This is the third installment of a three-part blog; click here for part 1, click here for part 2. This final installment will assist you in completing your product development and integrating it into your community or downtown experience.
Part 3 – Part 1 & 2 accomplished…now what?
So now your product is beginning to take shape. You have rounded up your posse of partners and agreed that you want to develop product that will attract visitors; you decided on a story or experience and moved onto part 2 (well done!). For part 2, you hit the streets (or the trail) and audited the potential site; you collectively defined the experience a little further to make sure it’s a feasible product and made sure it is a viable visitor experience. Remember that someone (meaning an organization) must take ownership for the product or experience and typically, it is the destination marketing organization or the owner of the site. You are into the final stretch. It’s time to connect the dots and integrate your product into your town’s destination and get visitor ready.
6.Connect the Dots
First, look at your proposed product objectively to determine how it relates to the rest of your destination. Ideally, the new product has a solid connection to a theme or existing organization established in town. This will help determine roles and responsibilities of your product development team. If the product or visitor experience is based on a historic incident, determine how your local historical society can contribute; if it’s nature-based, how does the municipal parks and rec department, local Audubon chapter or hiking club fit in? Begin identifying who can offer substantive content to the project. Equally important – the rest of your product development team is not off the hook! Each person has something to bring to the project and should be encouraged to look at the product through their own prism i.e. if it’s about history, ask the local artists to spearhead interpretive panels or find artwork related to the theme. Community members can collectively scour archives for stories about the theme and create materials for visitors or docents. Can restaurants play a role in themed dinners? Can retailers support the effort by adding appropriate merchandise to their stores or creating window displays that promote the product? Oversized photographs in storefronts (especially empty ones) add to the vibrancy of the downtown and can help tell a story.
Marketing and promotion
Eastwick is a big believer in developing a product using as much input from as many walks of life as possible. So, before you post the product (or experience) on your DMO or Main Street website, encourage “dress rehearsals” and invite people of all ages to try out the experience. This is not for the faint of heart! By inviting people of different ages and backgrounds, you will be able to prove and improve the concept. We suggest developing a questionnaire to guide the responses (i.e. scale of 1 -10, with an area for suggestions). If you really want a dose of reality, invite a dozen or more millennials to review and critique.
Next, plan an official soft opening of the product and invite local officials, business owners, retailers and restaurant staff to experience the product. This serves two purposes: the first is you will get additional feedback about the experience, secondly, by participating in a “sneak peek” experience, you have educated a broad constituency about the product that will in turn generate word-of-mouth in the community. And finally, the experience may inspire participants to develop correlating ideas or programs for example – a historic cemetery tour may inspire a restaurant to hold a themed meal followed by a flashlight cemetery tour. Better yet…invite local actors to play the dearly beloved and tell stories to entrance and maybe add a little spookiness to the evening. Check out the masters of this craft, Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, https://thelaurelhillcemetery.org/events for inspiration.
Once you are confident you have worked out the kinks, develop a marketing and promotion strategy. Develop a description that can be shared with all participating partners, develop graphics and collect images that will help market the product.
Next, identify potential media outlets and begin populating websites, developing social media posts and consider printed materials. If your budget permits, consider a targeted advertising campaign.
Investing in product success
Now you have this great product so it’s important to keep it healthy and make it work for you. Keep in mind, this product consumed time and various resources of your organization as well as resources of your product development team. Try to interpret the product in as many ways and seasons as you can. If all goes well, it will take on a life of its own and thrive happily using only your website or social media but it may also need some assistance. This assistance may come in the form of a quarterly check-up by the product development team or inviting new partners to add value. Remember that the goal is attract more people to your destination, extend an hour or two to the visit and generate a reason for repeat visitation.
4. The End Game
Congratulations! You have successfully developed a new product for your downtown. Continue to nurture it, catch your breath and begin plotting the next one. In the event you don’t have the resources to create a new product from scratch, look at one of your anchor businesses and create a product built around them! Bookstore? Poetry slams! Bakery? Baking classes and pie contests! Acres of farmland? Canning classes, farm to table or on-road bike tours. You can make this work!
Soon, your corner of the earth will be bustling with visitors, new ideas and a sense of purpose.
Good luck to all and thanks for reading!
Kimberly Stever is a seasoned tourism and economic development professional. She has worked with multiple destinations, small towns, and major attractions.
Eastwick Solutions develops revitalization strategies for towns and municipalities, activates rivers and trails through recreation, education, and environmental programs to spur economic development in nearby towns, provides Main Street marketing to supplement existing staff, engages stakeholders of all levels to ensure buy-in and support, stimulates economic development strategies leveraging nature-based assets (rivers, trails, agriculture, events), designs and develops nature-based asset programming, events and activities to maintain engagement and build affinity, writes grants for project-related funding, and conducts asset assessments to build image, programs, and events around.