How to boost Nebraska tourism? Tap social media, a marketer says

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Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2013 12:00 am

NORFOLK, Neb. — Nebraska. Starbucks.

The big Great Plains state known for corn and cows in the center of the country and the hip, global specialty coffee company may not seem to share much in common.

But they do. Customers.

Selling Nebraska tourism is a lot like selling Starbucks coffee. It's all about the brand, the experience and consistency, a retail marketing and branding consultant told 160 state tourism professionals Wednesday at the Nebraska Travel Conference.

“Starbucks is consistent. It sells coffee and the experience,'' said Karen McCullough of Houston. “You're not selling the drive. You're selling the experiences along the way. You're in tune with Starbucks.''

McCullough introduced Nebraskans who operate attractions, hotels and restaurants to emerging trends in the tourism industry, especially the fast lane of social media.

It was a sobering message for some.

Mitch Glidden, co-owner of the Sandhills Motel and Glidden Canoe Rental in Mullen and a member of the Nebraska Tourism Commission, said he doesn't use social media as much as he probably should to attract customers.

“I'm one of those still out there in the weeds,'' he said.

Mike Kesselring, co-owner of High Plains Homestead near Crawford and also a commission member, said remote parts of Nebraska remain in the social media dark ages because they don't have access to cellphone and wireless communication services.

“We have to keep up. We used to get reservations three and four months in advance. Now we get them three or four hours in advance,” he said.

McCullough said doing business today as it was done five years ago won't work much longer. The No. 1 trend in business is change, she said.

Apple, the consumer electronics, software and computer giant, paved the way when it created and sold people products they didn't know they wanted.

“They took us around the corner,” McCullough said. “That's where Nebraska's got to be. Sell us the Nebraska experience. Make our mouths water.''

McCullough said people are connected through social media as never before. She cited a recent Forbes magazine article that said what now matters most when people plan a trip is not where they're going but who they know who has traveled to the destination.

McCullough tapped her Facebook network when she planned her trip to the conference. She asked what people knew about Nebraska.

McCullough said she was overwhelmed by the number of replies that praised Nebraskans as friendly and its state park system as beautiful.

McCullough said Universal Studios theme parks smartly tapped into the popularity among young people of taking self-portraits with their cellphones. Signs on the grounds alert customers to good places to take photos that usually are quickly posted on social networking sites, creating an instant advertisement for the park.

“If it's good enough for Universal Studios, it's good enough for you,” she said.

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