With bed taxes continuing an upward trend in January, the Gulf County Tourist Development last week put the finishing touches on a change in marketing strategy.
Executive director Jennifer Jenkins said bed tax revenue for January climbed 25 percent year over year, continuing a consistent upward arc for the TDC during the current fiscal year that began in October.
Save for one month, bed tax revenue in that time has grown by double digits each month.
The TDC marketing committee, and in turn the Board of County Commissioners, last week approved a new marketing strategy as Jenkins and her team enter the first full “season” of her tenure.
Jenkins came aboard in the spring of last year, pledging changes to a beleaguered agency but without the requisite time to make substantive tweaks.
This year is different.
The overhauled special event grant funding process is in place, a new sleeker and more uniform Visitor’s Guide is on the streets and the marketing strategy Jenkins has formulated will be accomplished in house and will focus on a new strategy.
Gone, Jenkins said, are the days when marketing would center on large media print and broadcast buys in markets such as Birmingham and Atlanta.
Jenkins said she will make perform some television guest spots herself, but the emphasis will be on using social media to market the county and its brands.
“It’s all based on content and that content will come from the community,” Jenkins said. “This is a change in philosophy. I think we’re going to do good things this way. I think we have the community to do this.
“It is important we create tools that are good for the consumer. Once we created these tools that are spokes of the wheel, our partners will be able to (access them).”
The emphasis will be on using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and other outlets.
The strategy will be using those tools in different ways, at different points of the process of marketing the county and its assets.
For example, Facebook and Pinterest will be used to reach consumers out of the market, posting information and photos on upcoming events and photos, offering deals from partners and the like.
But once those folks are in market, the use of a more immediate outlet such as Twitter to connect immediately to alert consumers on happenings that day will be the focus.
“We will use each a little differently and for different reasons,” Jenkins said. “We are being stewards of the message.”
The change in strategy is already reflected in the work Jenkins and her team has undertaken for months, using Google analytics to assess the market, its assets and what draws a response from potential visitors.
The work is done completely in-house, reducing the need for vendors and also bringing more bang for the buck.
“This is the way to go,” said TDC marketing committee member Tony Whitfield of the new strategy.
The strategy also includes an overhaul of the TDC website, using the colors of the Visitor’s Guide and employing a selection of photos on the masthead that will be changed with the season.
“This is a plan for the whole year,” said marketing committee chair Alyson Gerlach. “That allows our partners to leverage their funds (in conjunction with the TDC).”
The change in strategy will also necessitate a different method of tracking return on investment, or heads in beds. Jenkins is working the Clerk of Courts staff to establish criteria to use to determine the effectiveness of marketing and promotions.
“That is what we’ve been asking about for years, measurement and tracking,” Gerlach said.