag clouds"; for those that don't, here's a heads-up.

Put simply, tag clouds, word clouds or "weighted lists" are a way of visualising the prominence or otherwise of words in a body of text. There are many uses of word clouds, including technical applications to do with web site navigation. But at the most basic and most useful level, word clouds can be used as a simple test of web site content at a time when content is ever more important for search engine optimisation [SEO] - see my August 2011 blog on Google Panda Guidelines.

Along Came a Spider...
Search engines use "spiders" to trawl web sites and rank them in various ways. Many of the ranking criteria revolve around the quality of the textual content, including the prominence of keywords that are relevant to the subject matter and might be used for Internet searches. I have always argued that rich content is a prerequisite for Internet effectiveness, whether for high search engine rankings or (far more importantly in my view) for engaging and retaining the interest of visitors. Word clouds give a snapshot of the texture of written material and, within limits, can indicate where it might be adjusted to increase its attractiveness to spiders.

A Word Cloud based on the first section of my "Destination Marketing Revisited" blog.
To view the original content, Click Here.
A Word of Warning
Strong subject-orientated copy will, in the majority of cases, produce spider-friendly content automatically. If your word cloud seems to give predominance to unimportant words, or if the most desirable key words are under-represented, it is obviously possible to fine-tune the text by reducing the occurrence of irrelevant words or increasing the frequency of the most significant. But it is dangerous to sacrifice readability to search engine optimisation - stiff and contrived content will lose readers very quickly; and search engines are not the only way of driving traffic to web sites, as regular readers of these blogs will appreciate. Finally, search engines are adept at spotting content that is heavily repetitious in the use of key words.

 A Word Cloud based on the "Marketing" page of the BFA web site.
To view the original content, Click Here.

Create Your Own Word Cloud
There are a good number of web sites that offer free word cloud creation, as a google search will reveal. The examples shown here were made using the Wordle site: click on the "Create" tab to begin. A number of graphic styles are available. Converting the result into a reproducible format is a little complicated, but the best route seems to be:

1) Click on the "Open in Window" button to generate an applet of the cloud.
2) Make sure the applet is the live window and take a screenshot (hold Alt and press Print Screen). This saves the applet on your clipboard.
3) Open a Word document and press Ctrl + v to save the applet.
4) Click on the applet, go to Paint (select All Programmes from your Start Button, then go to Accessories > Paint).
5) In Paint, go to Edit > Paste then Save. Enter a file name and select a destination (say, My Pictures in My Documents) and save as Jpeg.
6) Crop the image to eliminate screen edges.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Wales and the Sea: Call for Info & Events

The Maritime Heritage Trust Wales have circulated the following request for information. The intention is to set up an online information source for all things maritime in Wales. The resulting web site will be a useful promotional tool.

2012 sees the launch of Wales and the Sea : Cymru a’r Môr. One of the first things that the Wales and the Sea : Cymru a’r Môr initiative needs is information.

Information about events, festivals, attractions, talks etc. - in fact anything maritime related that will be happening in
Wales in 2012. We know there is lots going on and have details about some of them but not all. So this is a plea for your help.

Please tell us about anything that you are involved in organising. Also tell us about anything else that is happening in your locality or elsewhere that you are aware of.

Don't worry if you think that someone else might have told us, we'd rather hear twice than not at all. You may not have full details, but again don't worry, we will do any necessary follow-up investigations.

We will add all items to The Maritime Heritage Trust - Wales website and to the dedicated website for Wales and the Sea (soon to be created).
We will feed the information into our Twitter and Facebook accounts.
It is the intention to produce a diary to go in forthcoming editions of MHT News Wales.

So the event will benefit from a lot more people knowing it's happening and hopefully as a result get higher levels of participation or spectators.

Please let us know by mailing us at whenever you hear of something you think others might be interested in.

Many thanks
The Maritime Heritage Trust - Wales

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Facebook, etc: Eye Tracking Study

The link below is to, via LinkedIn. Mashable is a useful web site that publishes regular articles on various aspects of social media. This recent post has the results of a small sample study of the way that people look at social media, using technology that tracks eye movements across profile pages. No great surprises, but interesting nonetheless. Click Here.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Blogger: Tracking Email Subscriptions

In my previous blogs on 'Destination Marketing' I suggested Blogger/Blogspot as a useful alternative or addition to web sites for micro businesses. In 'With a Little Help From Your Friends' I gave an example of how information, shared amongst online networks, can help you keep up to speed with new developments in the rapidly changing digital environment. Another route to useful information, especially with new hardware, software or when adding applications to your online activity, is to review FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) or online forums associated with your new installations. This will help identify potential problems or shortcuts and lead to practical advice at an early stage. Or, as in the following example, track down solutions that are otherwise obscured or beyond the immediate reach of Internet virgins.

Earlier this month I installed a 'Follow By Email' function to this blog (towards the top of the right-hand panel). This allows subscribers to be notified by email each time new material is added to my Home page. The function has a number of refinements that can be added at will, including the ability to review the list of email subscribers - obviously a useful way of measuring performance. When I checked the Blogger FAQs and Forums it was apparent that a number of users were having difficulty in finding their subscribers' list and had submitted search queries on the subject. Other members had provided advice in response.

This having said, the instructions given for this fairly complicated process are by no means clear to those without a degree of familiarity with navigation around Blogger functions. So, to make life easier, I will begin at the very beginning.

Installing the Blogger 'Follow By Email' Option
  • Sign in to your Blogger/Google account.
  • From your Blogger Dashboard, click on 'Design' to go to 'Add and Arrange Page Elements'.
  • A number of positions/sizes are possible for adding a new element. In my case, most add-ons are positioned in the right hand column of this blog.
  • Make your choice and click on 'Add a Gadget'.
  • A list of functions will appear in the pop-up box. Click on 'Follow by Email' and save.
  • The email subscriber function will automatically be directed to your blog and appear as a new page element that can be repositioned as required.
Tracking Email Subscribers
  • Once 'Follow by Email' is installed, return to 'Dashboard' >> 'Design'. The 'Follow By Email' box will appear as one of the page elements.
  • Click on the 'Edit' link in the email box.
  • In the pop-up 'Configure Follow by Email' box, click on 'View stats and learn more'.
  • A new pop-up, 'My Feeds', will appear. The name of your blog will be shown under 'Feed Title', together with the number of subscribers. Click on your blog name.
  • On the new page, click on the 'Publicize' tab.
  • On the next new page, click on 'Email Subscriptions' on the left. (This will be ticked to signify that the function is live.)
  • On the next new page, scroll down to the very bottom and click on 'View Subscriber Details'. Your subscriber list, including dates of subscriptions, can now be viewed.
  • In this mode you can delete unwanted subscribers, export the list as a CSV (Comma Separated Values) database, or elect to be informed by email when users unsubscribe.
It is well worth exploring the other tabs in this mode to decide whether some of the more sophisticated options are relevant to your purposes. At the very least, the 'Analyze' tab gives on overview of Feed stats over pre-selected periods.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Follow this Blog by Email

I have added a 'Follow by Email' function to my blog. Submit your email address on the right and you will receive automated mail updates when new items are posted. This is an alternative to the Favourites Bar option that is outlined under "The Easy Way to Follow this Blog" in "About This Blog". Take your pick.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Facebook: Share Where You Are

In "Destination Marketing & Local Communities" I discussed the implications of the shift to mobile devices and the possibilities created by 'Check In' functions. Two examples, 'Foursquare' and 'Facebook' check-ins, were discussed. It is always useful to understand such functions from the viewpoint of the end user. I linked to the Foursquare web site, which has comprehensive information from the perspectives of both merchants and users. The following link will take you to the information provided to users of the Facebook check-in facility. If you know how things are being used, you can plan how to use them for your own purposes!

Facebook Story Rankings: The Edgerank Algorithm

In August 2011 I posted guidelines on Google Panda, the algorithm that is used to rank web sites and differentiate between the good, the bad and the ugly. Most people are aware that search engines have ranking mechanisms; indeed a whole industry has grown up around Search Engine Optimisation [SEO]. It is less well known that Facebook has an equivalent algorithm that determines the order in which 'Stories' appear on the Facebook 'Home' page. An understanding of the Facebook 'Edgerank Algorithm' will help businesses gain advantage by positioning their Facebook posts towards the top of 'Recent Stories'.

The Edgerank Algorithm
Earlier this year many Facebook users were irritated by a change in the Home page layout (not the first time that tinkering by Facebook has produced a negative response). Previously, all 'Status Updates' had appeared in chronological order. Suddenly, and without any obvious announcement of a change, Updates were organised in a seemingly arbitrary order. The most recent Updates no longer appear automatically at the head of posts on the Home page. In many cases users are obliged to scroll down through much older 'Stories', or click on 'Recent Stories', to find recent posts. The new layout is something of an obstacle, particularly to commercial Facebook users intent on bringing information and announcements to their networks.

Behind all of this was the Edgerank Algorithm, which rates 'Stories' by 'RECENCY', 'EDGE WEIGHT' and 'AFFINITY'.

'Recency' is easy enough to understand. Recent 'Stories' have the advantage over older posts so long as other factors are in place. Frequent postings will gain 'Recency' points: try to post two or three times per day.

Edge Weight
Functions and actions related to a post are called 'edges'. The more there are, the better the 'Edge Weight' and the higher the ranking. Every 'edge' is awarded a value and all the 'edges' are added together to give an overall score for the post. 'Edges' include:
  • Photos and videos.
  • Links.
  • Comments.
  • 'Likes'.
  • 'Shares'.
 From the above it can be seen that posts that include photos or videos, along with a clickable link, are high value; and that varied content of this type will encourage comments, 'likes' and 'shares' and increase the 'Edge Weight' value even further.

'Affinity' is the degree of closeness that Facebook users have with members of their network. High interactivity between Facebook members increases the 'affinity' value of posts and prioritises 'Stories' with Facebook connections. It follows that by encouraging your Friends to interact with your posts you will raise your 'affinity' rating. For example, ask them to 'click' or 'share'.

Putting It All Together
The Edgerank score is calculated by multiplying together the values given to 'Recency', 'Edge Weight' and 'Affinity'. If this score is higher than other current Facebook posts it will appear in poll position on the Home page. Awareness of Edgerank will help Facebook users ensure high visibility with their Friends and stimulate further actions, whether to drive web site traffic, increase sales or raise the profile of an individual or brand.

One Further Practical Tip
Always check which of your Facebook Friends are online before posting, to make sure that you're reaching as many of your intended targets as possible.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

QR Codes & Historical and Environmental Interpretation

In 'Destination Marketing & Local Communities' I discussed the opportunities offered by QR codes for small hospitality businesses. I also wrote: "The opportunities for imagination and creativity are endless - and the possibilities for historical or environmental interpretation too diverse to be touched on here."

A demonstration is worth a thousand words. The following attracted my attention on LinkedIn today, posted by Tom Hadfield, Regional Digital Strategist at Visit Wales. Obviously this particular example involved major investment, but it is easy to see how it could be scaled down for much smaller projects. Read the copy, watch the video and check out the add-ons. This campaign is obviously going viral.

More on Blogger 'Magazine View'

A couple of minor points have arisen now that I have had chance to spend a little time cruising around my own blog in Magazine format (see the previous blog).
  1. Scrolling down through pages is a little creaky, implying slow downloading that might be a problem for mobile platforms: all the more reason to retain the normal template as a landing page for external links.
  2. Magazine View does not seem to be able to handle clusters of pics arranged side by side: best to align pictures vertically.
  3. Magazine View places content on a white background. Tinted highlights, for emphasis or hyperlinks, should be chosen for their legibility on both the normal design template and on a white ground. I have changed my colour code for internal links from yellow to purple for this reason.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

With a Little Help From Your Friends: More on Blogs

Marketing is a continual learning process. The more you know, the more you realise how little you know. The Internet is an invaluable source of information, whether you subscribe to professional mailing lists, or follow strands on professional networks like LinkedIn, or simply pick up on postings from friends and colleagues from your network: no-one has time to keep track of every new development, especially where new technology is concerned.

My thoughts on the potential of blogging for small businesses were formed long before I found time to write them up in my series of posts on Destination Marketing (see my three previous posts). I began examining the mechanics of the blog as a result of following the prolific Pembrokeshire blogger Brian John. Now, once again, I am indebted to Brian for bringing my attention to a new adaptation on Blogger that enables publishers and users to vary the way material is viewed.

The 'View Magazine' option seems to me the most useful and translates conventional templates into a more "webby" format. Posts on the dynamic Home Page appear alongside thumbnails (where pics have been used) and a few lines of introductory text. ALL past posts can be viewed by scrolling down the page and clicking on the headlines. The format is much easier for readers than the traditional side bar archive and is a useful guide to the content of each post. Static tabbed pages appear in the header navigation bar in the usual way. I'm not sure how some of the normal Blogger functions operate from the Magazine view - perhaps they don't. For the time being my solution has been to create a "View in Magazine Format" link with a "use back button" instruction to return to the normal view (see above right). This simplifies things - external links to my blog can carry on as usual.

There's nothing complicated in setting up this option - just add "/view/magazine" to your blogspot URL as follows: This new URL is the link to use if you follow my own solution.

The Magazine option is more attractive and user friendly than the conventional format and adds to the professional feel where small businesses or community groups elect to use Blogger to establish an Internet presence. (See my Destination Marketing posts for more on this.) But retaining the normal template as a landing page, especially for mobile platforms, might be a good idea. (We've already had a report of failure to load to iPad - there's no substitute for a proper PC! Or Mac.)

For an example of how the new format works on a blog with an enormous amount of content, go to Brian John's 'Stonehenge Thoughts'.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Destination Marketing & Local Communities

The Story So Far ...
In September 2011 I posted a blog, "Destination Marketing Revisited", that reviewed the history and development of destination marketing and its affects on the accommodation sector, especially in traditional resorts and rural areas. From the mid-19th Century and through most of the 20th Century accommodation providers relied heavily on third parties to promote holiday destinations, a state of affairs that has persisted in some quarters down to the present day. Progressive businesses have been more active, both in promoting their local area and in using pro-active marketing to engage with existing and potential customers. The opportunities for individual proprietors to incorporate the 'destination sell' into their marketing have increased massively since the advent of the World Wide Web. To begin at the beginning click HERE.

In "Destination Marketing & Micro Businesses", posted in October 2011, I showed, in some detail, that even the smallest business can establish and maintain a flexible presence on the Internet, easily and at no cost. The more active and varied small businesses are in their approach to the Internet, the more cumulative will be the effect of destination marketing in a multi-channel, multiple platform, communications environment. As importantly, an Internet presence creates new strategic and tactical opportunities for the individual business and for local communities, some of which are examined in this third blog.  To view the second blog in this series, click HERE. Now read on ...

Local Communities - Bringing It All Together
By now it should be obvious that accommodation providers, however small the operation, can create their own personal online space and exercise full control over content. Personalised content differentiates one business from another, addresses the pre-occupations of selected market audiences and opens up lines of communication, to the benefit of individual enterprises. But there is a local multiplier effect in direct correlation with web site numbers. Here the numerical dominance of SMEs in the accommodation sector, at one time a constraint on destination marketing through disproportionate influence on policy, translates into an asset through the proliferation of online outlets and rich local material.

The accommodation sector is not the only beneficiary of tourism in local communities. The advantages of an Internet presence are applicable to other components of the tourism product. Heritage and cultural attractions are founts of specialised knowledge: history, maritime and industrial history, art and literature. Historical societies bring focus to bear on the very local. Day activities such as trekking or watersports not only offer visitors things to do, they create awareness of the natural environment in which they take place. Local festivals offer visitors the chance to participate in the vibrancy of community life. Even restaurants, if they are strong on locally sourced produce, can add to the overall ambience of a destination by highlighting their chain of supply: farmers, fishermen and the rest. Taken together, multiple sources of information from differing perspectives contribute to the identity of a particular destination: the spirit of place. The whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. And although the ways of the Internet are often subtle and unpredictable, the judicious use of reciprocal links can go some way towards steering Internet surfers around a local area. We are talking about a local community of information.

The Pub's the Hub
The traditional pub, at the heart of every village, is the place where visitors come into close contact with host communities and the authentic ambience of neighbourhood life. Over and beyond the formal infrastructure of tourist information the pub is an invaluable source of local knowledge, a public place that can play a key role in engaging visitors with the holiday destination. The pub has the potential to stimulate interest with archive photographs, memorabilia and artifacts, a mosaic of community memories. These are the talking points that ease the stranger into conversation with the natives: farmers, inshore fishermen, outdoor activists, wildlife enthusiasts, amateur historians; and into the remembrances of declining industries preserved by the shrinking generations of one-time quarrymen, miners, foundry workers and the rest.

The Sloop Inn, Porthgain, North Pembrokeshire. One of the best examples I know of informal interpretation in a small community. The web site? Not so much! (Sorry Matthew.)

An Internet presence that is structured to reflect the intrinsic qualities of a destination and the pre-occupations of visitors gives the local hostelry a route to the web with more than the usual inventory of real ales, menus and wine lists: an extension into cyberspace that becomes part of the community of information. This should be borne in mind in all that follows.

Destination Marketing & Social Networks
At this point it is worth repeating the warning from my previous blog: "It is better to develop a few channels effectively than to spread effort thinly over a wide spectrum". There are a large number of social networks available. Some function in similar ways, others offer more specialised kinds of interaction. Every business must select the networks that are most relevant to its overall marketing strategy, but the social realm should always be approached with a fundamental objective: to create an online community that will drive traffic to primary sources of information. Wherever possible, postings on social networks should direct readers to an Internet anchor point. In most cases this will be the dynamic 'Home' page of a blog or the 'News and Events' page of a web site, either of which will have recently updated information on special offers, local events, news stories and the rest. But whichever social networks are chosen, business use should not be indiscriminate. A little forethought goes a long way and a little creativity and innovation goes even further.

Time and space do not allow more than a cursory glance at the range of social sites and I leave it to readers to decide whether You Tube or Twitter or the rest have a place in their marketing strategy. Two social networks, similar in operation but with slightly different applications, will suffice as an introduction to social networking. In both cases the most effective use is to allow public access to your content and to choose material accordingly.

'Facebook' is one of the most populated social sites (more than 30 million users in the UK alone) even though frequent structural changes continue to cause frustration. Facebook, even at its most basic, is an extremely useful tool in B2C [Business to Consumer] marketing. Facebook allows you to present personal and business information to the world at large. Customers can be encouraged to become Facebook 'Friends', and the accumulation of Friends is exponential as users review the 'People You May Know' facility. Your Friends may choose to 'share' your Facebook postings and, better still, share their own experiences, photo albums, etc., on your Facebook pages following a visit. The mix of customers and social Friends on Facebook, if carefully selected, can create an online community with a focus of contact - your business - and a feeling of involvement with all things local. If you wish to separate business from purely social activity, Facebook has the option of creating a dedicated business 'Page' where visitors can show their approval by clicking 'Like' - an action which shows up on their own Facebook status. A recent winner of the Wales Marketing Awards used Facebook as a platform to show videos of their services with the intention of overcoming negative perceptions of boarding kennels. The result was a 25% increase in business over twelve months with 'Like' clicks passing 2,000 over the same period.

 'LinkedIn' operates in a similar way to Facebook but within a professional environment that is more appropriate to B2B [Business to Business] marketing. Users in the tourism sector include hotels that offer conference facilities and outdoor centres used for out-of-office training - businesses with a significant corporate client base. As with Facebook, LinkedIn offers the facility to create a profile for your business and professional skills. But LinkedIn adds to this profile by exposing your network of connections to public view: discrimination should be used in requesting or accepting contacts that will build your credibility and reflect your marketing aspirations. As with Facebook, LinkedIn connections can grow exponentially through the 'People You May Know' feature, and through connections sharing your LinkedIn posts. Although I am a recent and by no means the most active user of LinkedIn, a very recent post was shared with more than 800 subscribers and produced an immediate spike in web site visits; new contact requests have begun to trickle in. Must try harder!

Finally, linking to your social networks from elsewhere on the Internet increases the possibility of capture and, by cross-referral, creates a virtuous circle that can only amplify the viral effects of the online social environment.

Mobile Platforms - Welcome to the Dark Side
In the beginning was the computer, the size of a house and used by large institutions for arithmetical calculations, data storage and data manipulation. Where the few go, the many follow: in the late 1970s and into the 1980s affordable self-contained computers were becoming available for business use, supported by word processing, spreadsheet and database software. On the domestic scene mass production and mass marketing stimulated the spread of personal computers beyond a small circle of enthusiasts and hobbyists. Research at that time showed that a high proportion of PC purchases were by parents intending that their children should acquire computing skills; the same research showed that regardless of intent, most home installations were used for gaming, marking a discernible split between business and entertainment applications.

The split between business and entertainment use increased in the 1990s with the advent of dial-up access to the World Wide Web, a process that continued into the new Millennium as broadband connectivity increased download speeds. Home 'computer' use for most people now revolved around the Internet: online shopping, communication (e-mail, social sites, Skype, etc.), web surfing, film and music downloads and, as always, gaming.

For a new generation the development of smartphones and 'tablets' has introduced a new dimension: Internet access no longer requires a desktop or laptop PC. Internet services are compacted into a small device that allows communication (phone, text, mail, social networking) and web functions, alongside digital functions such as still and video photography, MP3 player and the rest. Smartphone consumerism is visible in every public place, driven by supply-side competition, aggressive marketing and planned obsolescence - the latest upgrade or 'App' is an indispensable fashion accessory for the young. From the viewpoint of destination marketing this age demographic allows penetration of replacement markets where there is an ageing visitor profile.

The shift to mobile platforms is irreversible and signals new opportunities for destinations at local level. Immediacy of access can be exploited to drive visitors to the Internet from guesthouses, pubs, attractions and other focal points within a holiday area. And communication technology places each mobile device at the hub of its own information community.

Before examining some of these opportunities it is worth noting the following:
  • Check that your site is suitable for mobile viewing. This should not be a problem if you choose the blog route, with its simplified format. For conventional sites it may be necessary to add a dedicated 'landing page' for mobile access.
  • Direct mobile traffic to current content that will generate interest and stimulate dissemination through the personal information network.
  • Anticipate connectivity problems. Make your premises a wi-fi 'hotspot' that allows direct public access to the Internet. Hotspots are an alternative where mobile connectivity is poor or absent and will also speed up downloads from complex landing pages. Make sure that this facility is prominently displayed.

BT Fon: Free to BT Broadband subscribers. Allows venues to register as BT Hotspots and gives UK-wide access to the BT wi-fi network.

Making the Most of Mobility - Check-Ins
Among the vast number of mobile Apps (Applications) two examples are noteworthy. (There may well be more of the same, but I have yet to be seduced by the smartphone culture so have no way of embarking on detailed research. Life's too short and getting shorter!)

In August 2010 Facebook launched the location-based 'Facebook Places'. This was discontinued in August 2011 and replaced by a simple 'Check In' App, which operates on similar principles. Facebook Check In works in conjunction with GPS to identify the user's location. Visitors can then 'check in' to the location and add comments that will appear on their Facebook status.

Foursquare is a more sophisticated location-based App. Merchants are able to 'claim' their venue and add information, offers, etc., to a dedicated Foursquare slot. There is a system of incentives to encourage regular check-ins to Foursquare: for details go to Once signed in to a Foursquare venue, users can add comments via the App or share location and information via Facebook, etc.

As with wi-fi hotspots, participation in location-based Apps should be displayed on the premises.

 Making the Most of Mobility - QR Codes
Quick Reference codes are free and easy to generate, and appear as small intricate black and white boxes that can be scanned by smartphone Apps such as Qrafter for iPhones. The App opens a direct link to an Internet page. QR codes are proliferating at an incremental rate and now appear on utility bills, bank statements and other business correspondence. As with many innovations, the technology is often employed for its own sake without any particular thought for the content of the landing page. But, as always, content is king: the landing page should be designed to engage the interest of the user. QR codes can be used on printed response material, stationery, etc., to direct customers to your web site or blog Home Page; or on-site, where they might link to information of local or current interest: in the latter case, the purpose/content of the QR link should be clear so as to encourage use. (As example, see the BFA Photo Itineraries QR code below, where the content of the link is clearly presented.) It is now quite common for larger companies to use a QR link to a temporary micro-site when running short term competitions and promotions.

QR codes can be saved for future reference, a useful function where the destination sell is concerned. An interesting QR link is a handy memento of a visit, to share with family and friends and promote viral activity. The opportunities for imagination and creativity are endless - and the possibilities for historical or environmental interpretation too diverse to be touched on here.

Stop Press, 28 October 2011: I have just watched a customer in my local pub painstakingly photographing each page of the menu to send to guests at an upcoming function. A single printed QR code on the menu, linked to an online menu page, would have done the business with much less effort and much less chance of illegibility through flare or soft focus!

Generate Your Own QR Codes
I have received reports of design companies charging clients £2,000 or more for QR codes. Follow these steps to create your own QR code(s) in less than a minute, free of charge:
  • Select your preferred landing page.
  • For an industry-standard QR generator, click HERE.
  • Select 'Browse to a Web Site'.
  • Enter your page URL.
  • Click on 'Generate Code'.
  • Save the resulting QR code image to your hard disc.
  • You will now have a Bitmap image that can be converted to any format (Jpeg, etc.). The image can be scaled to any size in whatever application you choose. Recommended minimum size: one inch square with white surround.
QR Codes - Every Little Helps
In 2008 I added a selection from my photo library to the BFA web site in the form of galleries that cover sections of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in line of march from Eglwyswrw to Solva. In 2011 QR codes were generated for each of the six pages of photo itineraries. Printed QR codes were distributed free of charge for display by local businesses.
BFA: Pembrokeshire Coast Path Photo Itineraries: Pwllderi to Abercastle

A final example of the flexibility of QR codes appeared on LinkedIn recently. An American company has used the flat roof of its premises for an outsize QR code that will appear on Google Maps!

In Conclusion
This series of blogs is intended primarily for small tourism operators, especially those at Internet entry level. I have stressed the contribution that local hospitality providers can make to destination marketing, not least by embracing the opportunities afforded by the World Wide Web. The mechanisms suggested on these pages are cost-free, and the ability of the 'blog' option to accommodate a great deal of content and functionality is demonstrated by example. Businesses and communities that embrace some, if not all, of the suggestions outlined here will transcend a mere information network; the result will be a tight mesh of destination marketing. All of this is, however, the tip of a very large Internet iceberg. Further research, allied with creative marketing thinking, will reveal new possibilities; and technology is always evolving to open up new opportunities. Finally, it is important to emphasise that the Internet activity which has been the main subject of these blogs is only one element of strategic marketing. Ignore this at your peril - and always remember that marketing is a process, not an event.

Porthgain Harbour: 360 Degree Panorama

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Destination Marketing & Micro Businesses

The Story So Far ...
In September 2011 I posted a blog that examined the background of destination marketing as it affects, and can be affected by, the accommodation sector - small hotels, B&Bs, self-catering, etc. I proposed that there is still, in some quarters, over-reliance on passive marketing via third parties as a result of the historical development of destination marketing. I argued that more progressive businesses had adopted a pro-active approach within the framework of the third-party destination marketing hierarchy, even within the limitations that existed before the Internet. I suggested that these limitations, mainly relating to available space and budget, had been lessened by the advent of the World Wide Web. And although conventional web site development can incur considerable expense, I hinted that there are ways that small businesses can establish an Internet presence and contribute to the 'destination sell' at low, or no, cost. "Destination Marketing Revisited" can be found HERE.

The focus in "Destination Marketing Revisited" arose, in some degree, from my experience of small accommodation businesses, especially in West Wales. This focus is, perhaps, timely. Local intelligence suggests an ageing population of proprietors, predicating an impending turnover of businesses (or, more worryingly, the return of properties to residential status). The same situation may well exist in other holiday areas where there is a traditional high turnover of business ownership. For every generation of new entrants into the trade there is a necessary learning curve that can be embarked upon by generic (and often superficial) training workshops but is most often approached by studying the activities of competitors. Such study, if the choices are fortunate, will lead to good practice and individualistic development. But poor exemplars lead to the perpetuation of bad habits and a failure in marketing efficacy, whether for the business in question or for the wider region. Although I continue here with my original focus, there is substance in what follows for small business in all sectors where an Internet presence can be used to advantage.

Please note that I make no claim to expertise in the more technical aspects of ICT, nor in web site design. Over the years I have developed web sites and peripheral activity for my own purposes, mainly as test beds to find my way around the continually evolving digital world. My interest has been in the basic principles of information organisation, the Internet in a communications and marketing context, and in maintaining some passing familiarity with the issues, developments and trends that should influence marketing decisions and routines. I am, as always was, a firm believer that there is no substitute for 'hands-on' learning - with a little help from your friends!

Pictorial content is used to impart the general ambience of the destination area. 

Micro Businesses & The Internet
At the outset I would point out that for the small business with limited human resources, prioritisation is an indispensable component of strategic marketing. The number of online marketing channels available has increased substantially in recent years. While I will show that core or supplementary online activity can be undertaken at virtually no financial cost, the price is paid in management time - a scarce resource for owner-managers. It is therefore essential that marketing effort is kept within manageable limits. It is better to develop a few channels effectively than to spread effort thinly over a wide spectrum.

I am going to proceed on the assumption that the reader is the owner/manager of a small hospitality business, possibly a new entrant, who has identified a need for an Internet presence; but much of what follows is applicable to other resource-starved small businesses, community groups, etc. I would hope that readers are aware that the web does not simply offer a passive means of presenting their product to the marketplace, but that they also appreciate the possibilities of opening up channels of communication with existing and potential markets.

A web presence, once established, should be seen as an anchor for marketing activity. It is a central reference point whose effectiveness depends on successful employment of the various mechanisms that can attract site visitors - a marketing exercise in its own right. So what are the options?

In-house web site development may well be beyond the skills and resources of the small business owner. Even with these skills in place, developing and maintaining a dedicated web site incurs some cost and is time consuming. And although the owner retains complete control, the processes involved in developing the site beyond adding simple updates to, say, a News & Events page are unwieldy. Nevertheless, a dedicated web site with good content may attract the attention of search engines, can focus in on the particular attributes and benefits of your immediate locality and will certainly provide the foundation for pro-active marketing. The alternative to in-house development, a professionally designed and maintained web site, can be costly. It cannot be assumed that web designers have any specialist knowledge of your industry or your particular business, so that you will need to allocate management time to providing input in the form of content, etc. And the constant refreshment of the site, a necessary ingredient for SEO and regular visitors, can be delayed and add to costs when undertaken by a design house.

Many small accommodation businesses rely on third parties to gain an online foothold. Opportunities exist within the traditional destination marketing hierarchy - national, regional and local - most of which outlets charge for listings. Another option is the letting agency, especially prevalent in the self-catering sector, where costs in the form of sales commissions can be substantial. Although these routes to the web save greatly on management time, there is a corresponding loss of control over design and content, and the opportunities for regular updates and pro-active engagement are more limited than with a dedicated site. A further point is that your business is presented alongside a sizeable number of competitors, so that the site visitor may be spoilt for choice. Bear in mind also that web sites that service a wide region can only present a generic and diluted destination sell.

Outdoor activities encompass a range of niche markets that respond to web content that plays to specialist interests: Yankee Doodle, E2, Lands End.

All of the above cases provide small businesses with URLs (Uniform Resource Locators), Internet addresses that can be used to promote and drive traffic to a solus web site or a specific page on a joint marketing site. So far, so good. But is there any way that the limitations of the above options can be avoided to create more direct and more immediate involvement with target audiences? The answer is the Blog.

Blogging For Micro Businesses
Blogs are most generally used by the opinionated to bring their invaluable judgements to the world at large (comments are not invited!). But the blog format offers a structure that can be used as an alternative to a conventional web site for new entrants, or as an add-on to proprietors with a dedicated web site or whose Internet presence is reliant on third parties. All that is required is a little familiarity with word processing. The advantages of a blog are total control, flexibility, professional presentation, instant updates and amendments, an anchor point and URLs for general marketing activity, a mechanism for engaging directly with audiences and, not least important, a FREE Internet presence.

My own choice of blog provider was Blogspot, operated by Google, and I will use this blog as an example of a web site alternative. Origination could not be simpler. Go to and sign up for a free Google account if you don't already have one. This gives you access to the blogosphere and you will be prompted to select a name for your blog which will appear as part of the URL(s).

The first step is to choose from a range of templates that will set up the general design scheme of your blog. Once done, all of the formatting commands that are common to word processing programmes are available to you on your blog pages including typeface, font size, embolden, italicise, underline, range left, right or centre, text colour, etc.

Blogspot offers you up to ten pages of content. If you go to the top of this page you will see that I have used six of my pages so far, all with individual tabs: the 'Home' page; some personal and professional information (About Barrie Foster); a brief introduction to the blog (About This Blog) a Copyright caveat; and two pages dedicated to specific activities (ProHelp and Canmol). These pages are, of course, designed to be relevant to my own business, but the opportunity to segment aspects of any business are obvious. In the case of an accommodation operator wishing to exploit the advantages of his immediate area for particular markets and specialist interests, pages might be generated for local wildlife, history, architecture, local events, outdoor activities generally or even individual sports. These aspects of the destination sell can sit alongside an 'About Us' page that presents the accommodation product and a 'Contact' page that includes a call to action.

Wildlife enthusiasts can be targeted seasonally. For example, bird migrations and seal pupping can attract business for the autumn shoulder: October 2011, North Pembrokeshire. Photo: Jill Morgan, Carnachenwen.

The 'Home' page is dynamic and is the landing page for the main site URL. Each new addition (local events, special offers, etc.) is headlined and automatically datelined, archived and indexed in the 'Blog Archive' on the right. Nonetheless, content can be amended or fine-tuned if necessary, and errors corrected (even Homer nods!). Visitors can elect to be notified of updates via their Favourites bar (see 'The Easy Way to Follow this Blog' on my 'About This Blog' page) or subscribe to email updates using the 'Add A Gadget' facility on the Blogger 'Design' tab (of which more below).

The remaining pages are static, but, again, they can be amended and updated at any time. They can be reached from the tabs at the head of the site, but each static page has an individual URL that can be used in mailshots, etc, to target audiences with known susceptibilities. It is worth noting at this point that specialist knowledge is invaluable when addressing specialist pursuits: hosts can engage with customers and potential customers more sympathetically when there is common interest. Work to your strengths: birdwatchers, walkers, watersports enthusiasts; all are a valuable source of local knowledge to the visitor, and by imparting your knowledge via the Internet you will generate the kind of authoritative, content rich copy that attracts search engines. But the most important function of the Internet must be to begin, and continue, conversations with your customers.

How much do you know about your local history and architecture? St Davids Cathedral and Bishops Palace.

In addition to the dynamic Home page and the static tabbed pages, Blogger has an 'Add a Gadget' option on the 'Design' tab which generates additional panels that can be positioned where required. These can accommodate a variety of functions, including links to social networks, MP3 clips, video, search boxes and much more.

Within the main pages it is a simple matter to insert pictures, illustrations and videos from your PC or other sources. You can also include links to other web sites, or to individual postings and static pages internally.

All of these possibilities can be implemented easily. Blogger is to a great extent self-explanatory and intuitive. The palette is, perhaps, a little restricted, but affords most of the benefits of the Internet to the owner-operated small business, including a 'Stats' feature, even where the blog is the only Internet option employed. And with a blog in place, the games can begin!

The blog URL can now be featured across the range of marketing activity to drive traffic to the core product presentation. A URL allows listings in web directories, many of which are free. A URL allows you to exchange links with other web sites, using the 'Link List' option in Gadgets. A URL allows you to register with search engines - and a particular advantage of Blogger and Blogspot is that it is powered by Google and your blog is automatically registered with (currently) the most significant search engine on the planet. And a URL opens the door to other strategic and tactical opportunities, some of which will be examined in my next blog.

Finally, the contribution of all of the above to destination marketing was summarised in my previous blog. "The ramifications for destination marketing of a structured web presence by individual businesses are considerable. First and foremost they contribute to the cumulative effect of a multi-channel, multiple platform, communications environment. Secondly, by offering different viewpoints and perspectives, they create interest and engagement, texture and vibrancy - a multi-layered picture that can only benefit the destination as a whole."

Putting it all together: for the third and last piece in this series click on "Destination Marketing & Local Communities".

Blogger supports a range of embedded functions: 360 Degree Panorama, Lower Fishguard Harbour, North Pembrokeshire.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Destination Marketing Revisited

The iconic 'Jolly Fisherman' poster by Frank Newbould, after the original character by John Hassall,  was first published by the Great Northern Railway in 1908.

Destination Marketing & Holiday Accommodation
The relationship of small and medium sized businesses to destination marketing has been a recurring theme through my twenty five years as a tourism marketing specialist. I have argued, more times than I care to remember, that every business, regardless of size and regardless of how it connects to the visiting public, has a role to play in sustaining local tourism, whether by adding to visitors' enjoyment through standards of courtesy and service; or by contributing to the destination marketing effort - the subject of this Blog.

Over the years my work has ranged from regional and sub-regional audits, through feasibility studies and marketing planning for substantial private sector operations, to intensive one-on-one advisory sessions with owners of businesses at the smaller end of the spectrum. As an independent adviser with such (former) organisations as the Wales Tourist Board, West Wales TEC and the Welsh Development Agency I reviewed the marketing strategies and delivery of many hundreds of small businesses; and it is in the nature of tourism in the resorts and rural areas of Wales that a proportion of these cases were in the numerically dominant sector: visitor accommodation, whether small hotels, guesthouses or self-catering.

Even now, a quarter of a century since I concentrated my business focus on tourism and leisure, there are proprietors who perpetuate the patterns that were almost ubiquitous at that time. An underlying weakness was a failure to understand the nature of the tourism product. Accommodation operators, for the most part, believed that potential consumers would respond to so-called marketing material that provided detailed information of the facilities and services on offer within their premises. Print material was pretty much homogeneous, consisting of photographs of letting rooms, dining rooms, bars, etc., together with tariffs and assurances of comfort, quality and service. Basic information of this kind is important; but if unsupported it fails to address the fact that for the majority of consumers, holiday accommodation is merely a convenience, the means that gives them access to their chosen destination.

It is true, of course, that a proportion of visitors will be familiar, to a greater or lesser extent, with the area that they intend to visit and will have made their primary decision on this basis. In this circumstance the secondary decision, on accommodation, comes into play and can be influenced by response material that is devoted entirely to individual amenities. But it should be recognised that even repeat markets will at some point have been first-time visitors and have been attracted to a region by any number of factors, including destination marketing. And while it is an aphorism that it is easier to retain existing customers than to attract new ones, new market penetration is essential if business levels are to be sustained in the face of competitive intrusion or the simple dynamics of an ageing and less active customer base.

Even in those distant years BI (Before the Internet) I encouraged the use of the "destination sell" in marketing activity, within the constraints of available space and budget. The objective was (is) to place individual businesses within the wider regional marketing effort and context; to assist in the penetration of new markets; or to remind and re-enthuse potential repeat visitors. Since the advent of the World Wide Web, space and budget constraints are no longer quite so pressing (and I shall have more to say on this in later blogs). Which begs the question: "Why do so many accommodation proprietors still fail fully to promote the natural resources, amenities, history and heritage of their local area?" Even where lip service is paid to the principle of regional promotion the information provided is, more often than not, scant, and in some cases inaccurate or uninformed.

To answer my own question, I believe that at the core of the problem is a legacy of dependence: for more than a century the onus of destination marketing has been taken up and driven by others, so that many of the small businesses that make up 80% or more of tourism operations are slow to exploit the wider product that is at the heart of their marketing offer.

At great risk of over-simplification it is worth examining the roots and branches of this legacy. To do this we need to return to a time long before the overseas package holidays of the 1960s-70s and even before widespread car ownership. These were the days when mass tourism developed exponentially. Domestic tourism was the norm, a hundred and fifty years before a recent assassin of the English language invented the term 'staycation' as if replacement holidays in times of recession were a new phenomenon. And other interests were at work that saw their business growth inextricably allied with tourism. These laid the foundations of much that was to follow. The railway companies were a prime example.

Popular Tourism and Mass Transport

London, Midland & Scottish Railway poster that combines the picturesque with a concise marketing proposition.

Where the few go the many follow. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were a constraint on the continental Grand Tour, regarded as a rite of passage for the aristocracy and a growing middle class. At the same time the Romantic movement - writers and artists such as the Lake Poets or JMW Turner, new generations of travel writers, amateur antiquarians and the rest - drew the attention of the leisured minority to the spectacular and picturesque within the British Isles. And as the middle classes increased through the years of industrial expansion and as public transport in the form of the railways brought remote regions within reach, leisure travel became a possibility for more and more of the population.

On 5 July 1841 Thomas Cook organised rail transport from Leicester to Loughborough for a group of 570 temperance campaigners. This eleven mile excursion marked the beginning of package travel and the birth of the modern travel agency. It was made possible by a shrewd and mutually beneficial arrangement between Cook and the newly extended Midland Counties Railway. From then on, as the rail network was expanded by a plethora of private companies, the competition for customers became intense. The travel trade had a part to play by following in the footsteps of Thomas Cook, but perhaps of more interest is the efforts of the railway companies themselves to attract passengers. Their solution was the promotion, and even the creation, of tourist destinations.

By the turn of the century many small companies had fallen by the wayside and been subsumed by the more successful, the inevitable outcome of a burst investment bubble and a competitive climate that continued unabated. The railway companies were regional in nature so that it was logical that their marketing should concentrate on passenger traffic for regional networks, a process that continued as companies were merged to create extended spheres of influence. By the twenties the London, Midland Scottish Railway, the London & North Eastern Railway, the Great Western Railway and the Southern Railway were monoliths that competed individually or jointly for holiday traffic by extolling the virtues of destinations that lay within their existing infrastructure. Interestingly, even so early the railways were astute in recognising the marketable potential of individual destinations to discrete target audiences, and the weaknesses of a business model that contained within it an entrenched seasonality - issues which continue to engage tourism marketers today and proof, if proof were needed, that there is nothing new under the sun. The Lake District was presented as a haven of tranquility for discerning visitors. Brighton and Bournemouth and other coastal resorts were promoted for their health and fitness benefits and, at various times, as all-year, all-weather resorts; this following in the track of the inland chalybeate spas. And as holiday-taking devolved downwards through the population, coastal spas evolved into family resorts. The holiday destinations of the United Kingdom were proclaimed from every railway station and from every display panel in every compartment on every train. At the same time the companies emphasised the speed and convenience of rail travel, thus addressing the perceived competition offered by road transport - a coach trade that played a similar part in destination marketing and the creeping intrusion of the motor car.

"The Coronation". Artwork by Tom Purvis for the LNER.

Through the major social changes of most of the twentieth century, well beyond the nationalisation of the railways in 1947 when the names of the companies were enshrined as divisions of British Railways, rail transport was one of the major drivers of tourism through the constant production of posters that ranged from scenic depictions by established academicians, to strikingly stylised artwork from some of the leading graphic artists of their day. Arguably the 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of a medium that emerged as an art form in its own right.

Among the great names were John Hassall and Frank Newbould, whose 'Jolly Fisherman' character has served Skegness for more than a century. But the trend for simplicity, clean colours and clear typography, well rooted in art deco, was fostered and continued by Tom Purvis, Norman Wilkinson, Charles Baker, Leonard Richmond and many more.


From top: Bridlington, Tom Purvis, for LNER; Anglesey, Norman Wilkinson, for LMS; Snowdonia, Charles Baker, for LMS; Cornwall, Leonard Richmond, for GWR.

Primary decision making - choice of destination - was thus influenced from the earliest days of rail travel by advertising on a large scale supported by a travel trade committed to turning prospects into sales. It remained for hoteliers to supply the information necessary for secondary decision making - choice of accommodation. The accommodation brochure was born.

Town Halls, local councils, hotel associations and the travel trade itself cooperated in the production of 'guides' that were designed primarily to service the demand created by third-party advertising and all the multifarious influences that brought a destination to the attention of the public. We have only to think of RD Blackmore and Exmoor, the Brontës and Yorkshire, Daphne du Maurier and Cornwall, or the Newlyn and St Ives schools of artists to realise that tourism trends are swayed by an intricate web of stimuli that has increased with ever more sophisticated channels of communication.

The Changing Dynamics of Destination Marketing
The accommodation brochure served the tourist trade well for many years. Essentially a compendium of hotels and guesthouses, there was little space available for the destination sell. This was scarcely necessary as demand had been created by other means. But by the 1960s and 1970s fundamental changes in leisure travel brought the role of the traditional accommodation brochure into question. Car ownership saw geometric progression after the Second World War, accelerated by rail closures that peaked in the 1960s under the notorious "Beeching Axe", when more than 2,000 stations were removed from the network. The reach of public transport advertising was reduced as the railways' ability to service tourism, and their old dependence on leisure travel, declined. At the same time affordable air travel, and especially the overseas holiday package, gave access to a widening circle of exotic locations and brought unprecedented competitive intrusion. And as the problems for the UK tourism trade mounted, they were exacerbated by entrenchment in a marketing convention honoured by long custom while the market context and marketing environment were changing.

The self-interest of the trade, and the awareness by central and local government of the economic benefits of tourism, prompted a response. The 1969 Development of Tourism Act created a new hierarchy of destination marketing, in some cases absorbing regional trade groups; by the same Act grant-in-aid powers were put in place to assist in marketing at regional level and to encourage improvements in a product that was experiencing an incipient downward spiral, the outcome of declining revenues. The overarching marketing umbrella was the British Tourism Authority, charged with promoting the UK as a tourism destination through overseas offices in co-operation with the national tourist boards of England, Scotland and Wales. The national tourist boards and such sub-regional entities as the West Country Tourist Board were restricted to marketing within the UK and empowered with the supervision of grant-in-aid. It is in the nature of destination marketing that, the larger its scope, the less detail can be devoted to regional and sub-regional attributes and brands; this was especially the case where print was the dominant marketing and response medium. So that under the umbrellas of the BTA and the national boards, regional marketing devolved, in the main, to local authorities working in co-operation with the local tourism trade and subsidised by public funds.

The weakness in the system was that the numerically dominant accommodation sector (and smaller businesses were most numerous of all) exercised undue influence over local marketing decisions. The traditional hotel brochure survived under the compulsion of the trade, with limited space allocated to other components of the tourism product (including the destination itself). With the bulk of LA tourism budgets absorbed by the production and distribution of response material there was, in many cases, very little remaining for aggressive advertising. Less entrepreneurial traders relied over-much on an outmoded system that they had helped perpetuate while, ironically, vociferously criticising the tourist boards for a perceived failure to deliver customers to their businesses.

The more professional accommodation operators had a deeper understanding of the nature of marketing and in various ways worked within the hierarchical context. At macro level, joint marketing consortia approached the market variously: the larger symbol groups offered a degree of homogeneity in product quality, targeted on distinct demographics; more exclusive commercial consortia focused on such product types as the country house hotel; and letting agencies provided a marketing route for the self-catering sector. At the micro end of the spectrum the process of product and market segmentation allowed proprietors to identify specific audiences and tailor their advertising, taking full advantage of specialist interest publications. Even so, the opportunities for the destination sell were still space-limited in traditional advertising and response material.

Progressive businesses embraced more pro-active methods. The guest book provided a database for regular mailshots - news, forthcoming events and seasonal milestones that supported and added texture to the destination marketing context. Press releases generated editorial PR coverage that often extended beyond the doors of guesthouse or hotel and news items were exploited (and sometimes created!) to attract press and broadcast media attention. None of this was rocket science or particularly new, but these techniques percolated down from the macro to the micro, assisted in some degree by the workshops, seminars and advisory schemes delivered by the tourism development hierarchy.

Not all small businesses were reached by the dissemination of marketing good practice, and some remained convinced that it was the task of others to sell their destination to the world at large. And in the meantime, the structure of public sector involvement in tourism has been changing and the responsibilities and funding allocations devolved from central government to the regions has been in flux. Arguably, marketing relies more and more on the initiative and creativity of the individual business, and this includes promoting the destination on which their trade depends.

It is time to consider the World Wide Web.

The Internet and the Destination Sell
The creation and subsequent development of the Internet, and more recently of new integrated platforms and applications, has created enormous additional opportunities for small businesses. Space is no longer a constraint: it is now possible to identify and provide pertinent information to existing or potential markets by partitioning destination information between dedicated web pages supported by a clear navigation structure. Web site visitors can home in on the aspects of a region that appeal to their particular interests: the Internet allows the fullest exploitation of the destination sell, but only when the wider context of marketing and communications is properly appreciated.

The cumulative effect of multiple communication channels should never be underestimated. Marketing by the destination hierarchy is, or should be, informed by identifiable trends; but these trends can also be identified and exploited by the smallest businesses through close observation of mass communications media, and especially broadcast media, where the proliferation of specialist interest programmes has matched the proliferation of channels. Our television sets are inundated, to the point of over-duplication, with programmes that not only address, but create, public interest. History, archaeology, architecture; literature and the arts; wildlife; outdoor activities, sport, and health and fitness (the self-obsession of the age); travel; and even cookery and food: all are indicators of market susceptibility and all can be embraced within the destination sell, ideally when the local is examined in a context that will be familiar to visitors (for example, placing local historical events within a framework of the national or the global).

Specialist interests are the basis of product segmentation that can be incorporated into web site construction. Further, a segmented destination sell generates the kind of keyword-rich and authoritative content that attracts the attention of Internet search engines - see my August blog on Google Panda Guidelines. And, with a little research into the 'purpose of visit', segmentation of the destination product allows segmentation of the customer base and the targeting of specific information using the online mechanisms now available. The mailshots of the 20th Century translate into the e-mail marketing of the 21st, where e-mail address capture is a primary function of the guest book, online incentives and 'calls to action'. Finally, systems such as Google Analytics allow managers to drill down into useful data on site visitors: regions of origin, search terms and keywords, most viewed pages, time spent on site, etc., all of which can inform refinements to marketing activity.

E-mail marketing is just one example of the wider possibilities of an online presence, and these should be considered in far greater detail than is currently the case with many SMEs. Much is made of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) in web design, and it is certainly the case that a web site employing SEO principles will be more disciplined and effective. But it is not enough to rely solely on search engines to drive traffic: this is somewhat akin to the old reliance on third party marketing. Even with high quality content, rich in keywords, and with SEO techniques fully employed, web searches are likely to be swamped by the massive quantity of competing offers that use equally refined SEO methods.

A web presence should be regarded as the springboard for an integrated and pro-active marketing strategy, and the intention must be to drive traffic to this detailed presentation of the product offer. At simplest, all associated marketing activity, including company stationery, in-house signage, menus, brochures, press and directory advertising and the rest should include the web site URL. So much is obvious. Address capture is a pre-requisite for e-mail campaigns which can be generic or speak to specialist interest. Social networks and their potential for viral marketing have been a matter of consuming interest for marketers. And there has been much discussion in the marketing community of the implications of the discernible shift to mobile platforms as smartphones have emerged as the latest 'must have' technology. This last opens up even more possibilities, which will be discussed in future blogs. (And note that the blog itself can be a valuable addition to the marketing armoury.) All of this is dependent on an Internet presence.

Merchandise: A T-shirt design that marries web site promotion with a destination asset and an identified target audience.

The ramifications for destination marketing of a structured web presence by individual businesses are considerable. First and foremost they contribute to the cumulative effect of a multi-channel, multiple platform, communications environment. Secondly, by offering different viewpoints and perspectives, they create interest and engagement, texture and vibrancy - a multi-layered picture that can only benefit the destination as a whole.

I use the terms 'web presence' or 'internet presence' advisably. Although web sites allow substantially more content and greater strategic and tactical possibilities at much lower cost than print, there are, nonetheless, costs involved that can be seen as a constraint by small businesses. Professional web site design is expensive, especially in the start-up phase. Domain name ownership and web hosting are recurring costs. Web sites are most effective, whether in terms of SEO or maintaining the interest of customers, when they are regularly updated; but this adds to costs if undertaken by professionals. The alternative, in-house design and site maintenance, should only be considered if the results can match industry standards. Poor presentation reflects immediately on product perception. Common weaknesses include bad design and typography, poor organisation of information (where, for instance, disparate elements of the sales proposition are compacted into an unintelligible morass), ungrammatical or naive copy, and inferior photography. These potential pitfalls should be born in mind wherever and whenever in-house marketing is attempted.

So, at a time when a web presence is almost considered axiomatic, how is it possible for a small business fully to engage with the online community without incurring costs that reduce, or even outweigh, the benefits? Go to my next article. You have nothing to lose but the chains of received wisdom.