Doing nothing here proves worth the trip

Bill Grant of Big Bang Idea Engineering, Seattle, explains the strategy behind the Whidbey and  Camano islands marketing campaign. The Thursday presentation was part of the Freeland Chamber of Commerce’s early morning breakfast meetings, held this month at Freeland Lanes. - Jennifer Conway
Bill Grant of Big Bang Idea Engineering, Seattle, explains the strategy behind the Whidbey and Camano islands marketing campaign. The Thursday presentation was part of the Freeland Chamber of Commerce’s early morning breakfast meetings, held this month at Freeland Lanes.
— image credit: Jennifer Conway

An off-island marketing campaign is beginning to show signs of effectiveness.

Bill Grant of Big Bang Idea Engineering and Christine Stepherson of Soapbox Communications, both of Seattle, came to Freeland Thursday to discuss their Whidbey and Camano islands marketing campaign “Do Nothing Here” with South Whidbey residents.

As part of the Freeland Chamber of Commerce’s new early breakfast meetings, the presentation was an alternative to the after-hours mixers for local business professionals. This month it was at Freeland Lanes bowling alley.

“I think there needs to be more communication to the people we are serving,” said Grant.

He began the presentation by explaining how the “Do Nothing Here” campaign meets the objective of bringing tourists to Whidbey Island.

“Why would we ground the whole campaign on that?” Grant asked rhetorically.

He explained the marketing objective has been to promote the unique things to do while on vacation to Whidbey, such as beachcombing, shopping or dining out.

“ ‘Do nothing here’ means come relax here,” said Grant. “It’s not about literally doing nothing.”

He said research shows the top two priorities for Whidbey and Camano Island tourists are relaxation and activity. He said Whidbey’s activities are targeted toward enjoying the environment without making scheduling demands on vacationers, which he contrasted to the constant, hectic activity of attending a theme park.

“The feeling of doing nothing is a contrast to literally doing nothing,” said Grant.

The marketing campaign began in January, and used approximately $252,000 of the county’s 2 percent lodging tax, Grant said. Funding for the campaign will drop to approximately $160,000 in 2004, making it a bigger challenge to get people to Island County.

“We want to promote Island County as a destination in the off-season,” explained Grant.

He said a primary marketing objective is to gradually generate multiple overnight stays during the islands’ shoulder seasons.

“We can’t buy instant branding, instant trial,” Grant said. “To me, tourism is about the overall business environment.”

Grant said the campaign is aimed initially at Seattle residents because it is easier to target 1 percent locally and then slowly broaden that area than to try to target 1 percent of a city in another state.

From interviews on the streets of Seattle, Grant said he found Seattle residents don’t know that much about Whidbey and Camano islands.

During the six months of off-season advertising, Grant said the campaign is getting results. Over 10,000 “unique” Web site visits — which means they don’t count second visits from the same computer — and more than 18,000 visits were made to the campaign’s Web site,

Grant gave examples of Web site hits during a recent four-day period. On Oct. 29, 61 unique visits were made on a day where only transit billboards were used. When combined with a newspaper ad the next day, 104 unique hits were made to the site. The next day, Oct. 31, when just the transit billboard was used, 62 unique hits were made. The following day, when the newspaper ad and bus billboard ran simultaneously, 148 new people visited the Web site.

While lodging tax figures will not be reported until January, taxable retail sales and retail trade rose in Island County in the second quarter of this year, according to the state Department of Revenue. Taxable retail sales includes retail, services, construction, manufacturing, transportation and real estate. In the second quarter, Island County’s retail sales rose 2.2 percent over the same period the previous year.

Retail sales — which primarily represent consumer purchases — includes sales of general merchandise, food, auto dealers, apparel, furnishings and restaurants rose 14.8 percent in the second quarter of 2003 from the same period in 2002, according to the department.

Richard Soto, owner of the Harbour Inn motel in Freeland, said the campaign is reaching the type of customers they are trying to market because of the type of people who have been staying at his motel.

“It says you are really hitting the market in terms of who you want to reach,” said Soto.

Loretta Martin, director of the Langley South Whidbey Chamber of Commerce, is pleased the campaign is getting more visitors to businesses’ Web sites and visiting the island.

“I think it’s been effective,” she said.

Martin said she understands the campaign is not a proof of performance, but an image campaign that is harder to track and slower to build and create reactions.

“I think it’s effective, but it’s not as effective as in sales,” said Martin.

Grant and Stepherson said they will make similar presentations to city councils on Whidbey in the near future to show them that their dollar is well-spent on the special advertising.

“It’s a front of mind kind of thing,” said Martin. “This is a completely different kind of advertising.”

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