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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Director, SoolNua

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 18.59.34The rise and rise of content marketing has brought the art of storytelling  right into the science of marketing. These days marketers approach new products and services in search of their underlying story more than their features and benefits. Naturally this has extended to destination marketing and it’s causing quite a shift in how countries and cities attract leisure and business visitors. It’s no longer about infrastructure, or what you have as a destination; it’s about story, or who you are as a destination. It’s a philosophical switch from having to being, from selling to engaging.

In this excellent blog Hacking the System, Bruce McMillan provides some great examples of destinations that get it. They avoid the temptation to clog up the airwaves with promotional offers and other vacuous news. Instead they know instinctively that “great marketing is about storytelling” (Seth Godin) and that …

It’s about activating and enriching an ongoing marketplace conversation with content and perspective rather than trying to control it.

Tourism Tofino, (it’s a small but beautiful “outdoors” destination on Vancouver Island in British Colombia, Canada) for example, knows that it’s about the visitor, not the destination. It encourages visitors to use social media to tell their Tofino stories and, in so doing, creates a rich archive of user-generated content.

However, there’s one particular destination marketing campaign that Bruce doesn’t reference. It’s a truly amazing campaign that achieves global reach for a small island on the north west of Europe, admittedly a little bigger than Tofino. The background story to the campaign is worth knowing too. Like all great stories, there are many versions of it. Here’s my one:

Once upon a time there was a small island in a far away place where it wasn’t very hot and it wasn’t very cold. Rain often fell on the island, particularly along its wild west coast but that made the grass and the trees grow and the island was nice and green.  The small island was close to a bigger island and the people from the bigger island were sometimes a bit bossy and even tried to take over the small island.

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The people from the small island were very friendly. They liked celebrating together, dancing and singing and telling stories. They often got very curious too and would venture far and wide, exploring new lands and settling there. Some of the people on the island really liked helping others and travelled all over the world setting up schools and hospitals in places where there weren’t any. Once there was no food on the small island and lots of the people died or went in boats to other places.

Years went by. People whose great-grandfathers and grandfathers had left the island years before started to come back and visit. They’d bring money and other stuff from where they lived and this made a huge difference to the people on the island. The people from the small island started wondering how they could get more people to come and visit. Not just the ones whose grandfathers had come from there.

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They asked what they should do and were told it would be difficult to get folks to come because people liked going to places that were hot and sunny or to places that were cold and snowy. They were also told they’d need a lot more ancient buildings where important stuff happened in times gone by or modern buildings that were a bit funny looking with loads of famous paintings in them.

“We don’t have any of that stuff” they said. “We have some ancient castles and a couple of funny looking modern buildings but we’re just a small island so nothing terribly important happened here. As well as that, it hardly ever snows properly, it’s only sometimes really sunny and actually there’s quite a bit of rain.”

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“But we are very friendly and welcoming. And lots of people like the way we speak and write. They like our stories and our songs and dances too. They also like the fact that there are lots of young people here who know a massive amount of stuff. And our food and drink is really good thanks to the luscious green fields”

And gradually it dawned on them what they could do. They could bring that special colour green all over the world, lighting up old building, castles, bridges and special places in other people’s countries. That would remind the people there about their small island. They’d call it “global greening”.

And so it happened.

March 2015 was the 6th edition of Tourism Ireland’s “global greening” campaign. This year 160 iconic sites all over the world went green on 17 March, the feast day of St Patrick, Ireland’s national patron. Amongst the sites were the Colosseum in Rome, Sacré-Cœur basilica in Paris, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and Nelson’s Column in London.

Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy advising destinations, hotels and venues on strategy and marketing for the MICE sector

Photography courtesy of Fáilte Ireland / Tourism Ireland

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