Millions tuned in last year to watch Lexington’s delightfully soothing “NeighSMR” video. Now they’re rolling with the times to deliver the horse content we need in our lives—via Zoom.
It’s just one of the many recent examples from VisitLEX, a destination that stands out as the ultimate case study in how destination marketers can emotionally connect with their audiences, all while we’re staying at home.
This week we had a chance to sit down with Gathan Borden, vice president of marketing at VisitLEX, to learn more about their pivot to virtual, and glean some wisdom on how they’ve adjusted their content strategy.
When the shutdown started, Borden shared, it became clear that close relationships with their partners would be essential. “Let’s be good stewards of the community and figure out how we can support our local businesses and hospitality based businesses,” he said.
So that’s what they did. And because it’s Lexington, they started with virtual horse farm tours, creating Facebook watch parties made possible by Horse Country.
Once that took off, they thought, “Why don’t we basically turn our channel into a Netflix?”
They expanded their efforts rapidly to invite local restaurants, bars and other attractions to the party, roping in their local businesses with tips, best practices and content ideas of what they could create. With all the incoming partner content pulled into a central Google Drive folder, plus some other organic content that cropped up from the community on social, they soon had a robust line-up of interactive, inspirational content that they aimed to help break up their audience’s feeds with lightheartedness, humor and the beauty of their city.
Strategically, VisitLEX understands that for now, it’s all about inspiration, and not about selling. Their approach is right in line with the recent Facebook guide on maintaining audience connection amid COVID-19, which highlights one of their key tactics, which is giving back. Wherever possible, they include Venmo or Cashapp information in social posts so that if viewers love what they watch, they can drop a tip that goes right to the affected small business.
When it comes to working with local partners, creating video isn’t their bread and butter, but this actually helped to convey their authenticity even more. “We knew they might be a little nervous,” Gathan mentioned. But there was a raw, emotional quality to the videos that came in, he said, that showed how genuine they were and showed through in the comments and feedback as particularly inspirational to viewers.
What’s the best advice VisitLEX has for other DMOs? It’s clear that their partners, city leaders, and community leaders are key, both in the quick transition and as they plan for recovery.
“You cannot rebuild your city or your state as a destination in silos, it has to be done in partnerships,” said Borden. “The way we work now is going to be completely different after this COVID-19 situation is over.”