This is a response to Bernadett Papp’s article: The application of experiential marketing in destination management – Recommendations for an integrated e-marketing strategy to promote Europe in Canada
A few years ago, a seemingly routine KLM flight from Amsterdam to Toronto sold out in less than 15 minutes. The reason behind this crush for tickets was a special occasion for its fleet––the last scheduled passenger flight of the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 airliner. KLM was the last airline to fly the MD-11, and the airplanes served exclusively the Canadian routes, Toronto and Montreal. The odd enthusiasm of aviation fans for this event highlights the opportunities and threats facing Europe as a destination for Canadians that Bernadett Papp has accurately uncovered in her research.
Like the MD-11, Europe is viewed as old and traditional–a sort of “classic” tourist destination. Taking the MD-11’s last flight as an example, however, Europe also offers a rich palette of sensational and emotional experiences to attract the young, passionate members of the 20-35 target market. The recommendations suggest that communicating the sensations and emotions within these experiences over social media and traditional online advertising channels is key to keeping Europe competitive for Canadian tourists of this age.
Without disagreeing with this finding, I would like to shift emphasis from the marketing to the experience product and how it is curated. I think the recommendations may have overestimated the effectiveness of advertising–– even person-to-person over social media––to young people anno 2016. While messages communicated over social media based on user-generated content have demonstrably stronger emotional effect on potential customers than traditional advertising, deliberate efforts by destination marketers to harness this power are limited by a larger shift in decision making power from companies to customers. Social media contests and targeted ads do not occur in a vacuum. Moments after seeing these, young Canadians might look at Tripadvisor, online tour agencies (a game Google is ominously entering), weather patterns, and a favorite photography blog, before making a decision. Based on what we know about how decisions form (quickly, subconsciously, emotionally), any one of these information sources may have a small shred of content that carries emotional meaning for the particular individual in question. Just like that, a decision to visit or not visit Europe is made.
Marketing is still necessary, but is not enough. Many of the day’s most effective campaigns focus on either “signal boosting” compelling user-generated content––which is frankly dependent on compelling products––or on creating content that is itself an experience, rather than being merely about experience. An example of the latter is the acclaimed video advertising the Munch exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
In this information environment, then, the role of marketing is no longer to persuade, but to trigger awareness and fantasy and let a superior product do the persuasion. Without its meaning and history, the last flight of the MD-11 would not have been such a sales sensation. KLM’s efforts with special livery traveled along user-generated content from aviation fans to set off the feeling that one had to be there, but again, without the history, the special livery would have been a waste of money. Any success Europe has in attracting young Canadians will come from feelings during their actual visits to Europe, something that no advertising can approximate. To add to the recommendations, then, I would suggest that leading European attractions and destinations must measure key experience indicators such as emotions, and the ETC should focus their marketing efforts on sharing of real experiences at the highest-performing and most unique among them.