Why, more than a decade into our Facebook-centric world, are we still trying to figure out social media marketing? In part, it’s because social media are revolutionizing the way businesses and consumers communicate—and old habits die hard.
For decades, marketers communicated with consumers through traditional media, and they had few ways to gauge their audiences’ reaction in real time.
Social media, in contrast, allows businesses to humanize themselves online and build their brand through conversations with individuals, not through mass sales pitches. But retrofitting our one-way advertising instincts to a two-way conversation has taken time.
So, how are we doing? We checked in with a few operators to see what was working—and what wasn’t.
Since the days of our earliest ancestors, humans have communicated by way of stories. When we hear stories, our brains issue a powerful response. Studies have found that stories increase our cortisol and oxytocin levels, which enhance our focus and sense of empathy. This increased attention span and emotion creates a valuable tool marketers can use to persuade people to act.
Fortunately, your zip tour or adventure park works with several happy people every day, and each one develops a different story about the experience you offer. These stories can help you sell.
Don’t let opportunities slip through your fingers. Document and highlight these stories wherever you can: websites, social media profiles—even paid ads can tell a story.
Josh Sears, general manager of ZipZone Adventure Park in Peachland, British Columbia, speaks in the earnest and specific style of a professor, with a visionary’s endless appetite for the next big thing. And he’s got a hot story to tell.
“Given how much complexity there is in the marketplace, I want a simple, funny, awesome message that people can grab onto and compel them to make a purchase decision,” he says.
Problem is, while he has found some clever copy, he hasn’t quite nailed down the story, or pinpointed ZipZone’s one or two iconic images that garner an emotional reaction from people. “I want the story we tell about the ZipZone experience, the images and videos that we present, to all be the same,” says Sears.
With a clear story, Sears believes he’ll eliminate a lot of the confusion that still exists around his adventure park. “We’re six years in business and people still say, ‘I didn’t know there was a zip line there [in Peachland],’” he says.
A clear story will help people understand what the ZipZone experience is all about, and ultimately purchase a ticket. One thing he’s sure of, though: discounting isn’t part of the narrative. “Our customers don’t want a 25-percent-off coupon,” he explains. “We can get the sale if we can get them excited.”
DO FOCUS ON YOUR UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION
A ZipZone tour, according to Sears, bundles excitement, exhilaration, and fear all together. Customers laugh with the personable and professional guides, and feel safe on Canada’s highest zip line. Therein lies the key to ZipZone’s “unique value proposition,” or UVP.
A UVP is a clear statement that describes the benefit of your offer, how you meet your customer’s needs, and what distinguishes you from the competition. It should form the focal point of your marketing campaign, and be showcased on the homepage of your website, if space and design allow.
Ideally, a UVP captures the benefits in one fell swoop, as the specialized travel company Zicasso has done successfully on its homepage (below).
“Perfect your dream vacation” speaks directly to the aspirations of Zicasso’s potential customers. To reinforce that message, the subhead promises to save travelers time: “Travel to the four corners of the world, without going in circles.” This is a great example of how to tell a story. Don’t simply use a cliché to convey the benefit.
To nail your story, and your UVP, put your website copy to this benefits test: We help (who?) do (what?) by (how?). Then, find creative ways to express this in words and pictures.
DO HIGHLIGHT CUSTOMER STORIES ON YOUR WEBSITE
Marketers commonly make the mistake of alluding to the story without actually telling it. For example, plenty of zip tour and adventure park websites proudly don TripAdvisor badges. What many sites don’t have, however, is a dedicated “Testimonials” page full of outstanding reviews. ZipZone Peachland is a notable exception.
ZipZone has a testimonial page, and it’s easy to find—it’s on the site’s primary navigation. Here, customers take center stage. There’s plenty of real estate to fit several glowing reviews written by some of the park’s biggest fans.
The page also displays a “TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence,” which is well worth boasting about. A word of caution, though: current awards carry more clout than older ones. While a 2013 award still has value—especially when coupled with supporting reviews—it will soon start to lose its luster.
DO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE PHOTO (OR VIDEO) OP
You know what would be even better than seven top-notch paragraphs from customers? Seven video testimonials.
At the end of your zip tour or adventure park experience, include a photo or video station where people can record their immediate reactions right when they’re most excited. You might also prepare some fun questions that will help bring out your customers’ stories:
• How did you feel when you were about to zip off the first platform?
• Were you scared, excited, or both?
• What was the most memorable part of your visit and why?
If you can, try to set up your photo/video station in a well-lit, scenic, and quiet place to help improve the quality of the content. And remember, not everyone is great on-camera, which is OK! Even if most of these testimonials never make it into the final cut, you’re bound to capture some amazing endorsements.
Edit the best ones down to a short 60- to 90-second video and you’ll have the most compelling marketing asset in your arsenal. Use it time and again on your website, in social profiles, digital ad campaigns—you name it. Capturing your customer’s genuine excitement on video will always pay off.
DO CAPTURE GUESTS’ IMAGINATIONS WITH COLORFUL COPY
What ZipZone lacks in visual content, it makes up for with rich language.
Stories are captivating because as we’re listening to the words, we’re painting a picture of the action in our mind’s eye. Use evocative messaging that stands out from the everyday noise. The more emotion you spark, the more your message will resonate. ZipZone is successful at this, particularly with its Facebook cover photo: “Bring clean underwear. You’ll thank us later.” Sounds exciting.
DO KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN AND FOCUS
There’s no shortage of places where you can tell your story. Spread yourself too thin, and your message will suffer. Spearfish, don’t just cast a net.
Moving forward, Sears wants to scale back ZipZone’s number of marketing channels and focus on the quality of his output. “We want to move to three to four main channels that are social media-driven with a lot of video content and image content,” he says.
Lori Pingle, owner of ZipZone Canopy Tours in Columbus, Ohio (no relation to ZipZone in Peachland), has many things on her mind other than what to post next on Facebook. She is cautiously optimistic about the value of her efforts, but it can be bewildering.
“Anecdotally, I know we’re getting Facebook reviews and that people who engage with us on social media eventually come zip with us, but it’s really hard for us to understand whether social media was part of that person’s purchase decision,” she says.
Inconsistent results can also be discouraging. “It’s frustrating to get participation with one program, only to have it flop the next time,” she laments.
Those are natural responses for someone strapped for time to spend on social media. It’s hard to hit every post out of the park when her full-time responsibilities include guest safety, course maintenance, and guide training. Facebook might cross her mind once in a busy week.
If you’re like Pingle, take these dos and don’ts from her experience to heart.
DO STIR EXCITEMENT WITH A LOW-MAINTENANCE CONTEST
Leading up to the 4th of July, Pingle engaged her followers with a simple Facebook challenge. The post invited users to like ZipZone’s page, like the post, and comment on the post by naming who they would like to take on a zip tour. She spent one minute writing the post, and a couple more minutes to boost it with a $25 budget—and, presto! For the cost of two zip tours plus a $25 boost, this uncomplicated call to action scored 92 likes, 14 shares, and a whopping 85 comments in the week leading up to one of her busiest times of the year.
Even former customers offered ringing endorsements, reassuring those hoping to nab the two free passes. That’s the kind of customer advocacy (i.e., word-of-mouth advertising) that all marketers dream of. “That’s the goal,” says Pingle, “for people to see that chatter and get excited to come to ZipZone.”
DON’T MAKE IT COMPLICATED
One unsuccessful gambit was a Facebook photo contest. The complication? You had to go to a special tab on ZipZone’s profile to even see or participate in the photo contest. Problem is, Facebook users don’t engage with tabs—they comment, like, and post.
“Next time, I’m going to keep it simple,” Pingle promises. “We want to make it easy for people to participate, and that means thinking about their natural behavior on Facebook.”
DON’T IGNORE THE OBVIOUS
Marketers need to be scientists: constant experimentation will help discover what message or what medium works for a target audience. And, as a person who wears many hats, you have to reach your conclusions even faster than most. If one of your efforts on Facebook gets zero likes, comments or shares, it’s time to change your approach.
It is important to measure your marketing campaign to gauge its success, and see if it’s making (or losing) money. Yet, most zip tours and adventure parks skimp on their tracking and analytics activities. It’s true that managing a highly profitable advertising strategy and understanding all the metrics behind it takes time, and can be a little intimidating—but it’s worth it.
The good news is, you don’t have to go it alone. There are countless experts who can guide you through it, or set it up entirely for you. They aren’t free, but the return on investment can be remarkable.
So, whether you’re taking it on yourself or hiring an expert, start making data-driven decisions in your advertising strategy. Thanks to the ease and sophistication of digital ad tracking these days, you can easily witness the financial impact of changing the copy, imagery, or audience for an ad. The world of marketing doesn’t always afford such transparency.
The most successful marketers keep up with the latest tools and best practices, and routinely tinker with campaigns to generate maximum returns. If you or your marketing agency can’t commit to such demands, digital advertising could quickly drain your budget without much to show for itself.
Tom Kratsch, who represents Skyline Eco-Adventures in Hawaii, is the Billy Beane of zip line marketing. His TRK Creative Group uses tracking and analytics tools to monitor the performance of every advertising campaign.
“Marketing is a science, it’s data-driven. We base every decision we make on the return on investment or return on ad spend,” Kratsch says. “We have a baseline that we’re not willing to fall under.”
Just like it did for Beane’s Oakland A’s, this data-first approach has paid off for Skyline. It consistently makes five times what it spends on Google AdWords each month, and its Facebook ads and remarketing campaigns bring in ten times what Skyline spends.
This is an advanced approach that is often tackled by an agency. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting so everyone knows what’s possible.
DO PLAN AHEAD
Not long ago, Kratsch remodeled his home. It dawned on him that marketing is a lot like construction: “You have to make sure you’ve got your plumbing and electrical systems in order before you put in the shiny stuff,” he says.
Similarly, before you launch a marketing campaign, you need to set up tracking mechanisms that allow you to analyze your success, and course-correct if necessary. For Kratsch, that means ensuring that all the following tracking tools are functioning properly on Skyline’s website:
• Google Analytics
• Google AdWords linking
• Google Search Console
• Tracking Pixels
Skyline manages its reservations through booking software, which interfaces with the tracking tools. That’s key; if the software can’t tell Google Analytics which marketing channel was responsible for an online booking, it will throw off Kratsch’s ROI calculations.
Fortunately, a lot of this tracking technology is either free or very affordable for small businesses. But wrapping your head around what these things are and how they work takes time and patience. That’s why Skyline invested in hiring outside help. Depending on your goals, a similar investment could be wise.
DO CRAFT KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS (KPIS)
Tracking and analytics tools produce lots of statistics, which need to be interpreted. Before you launch your campaign, establish KPIs that objectively judge your efforts.
“Since we want to drive booking revenue with every marketing initiative, we only want to target people that actually have buying intent,” Kratsch says.
Skyline has courses on Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island, so Kratsch markets to people who search these destinations online. By looking at specific traffic segments, like the number of people searching for “Maui” that ultimately book a tour with Skyline, Kratsch measures performance with precision.
Admittedly, it’s not easy to run this kind of advertising program. But by keeping your marketing goals clearly in mind and tying them to KPIs, you can make actionable decisions from your data.
Marketing starts with having a story to tell. Formulate your tale and establish your unique value proposition. Your promotions, events, and special offers can help you spread the word and reinforce the message.
The media you choose are the means through which you communicate your story to potential guests. And each medium allows you to tell your story in a different way. Stay open to new means of expression and stay current as social media evolve. And finally, use data analytics—to the extent you or an outside contractor can do the work—to help you get the greatest return for your advertising dollars.