One tourist described visiting Jackson County is like entering a Norman Rockwell painting; another said it’s like being wrapped in a blanket with a hot drink.
These fond descriptions are a sampling of the findings of a Virginia-based marketing firm, BCF, tasked with branding Jackson County’s tourism image.
In recent weeks, the company has been conducting surveys of past tourists, visiting with locals to understand their sense of place, and taking in the sights and sounds of the mountains — all with the goal of manufacturing a tourism marketing pitch for Jackson County.
“What we’re looking for are powerful emotional drivers, that happen to people while they’re visiting here,” said Art Webb, president and CEO of the company.
The company’s preliminary findings were presented to the county’s Tourism Development Authority at its meeting last week. BCF is working under a $50,000 contract to provide the county with a brand it can use to attract visitors.
Webb said if his company can uncover the essence of the county and identify reasons people visit, it can use that information to develop the brand. Although the unveiling of a final product is still weeks off, Webb promised it will consist of three things: a name, an identity and a promise.
“It’s not a slogan, logo or any of that stupid, trite stuff,” Webb said. “The brand identity creates a visceral response.”
However, Jackson County may be up against some distinct challenges, Webb said. The small, Appalachian county does not have the name recognition as some other tourist hotspots, such as Aspen, Colo. or Key West, Fla.
Moreover, the chosen brand will have to resonate across several distinct demographic boundaries to be successful. A homebuyer scoping out a high-end residence in Cashiers may not visit the county for the same reasons as a kayaker looking for whitewater rapids on the Tuckasegee River.
But shooting right down the middle might simply guarantee missing both target markets, pointed out Ken Fernandez, a real-estate agent in Cashiers.
The experiment in a countywide tourism brand and marketing focus is a new one. Until recently, the county had two separate tourism arms, one representing the Cashiers and Glenville area and the other the county at large.
“We have two very different demographics of folks who come to the county,” Fernandez said. “It’s not going to be easy because there is a diverse market.”
The county merged the two tourism entities into one in January, precipitating the quest for a unifying brand as the first step in their new paradigm.
Webb also suggested to the other tourism board members that they put energy into attracting a younger generation of visitors, to build rapport with them now so they’ll continue to come back in the future. Meanwhile the baby boomers, who have historically driven tourism industries, especially in Jackson County, are retiring and downsizing their lives, Webb said. That may mean they travel less or sell off their vacation homes.
The shift has left many tourist destinations saying, “Uh-oh, our older guests aren’t returning like they used to,” Webb said.
Furthermore, baby boomers no longer dominate the generational landscape, as they did in the 1980s and 1990s, when they were younger and in their prime. Back then, the number of people under the age of 50 in the country dwarfed the number of people over the age of 50. Now, the two demographics are in a dead heat, meaning marketing campaigns need to find new and creative ways to attract the younger crowd.
“It’s pretty clear we need to start establishing traction with Generation X and Generation Y,” Webb said. “Demography is destiny.”
Webb said much of that targeted marketing will take place in the second phase of the campaign, when choices are made about how and where to advertise the county’s brand and image.
Got a ‘brand’ idea for Jackson?