Guest Blog: Top marketing strategies from the creator of a killer competition

We were always going to punch above our weight.

That's in keeping with our company's personality - a relatively small, youthful, and positively irreverent online travel guide. We didn't have a choice but to take up the slingshot against such Goliaths as Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet and Expedia. Not that we're bemoaning - the upside of having limited resources is that it really forces you to get the most out of what you have. We hope that sharing our experience with you will yield some valuable insights.

Go big or stay indoors

We're not a household brand (yet) but we're blessed to have a name that people think they must have heard before. We're also 'blessed' that our industry is extremely crowded, so when we decided to do some brand building we knew that anything less than the BIGGEST would get drowned out. So we came up with 'The Biggest Baddest Bucket List' - the ultimate round-the-world competition. The next step was to make it happen, but not before we placed a large order of instant coffee...

Back to your USPs

We needed to get the most out of what we already had, and that in particular meant our USP of 'local expertise'. It manifests mainly through our franchisees based in 125 destinations (and counting) around the world. This means we are a highly effective army of campaigners able to promote on the ground. An extension of our promise of 'local expertise' is that we offer local insights, as opposed to the standard tourist attractions and information. Therefore, we positioned 'The Biggest Baddest Bucket List' as an opportunity to undertake unique local experience as the winner travels around the world.

We're also unique in that we offer travel content not just in written words, but as videos and virtual tours that we produce ourselves (more than 17,000 episodes to date). This, combined with the immense popularity of video, meant that asking people to submit videos is a fun and engaging way to enter the competition. So the point is this: we've leveraged our USP to put together a competition and prize that is a standout.

Get business partners

Business partners can make a world of difference. And if something is compelling to you, it ought to be compelling to them. So don't shy from asking them for their support and involvement. However, it's not as straightforward as that. A great idea is only half of what you're selling. The rest is demonstrating why they should put their reputation on the line for you.

So we internally tested the concept for The Biggest Baddest Bucket List, then fully articulated this concept, and then devised a detailed plan. It's only after seven months when we felt our plan was good enough that we approached our partners:, Travelex and Viator. As a result our winner will benefit from support and services of specialists in accommodation, travel finance, and tours and activities. The list of benefits for My Destination to have the support of such top brands is certainly as long as the winter nights in London.

A great idea and methodical preparation has also helped us bag the services of Hills Balfour, the PR company behind The Best Job in the World competition. Their experience is now our gain. From this partnership we made a friend in Ben Southall who we invited to be our judge - that's Ben, the winner of the Best Job in the World, who has 5,500 followers on Twitter, and whose name hits the radar of global media agencies and tourism industries all over.


Go social

No one loves Facebook and Twitter more than us (except perhaps our Finance Director). As an online travel guide we've found no better way to promote, market or advertise than on these platforms. If your business partners and acquaintances can promote your cause to all of their fans and followers, and they in turn to their own audience, then you have a wide reaching and multiplying communication. To reinforce this point Facebook and Twitter are already our competition's largest driver of visits, and in some instances account for more than 90% of referrals. And it's all for free (remember our Finance Director?) which is why you needn't shy away from asking your business partners to give you a plug.

Go viral

The flipside of using social media to push your message out to the audience is that you can also use the audience to generate interest on your behalf. What does that mean? We mentioned using video in our competition. If you love talking cats and Gangnam Style then you know that people love sharing videos. And if users have an even greater incentive to share a video and thereby promote your message (such as to win a six months, all expenses paid, round-the-world competition with $50,000 USD cash prize) then you've got the public potentially promoting on your behalf.

Chase the long tail

Barack Obama's campaign bet on it and won, and Amazon has been able to dominate the markets with it. We're talking about chasing the 'long tail' - catering not just for the generic target group, but to every small or minority target group who collectively will have a significant impact. With the ease with which we can engage individuals via the internet, and in particular using social media, it really does pay off to go after the long tail. At My Destination we're targeting niche groups as specific as travel bloggers, aspiring journalists, videographers, gap year students, those looking for a career change, freelancers, job seekers, and so on. Traditionally we would have to spend a whole lot more money to be able to achieve a single, wide coverage using mainstream media; but result in a lower response rates.

End result so far

It's early days yet to judge the ultimate success of what we set out to do with our competition, but already the figures are looking good. We estimate that the cost is roughly $500,000 USD, and that's mainly for our time and labour. Bearing in mind that it should give us a year's worth of exposure, we're approximating a few million dollars-worth of publicity.

But we want to emphasise that it's not just one of the approaches we mentioned above that will define our success. It'll be the total effect of all of them: the prize, the partners, our preparation, using social media, focusing on our USPs, to name some. However, none of these should be insurmountably difficult for any small business or enterprise to carry out. They are well worth the effort.

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