Case Study: Tourism – Chattanooga

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Case Study: Tourism – Chattanooga

Case 2: Chattanooga — Re-positioning a City for Economic Growth

This case may initially seem like it is too old to include among our case studies. However, when you see the long-term impacts of Ethridge & Associates, L.L.C.’s recommendations it should be obvious why we included it.

Before Hiring Ethridge

In the late 1990’s travel tourism to Chattanooga had been significantly declining. The Chattanooga Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB), the quasi-government agency that was most responsible for the area’s tourism marketing, wanted to know why tourism was declining and what could be done to reverse this trend. The CVB’s marketing objectives were to increase tourism visits among people who would stay longer and spend more money. The CVB’s assumption about how to do this was that its visitors were skewed toward lower income households and that it needed to target more upscale visitors.

After Hiring Ethridge

In the mid summer of 2001 (before the 9/11 terrorist attacks), to test this assumption and to help the CVB determine what to do to significantly increase tourism revenues, the CVB asked Ethridge & Associates, L.L.C. to design and conduct a marketing research study. The objectives of this study, generally speaking, were to analyze Chattanooga’s current market and potential market to determine:

  • How the Chattanooga tourism brand was positioned in the minds of the market relative to competition
  • What to do about how the brand was positioned to significantly increase its tourism revenues.

To meet these objectives, Ethridge & Associates, L.L.C. applied our proprietary Marketing Opportunity Analysis. We conducted a scientific telephone survey using an adequately large, random sample of prior visitors and prospective visitors. We also established sample quotas by key media markets to be able to analyze results and apply the recommendations from the research by media market.

Key Findings

  • The assumption that the area’s tourism visitors were skewed toward lower income households was wrong.
    • The majority of both the area’s recent visitors and its Best Prospect Segment (that segment from which the area had the best chance of cost-effectively generating new visitors) were already skewed toward high-income households.
    • However, despite their high income, the prior visitors were visiting Chattanooga less often, staying fewer nights and spending less money on average than they were at other destinations.
    • The study found that the reason why people were visiting Chattanooga less often, staying less often and spending less money was that the area’s tourism marketing campaign lacked momentum on Key Marketing Effectiveness Measures of  Top-of-Mind Awareness, Favorable Predisposition toward visiting the destination, and Brand Image strength on attributes that were highly motivating to the market (even though Chattanooga offered those attribute benefits).
    • Thus, the issue was not to target a higher income traveler but rather to run an effective awareness and image building campaign that targeted people like those who were already visiting, yet with a message — a Brand Proposition or Unique Selling Proposition — that would motivate them to visit Chattanooga more often, stay more nights and spend more money.
  • Regarding how to generate visitors who would visit more often, stay more nights and spend more money, our perceptual mapping analysis found the following:
    • Chattanooga was uniquely positioned among competitors as a passive edutainment attraction that offered educational entertainment with spectator things to do, like viewing historical attractions (e.g., Civil War History, the Chattanooga Choo Choo) and natural phenomena (e.g., mountains, caverns, waterfalls, etc.) . . .
    • However, based on the motivating power of the brand attributes and the benefits that were sought by Chattanooga’s Best Prospect Segment, the brand needed to reposition more in the direction of an active/participant/recreation entertainmentdestination (by emphasizing attributes like being a good place for outdoor activities such as camping, white water rafting, boating, fishing, hiking and rock climbing).
    • At the same time, the study found that the most influential attribute overall to the key market segments was being a good place to relax and escape from it all — an attribute which Chattanooga offered (in the objective marketing reality) but was not perceived by the market to have an image strength on (the subjective marketing reality).
    • These three sets of findings combined meant that Chattanooga should position the brand as a unique place where you can both, (1) relax, unwind and escape from it all (passive edutainment) and (2) have fun (active/participant/recreation entertainment).

Ethridge’s Recommendations

Based on our Marketing Opportunity Analysis, we made Strategic Brand Positioning Recommendations regarding realistic marketing goals, which market segments to target, which media to use, how to allocate the media budget by month (based on when people were making decisions to take certain types of trips), and the strategic brand message. Using our Model for Managing Competitive Advantage we recommended the relative priority order of emphasis that Chattanooga should give to key attributes to motivate tourists, who would visit more often, stay longer and spend more money. Regarding the Strategic Brand Proposition, we recommended that the brand reposition its image by employing an umbrella theme that positioned Chattanooga as a place where you can either relax (passive) or have fun (active entertainment) enjoying outdoor activities or learning about natural phenomena and historical sites, where the umbrella theme was supported by sub-themes of various destination attractions/benefits.

Results of Following Ethridge’s Recommendations

Whereas when Chattanooga first came to Ethridge & Associates, L.L.C. for help, they had been experiencing declines in tourism, soon after we made these recommendations in 2001, the tourism revenue for the Chattanooga area (Hamilton County, Tennessee) started a dramatic increase that continues today. As late as June 2010, the Chattanooga CVB still uses the key theme that we recommended; today it is, worded as “Relax. Have Fun. Experience a Chattanooga Getaway (see the theme still in use at http://www.chattanoogafun.com/). By using the basic theme  we discovered and recommended based on our Marketing Opportunity Analysis, over the past decade, the Chattanooga (Hamilton County) area’s tourism revenue has increased dramatically as shown in the presentation found at the link below.

(Source: http://www.slideshare.net/smorse37920/ChattCVB11509)

Moreover, due a long-term continued emphasis on this brand repositioning theme, that combines the benefits of relaxation and fun, the area’s overall economic development has improved dramatically.

  • The area has become Tennessee’s fastest growing county in tourism revenue. Click here for more information.
  • As a result of the contribution of tourism revenue to the area’s overall economic development, Chattanooga went from a “deep hole” to leading the state in population growth. Click here for more information.
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