Case Study: Tourism – Tennessee Tourism

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Case Study: Tourism – Tennessee Tourism

Case Study 1: Tennessee Department of Tourism Development Results

Before Hiring Ethridge

The Tennessee Department of Tourism did Focus Groups and found out that Tennessee was perceived as being better than any other state in offering music attractions (e.g. country music, blue grass, blues, and gospel music). So, they built a $2 million advertising campaign positioning the state’s tourism brand as a music destination. The television campaigns showed Dolly Parton and Crystal Gail atop Lookout Mountain singing the campaign theme “Come to Tennessee. We’re Playing Your Song.”

  • While this very memorable campaign initially drove tourism to the state, it mostly benefited Nashville, the nation’s country music capital, because of the emphasis on country music. Other tourist destinations throughout the state wanted a new campaign. When a new Governor was elected, his administration decided to conduct research to revisit the campaign strategy.
  • So the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development hired Ethridge & Associates, L.L.C. (Ethridge), a recognized expert firm in tourism marketing and research, to evaluate the campaign and see if a more effective message could be developed.

After Hiring Ethridge

  • Ethridge conducted a comprehensive Marketing Opportunity Analysis for the state. This study, which essentially covered the eastern half of the U.S., measured what motivated people to choose one state over another for a vacation destination, the state’s image relative to other states, and the key marketing effectiveness measures of awareness, favorable predisposition, market share, and the inquirer conversion rate.
  • This study found a key problem with the previous campaign. While the Focus Groups on which the previous campaign had been developed were right in finding that Tennessee was perceived to be stronger than any other state on music, that research had failed to measure how influential music attributes were on consumer decisions to choose one state over another as a vacation destination.
  • By comparison, Ethridge’s Marketing Opportunity Analysis measured the relative influence of 36 attributes on consumer decisions and found that all of the attributes related to the previous campaign ranked very low in market influence. For example, out of 36 attributes:
    • Having places to enjoy popular country music shows (ranked 13.5)
    • Having beautiful, scenic mountains (ranked 17.5)
    • Being known for big-name entertainment (ranked 17.5)
    • Having a variety of places to enjoy blues, jazz and rock and roll music (ranked 32nd)
  • Several attributes that the previous campaign had not emphasized ranked much higher in market influence; for example, the attributes:
    • Having one or more fun amusement and theme parks (ranked 2.5)
    • Being a good place to relax and unwind (ranked 4.0)
    • Being a good family atmosphere with a variety of things for children to enjoy (ranked 6.5)
    • Having meaningful historic landmarks, sites, architecture and battlefields (tied for 6.5)
    • Having a variety of entertainment options overall (tied for 6.5)
    • Being a good place to go for outdoor recreation and activities, such as camping, hunting, hiking, climbing, rafting, canoeing or snow skiing (tied for 6.5)
    • Being an affordable place to go on vacation or for a weekend get-away (tied for 9.5)
  • On the above attributes that ranked higher in influence than the music attributes, Tennessee had plenty of strong attractions to offer; however, the market had relatively little awareness that the state offered those benefits, because they had never been emphasized in the state’s advertising campaign.
  • One of these attributes served very well as an “umbrella theme” under which all of the others could be used to support (as a “case” or “argument”) why the theme was believable: having a variety of entertainment options overall (which ranked 6.5 in market influence). Therefore, Ethridge recommended that the state develop a campaign using the idea of variety as the umbrella theme — the positioning of the tourism brand — with the other high-ranking attributes listed above as supporting sub-themes; while giving music attributes just enough emphasis to maintain that as a competitive advantage.
  • Tennessee and its tourism ad agency, Walker + Associates, Inc., followed Ethridge’s recommendations. Based on these recommendations, the state and its ad agency developed a new ad campaign with the theme “Tennessee Sounds Good to Me.” This theme served as an umbrella under which a variety of attributes could be emphasized that “sound good” for a vacation. The word “sounds” was used in TV advertising to highlight a variety of sounds like golf balls being hit, kids laughing at amusement parks, motor boats running and, of course, music.
  • The State of Tennessee and Walker + Associates, Inc. changed the advertising message, spent  less money on mass media ($1.6 million) than the previous campaign ($2 million), and kept the media buy prorated the same. The result was that Tennessee increased its return on marketing investment to 276% of its pre-campaign level in just 6 months. Moreover, all measures of direct economic impact increased substantially.
  • The research ($60,000) represented 4% of the media budget ($1.6 million). Yet it was the critical input that:
    • Increased ad-generated consumer expenditures in Tennessee increased to 202% of the pre-test amount, from $37 million to $75 million in six months
    • Increased Marketing Return on Investment (MROI) to 276% of the pre-test amount (from $4.71 to $13.00). In other words, for every dollar spent on marketing production and media, the dollars returned in tax revenues to the state increased from $4.71 to $13.00.
    • Other significant increases as a result of following our recommendations from the Marketing Opportunity Analysis were as follows:
      • Increased inquiries by 68% (from 250,000 to 420,000).
      • Lowered the cost per inquiry 45% (from $7.13 to $3.91).
      • Increased the conversion rate by 31% (from 39% top 51%).
      • Increased taxes per inquirer returned to government by 51% (from $33.56 to $50.97 per inquirer).
      • Increased the Profit/Cost Ratio by 224% (from $3.71 to $12.04)
      • Increased the Gross Profit Margin of the ad campaign by 17% (from 78.8% to 92.3%).

The dramatic success of this campaign made statewide news all over Tennessee. Additionally, Ethridge was invited to present this research case study before the Travel and Tourism Research Association’s (TTRA) Southern Central Conference on September 29, 2000.

The success of this campaign was reported by news organizations all across Tennessee. Just of few of the newspapers and quotes selected from those newspapers are listed below.

Johnson City Press

Ad campaign boosts tourism

“Research shows that the state’s new “Tennessee Sounds Good to Me” advertising and marketing campaign has more tourists taking a vacation here than ever before. . . .

“The ‘Sounds Good to Me’ campaign . . . has broken all records for consumer identification and retention, said Don Sherman of Walker and Associates, the firm that handles tourism advertising for the state.

“Follow-up surveys conducted only six months after the campaign debuted found it had put a Tennessee vacation into the minds of half of the people asked.

“And the state moved from 14th place to a three-way tie for second with North Carolina and Georgia as the most preferred vacation destination for people living in the Southeast. Florida is the most preferred.”

(Johnson City Press, page 10, February 18, 1998).

Chattanooga Times Free Press

Variety of activities attracts tourist to the state

“The goal of Tennessee’s [tourism] campaign is to get people to think of it in terms of a variety store instead of a specialty shop,” says, Dr. John Bakke. . . . “We now have objective proof that the campaign is working” says Bakke, head of the communications department at Memphis State University and a tourism consultant.” . . .

“The effectiveness study showed that spontaneous awareness of Tennessee as a vacation-pleasure trip destination increased 50 percent. Asked what they recalled form the Tennessee ads, respondents gave the highest ranking (28 percent) to variety of things to do. . . .

“Tennessee’s image has improved on the attributes of having a wide variety of entertainment options, having beautiful, scenic mountains, having a variety of places to enjoy blues, jazz or rock n’ roll music and having genuinely hospitable, warm and friendly people.

“The campaign has also repositioned Tennessee as more of a family-oriented vacation-pleasure trip destination. The study was a scientific telephone sample survey conducted last October by Ethridge & Associates of Memphis.”

(The Chattanooga Times, page E9, February 20, 1998)

“The campaign has been effective in broadening the market for tourism, said Steve Ethridge, president of Ethridge & Associates of Memphis, a marketing, consulting and research firm that did the survey. It costs $96,000”.
(The Tennessean, page 4B, February 18, 1998).

The Commercial Appeal

“Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, said the state promotion helps the Smoky Mountain resort town. . . .

“Said Jim Kennedy, president of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau: ‘Absolutely this helps. It particularly helps us . . .”

(The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, Section B, page 1, February 17, 1998)

A sampling of other newspapers in which similar articles appears is listed below.

  • The Citizen Tribune, Knoxville, TN, page A-2 November 20, 1998
  • The Messenger, Union City, TN, page 3-B, February 18, 1998
  • The Bristol Herald Courier, page 3-B, February 18, 1998.
  • The Greenville Sun, February 18, 1998
  • The State Gazette, February 17, 1998.
  • The Paris-Post Intelligence, February 17, 1998
  • The Mountain Press, Serving Sevier County, TN page 11, February 18, 1998.
  • The Knoxville News Sentinel, page A4, February 17, 1998.
  • The Cleveland Daily Banner, page 3, February 17, 1998
  • The Oak Ridger, Oak Ridge, TN, page 6B, February 17, 1998
  • The Daily Times, Serving Blount County, page 5A, February 17, 1998
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