Interstate 81 runs through the heart of New York state, hosts a ton of traffic and connects the region’s best destinations.
As the main thoroughfare from Canada to Pennsylvania, this 170-mile gateway to the U.S. draws travelers from lucrative eastern Canadian markets like Ottawa and its $90,000 median household income.
However, the lack of marketing cooperation among communities along the corridor left this powerful tourism potential largely untapped. The five counties along the corridor stretching from the prestigious 1000 Islands region to bustling Binghamton, New York, needed a united campaign to generate dollars for their destinations.
A state grant afforded the cooperative of county tourism professionals the opportunity to attract traffic to the exits. The region tapped ABC Creative Group to craft an unprecedented campaign.
Plenty of travelers take I-81 south to Pennsylvania and north to Canada, so the marketing challenge revolved around raising awareness of business and attractions near the exits as opposed to building the audience. We needed to give them a reason to stop – and stay!
ABC and the client set out to capture the attention of these potential tourists using the most modern of methods: the mobile phone. Not only have these devices reached critical mass in terms of usage (64 percent of U.S. adults own a smart phone according to the Pew Research Center), geo-location has become just as ubiquitous.
With paper maps in the cultural rearview, mobile navigation opens a window of direct communication with travelers. We wanted to maximize interactive mapping with a useful tool designed to benefit both business and the traveler.
ABC WENT TO WORK BUILDING 81EXITS.COM, A DEFINITIVE EXIT-BY-EXIT GUIDE TO GAS, FOOD, LODGING AND, OF COURSE, ATTRACTIONS DRIVEN BY GEO-LOCATION TECHNOLOGY.
The straightforward and easy-to-input URL made the Web app accessible to the target audience. We complemented that simplicity with an equally direct tagline: Where to stop when you’re on the go.
We wanted to give I-81 its own ID; something that would signal the route transcends the typical interstate.
The logo incorporates elements of those familiar red-and-blue shields, but also features elements that give it a sense of “place.” This would come in the form of an increasingly familiar icon: the geo-location indicator native to mobile devices.
Armed with the clear identity and promise of exclusive content absent from GPS units and similar apps, the 81exits.com moved onto the next necessary phase: collaboration.
Proper population of the site required all five partners to provide the information for the locations, ensuring that each of the 700-plus listings would be up to date and deliver authentic descriptions from the people who know the place best.
We enhanced this insider’s guide with a “What’s Cool” category, which features a particular attraction hand-picked by tourism leaders in that particular county.
ABC brought the partners together for a few planning sessions to coordinate the data parameters and sources. Each exit would include gas, food and lodging within two miles of the ramp as well as attractions within five miles. All the information was compiled, edited and uploaded by ABC, which also designed and developed the site from scratch.
Geo-location technology indicates all upcoming exits and the auto’s location on I-81. Each listing includes basic information as well a mapping feature that takes travelers right to their selected destination.
This service combined with content give 81exits.com its major competitive advantage over GPS units and other apps that lack the local touch that the partners provided.
With a solid site in place, ABC turned its attention to the awareness phase of the campaign.
We knew that each of three major visitor centers received annual foot traffic upward of 150,000. Another two rest stops added more real estate for the point of purchase materials we would create.
Once again, we turned to our partners, who showed us the best spots for exposure and provided measurements we would use for signage. Each of the five stops was fit with customized P.O.P., which varied widely.
Locations with free coffee carried promotional cups, for example. ABC created 20 pieces featuring the 81exits.com logo, including free-standing pull-ups, reception desk wraps and signs, all designed to be easily installed by the partners and each featuring a mobile friendly QR code.
ABC designed a companion print guide that presented all the 81exits.com listings in a more traditional format that allowed for ad sales, which were facilitated by our sell sheets and executed by the tourism partners.
We developed all creative for a three-month digital campaign that reached into all the target markets. The ads were placed by a woman-owned business we partnered and communicated with on behalf of the client to fulfill requirements of the grant that funded the 81exits.com project.
Launched in February, the site built a solid traffic pattern as the weather and travel season began to heat up,
PEAKING IN JUNE WITH JUST OVER
WEB SESSIONS IN ONE DAY.
THE DIGITAL MEDIA WE CREATED PERFORMED EXCEPTIONALLY WELL, WITH PAID SEARCH RESULTS MAKING
IMPRESSIONS AND DRAWING AN IMPRESSIVE
PERCENT CLICK THROUGH RATE. MOBILE ADS GRABBED ANOTHER
-PLUS IMPRESSIONS AND RESPECTABLE
CTR, WITH MOST TRAFFIC COMING FROM THE TARGET MARKETS IN CANADA AND PENNSYLVANIA.
THE SITE STILL PERFORMS WELL, DRAWING AROUND 100 VISITORS EACH WEEK EVEN SEVERAL MONTHS AFTER THE DIGITAL CAMPAIGN CONCLUDED.
EACH PARTNER HAS THE ABILITY TO UPDATE OR ADD LISTINGS AS WELL AS CHANGE “WHAT’S COOL” ATTRACTION, GIVING THE 81EXITS.COM INDEFINITE SUSTAINABILITY. ABC ALSO DEVELOPED THE SITE TO SUPPORT ADVERTISING OR SPECIAL OFFERS BY BUSINESSES OR ATTRACTIONS IN FUTURE PHASES OF THE PROJECT.
The 81exits.com project successfully united five counties and their communities in the first cohesive tourism initiative in the auto artery’s history.
That collaboration among the counties combined with the value of the website itself turned travelers into tourists by catering to them. The site brings together travel essentials while reminding visitors to take in a unique experience as they travel to a final destination.
Geographic branding doesn’t have to be boring. Combining the tools of technology with creative thinking composes great campaigns.