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Small Town Story – Marketing Your Community As A Destination

Small towns don’t need big bucks to effectively market themselves.

 “Marketing Your Community as a Destination,” focuses on several different barriers rural communities have when trying to market themselves and how to break through those barriers.

Tracy Dishman, Principal at McCormick-Dishman, LLC, is skilled in a variety of ways small towns can effectively market themselves.

More than ever, the greater part of the country is excited about small town experiences. When people from big cities visit a small town, their excitement increases because it usually fits their expectation of what a small town is supposed to be.

Marketing a community is letting the whole world know about the cool stuff you have. It’s about telling your story. Online tools are the perfect way to do this. People are online, right now, looking for the things that you have. Right at this moment someone is searching for a community just like yours. They just don’t know it’s you yet.

Every small town has a story to tell that can draw in visitors.

There are three barriers to marketing a small town: time, money and perceptions.

For those who think they are too busy to market their town,  borrow the time of others. For towns that have a small marketing budget, online tools help get the word out. The last barrier is also the hardest to break through, namely the perceptions people have about their own town.

“Oh, we don’t have anything in our town. What is there to see in our town?”  You have heard this, you’ve said it, because that’s the way it is in a small town. We don’t think about all the things that we have.

People in small towns don’t think about all the things those who live in a large city will enjoy, such as a simple pasture full of cows, a genuine soda fountain or a full-service gas station.

There is a “progression of engagement” that uses four levels to increasingly engage tourists in the community.

A commodity is generic and does nothing to set one community apart from another. She said towns that buy a big ad stating, “A great place to live,” are relying on a generic statement that does nothing to set them apart or show their unique qualities.

The second level is asset. Items such as an antique store. But, many towns have similar assets, such as antique stores, Something more is needed to draw people in.

This leads to the third level, experience. This is something special that moves up the level of engagement for people so they become a bigger part of the town’s story.

There is a restaurant in Valley City that has the china is all mismatched, old, antique china. The whole experience of dining there is an antiques experience. This moves the community up another level of engagement with people. They’re becoming more a part of the story.

The top level is called renewal, which is the point of engagement where visitors are involved and actively participating in the town’s story. Have you ever participated in a reenactment of a battle that happened in a small town?

You feel like you’re having an experience of your lifetime. And, by being involved, you are helping to maintain part of the tradition of the community. This turns a visitor’s experience into a transformation.

The following is a borrowed a list of eight elements every small community has from Marci Penner, executive director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, which helps preserve and sustain rural culture in Kansas.

The list includes architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, customs, geography, history and people. Community leaders should use these eight things to help tell their town’s story.

Once that’s determined, it’s time to figure out how to tell that story. This is where online/social media comes in.

Social media such as Twitter and Facebook play an important role in this. “Online champions” are vital to spreading the word about a small town. Online champions, such as town alumni, are the people who already love your town and will be glad to say good things about it. They just need a little help.

There are several online tools that can be used to find out what’s being said about a city in order to gauge general public perception. Several Web sites such as addictomatic.com, socialmention.com and http://www.icerocket.com can search across the vast expanses of the Internet for specific topics, such as a town, and show hits from various online sources mentioning it such as tweets from Twitter and travel blogs.

To earn additional online coverage, an excellent place to begin is alltop.com, which lists all the hot topics currently on the Internet and also has numerous listings for travel-related topics such as hunting, fishing and travel writing.

A town could invite a group of travel bloggers found on Alltop,com on a hunting or fishing trip to get more coverage on the Internet, for instance.

Above all, the number one most neglected step in getting the word out about a town is taking the time to reward those who are already doing so.

When you see somebody that’s talking about you and they’re doing something good, the number one, unappreciated, undone, missed step in tourism is to go and reward the people who did something good for you. If you see someone write something good about your town on their blog, take the time to comment. If you don’t do anything else, if you just do that, you would increase the amount of positive coverage you receive.

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