Kelowna Women in Business: Marketing the virtues of Kelowna

When it comes to marketing, word on the street has always been a powerful tool.

But with the advent of the Internet, particularly the growth of social media, that street is now much longer than it used to be. In fact, it can stretch around the world.

And virtually every organization is taking notice.

Nowadays, personal reviews heavily influence decision-making. More and more we are turning to websites we trust to hear what others think about something we are interested in.

It’s a move Tourism Kelowna recognized several years ago and has made an effort to embrace.

“When I launched our social media channels five years ago the landscape was very different,” said Shauna Merritt, marketing director for Tourism Kelowna.

“The demographics have changed, new channels are evolving and sites like Instagram (a photo-based website) are having more of an impact now.”

While traditional paid newspaper, television and radio advertising is still relevant, many marketers see the value of Internet reviews because they are not considered by many as typical “spin” put out by a company or organization selling a product or service, but rather a view of that product or service by an everyday user.

“More than ever, social media is becoming a reputable source of information,” said Merritt, who readily admits many of us are more likely to trust what others who have used a service, stayed at a hotel, eaten in a restaurant or visited a place have to say than the organization promoting it.

Those in the business of creating and buying advertising, like Merritt, sees the value in that 21st century version of the word on the street, the web-based review.

But, as she pointed out, it does not have to be a wordy critique. Photo-sharing websites are helpful in marketing Kelowna to the world because, as Merritt puts it, people who come here from elsewhere take beautiful pictures and want to share them with the world.

Piggy-backing on that exposure can put the city in a good visual light that may entice others to come here and see for themselves.

Kelowna Tourism has a full-time social media manager who monitors social media channels for mentions about Kelowna and can help steer the conversation about the city in cyberspace as well as gather the information out there that helps the organization augment its other marketing messages.

A few years ago, the city was one of 12 communities across Canada chosen to be part of a successful federal tourism web-based initiative that encouraged locals to talk about their communities on line, letting potential visitors in on local secrets—things that would make a stay here more memorable.

Tourism Kelowna’s focus on social media has been successful. Its Facebook site is one of the top sites locally with more than 15,000 “likes” and there is a combined 8,000 followers on the two Tourism Kelowna Twitter accounts.

But it’s not just about getting the word out to people who don’t live here.

“It’s also a great way to connect with locals,” said Merritt, who was born and raised in the Okanagan, hailing from Coldstream, and whose family has an Okanagan Lake cabin.

Merritt says she has been entertaining out-of-town guests, showing them what the valley has to offer most of her life, so doing it on a larger scale for Tourism Kelowna seemed like a natural fit for her.

And locals also play a part in helping attract others to this area, so putting them in the know is another marketing strategy to help drive tourism, one of the biggest local industries.

With so many niche markets on offer here when it comes to tourism—golf, wine, agri-tourism, outdoor recreation, arts and culture—traditional marketing avenues are still important but the wide reach of the Internet compliments them well.

Tourism Kelowna advertises in a myriad of places including on TSN, ESPN in the U.S., CBC, the Globe and Mail, National Post and in airline magazines to name just a few.

With its thousands of Twitter followers, the organization can get its message out quickly, with YouTube videos it can add visual elements and other social media channels add an interactive and two-way conversation that did not exist in the days of “old.”

Individual groups of potential travellers now being targeted is part of the strategy for convincing them to chose Kelowna as their next destination to visit, helped by the millions of impressions generated by social media every year.

For Merritt, who likes to spend her time on the lake on her family’s boat or playing the myriad of golf courses in the valley or visiting the many wineries located in the area, marketing Kelowna to the world is an enjoyable job.

“I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places in the world,” she said. “So I can really appreciate what we have here. I’m proud to live here.”

Based on the success Tourism Kelowna is having getting others to explain why they like living here or just visiting, it seems many others do too.

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