Visit Duluth, aimClear’s Study, Frank Questions & Answers

Posted in Demographic Research, Duluth

Since we published our post (Did $10 Million In Destination Marketing Make Duluth Famous?) I’ve enjoyed stimulating exchanges with folks we respect. To those who reached out, thank you! We received a number of thought-provoking questions. These inquiries resonated with us, because the very idea was to inspire dialog. We thought our readers would find some of the questions and answers interesting. 

Have we proven that VisitDuluth is doing a bad job?

No. That was not the purpose of the post.  We’ve asserted three things: (1) Fewer people around the world have heard of Duluth than some other areas as pertains to destination themed categories in search and social media. The numbers speak for themselves. (2) Duluth is not breaking out as we believe it could and should. (3) Duluth has little geographic outreach in digital media.  People can draw their own conclusions what these assertions mean.

We read in the Duluth News Tribune recently that a consultant noted something similar — that our marketing is aimed locally and could be national and international because of the splendors of our region. (No link because the DNT charges for archived stories.) “Stapleton takes encouragement from Duluth’s growing popularity as a tourist destination, as well. ‘You really do have it all,” he said, observing: “Your brand is incredibly strong.’” But Stapleton said the city can do more to market itself on a national level. He urged Duluth to begin work on a new marketing plan, so it will be positioned to make the most of the much-awaited economic recovery.”

Does the general decline of tourism interests in the world, or Duluth’s possible good performance against Google Insights international and domestic category trends diminish the relevance of our study?

No. First, we don’t fully believe Google Insights category trends are as reliable a metric, because Google is not transparent in what keyword clusters comprise the datasets. The method we used, city compared to self/city, generates transparent keyword clusters to confirm. However, for the sake of speculation, let’s assume the trend-line data is good.

Our study was not about Duluth in relation to category trends! We don’t dispute them or claim that Duluth is performing poorly against trends. Our effort was to study Duluth in relation to itself and other places. Duluth may be holding its own and even possibly beating some category trends against the odds.  Taking that a step further, it is possible that VisitDuluth’s marketing and/or other factors caused Duluth to avoid a skid that many other locations suffered. On the other hand, we’d be interested to see how Duluth fared against category trends if VisitDuluth did not exist.

Would it be embarrassing to find out that Clearwater or Fargo spends a lot more… or no money on Tourism, and that there are external reasons for their rising success other than marketing?

No. Of course it wouldn’t! Such information may provide good lessons for all. Perhaps Duluth need not spend much at all on the VisitDuluth website and marketing. Remember, in other categories, Duluth fares better than tourism. Maybe collaborative maintenance by volunteers would stimulate a better outcome.  Also, so far as Duluth, Fargo, Clearwater, etc., these are only a half dozen out of thousands of destinations we could analyze. Every locale is different. Fargo may need tons of money for marketing. Clearwater may spend 5X what Duluth does on printed paper brochures.

Fargo is not, on its face, as pleasant a place as Duluth. Why do people want to travel there? Is their growth about how tourism has piggybacked on industrial or business growth? Is it because the overall interest in Fargo is still less than Duluth and has further to go? Maybe the reason is that it was extraordinarily weak in past years and is claiming its place.

Each region has unique challenges and advantages. Sure, we could dissemble years of activity and marketing for many places, find out their budgets and draw conclusions regarding what methodology resulted in their comparative reach. That would cost a lot of time and money to reverse engineer. We think time would be better spent working on growing Duluth’s national and international brand than arguing the details of why we’re less known.

Does VisitDuluth just need a little bigger budget to get to a critical mass?

Perhaps the answer is yes. We don’t know if Duluth spends too much or not enough or just the right amount, but we think the investment in Internet marketing may need to be redistributed amongst various channels. Postulating a budget wasn’t the purpose of the post. Rather, we took time to examine Duluth’s digital footprint.

Did we do all this because we’re trying to get aimClear hired?

Nope. We love Duluth. We have moved people here to live and work, we have kept UMD and CSS grads here when they were ready to leave. We did this research and created this post to create a dialog that may stimulate ways to make Duluth better known. It will make recruiting easier for us.  We want more people to know the magic we know exists here. We don’t care who does it as long as they do it well.

What is our motivation?

We set out to spawn a dialog about setting higher goals that involve geographic outreach, name recognition, and a short, medium, and long-term plan to grow Duluth into the powerhouse it deserves to be. If my inbox is any indication of other private conversations taking place around the city, then we have reached the first goal… dialog!

Image By Dennis O’Hara, NorthernImages.com

  • Adam Proehl

    My family & I visit Duluth at least once a year (we live in the Twin Cities & I’ve visited every summer since I was about 5). I don’t know anyone hasn’t visited Duluth and loved it. There’s so much opportunity for leveraging digital marketing for greater outreach and awareness of how awesome the city really is. We also visit the Dells a lot and it seems like that area is using digital marketing more (I know they’re a bit of apples & oranges – they’re both billed as family friendly summer destinations, but the Dells has Duluth beat on Waterparks). I’d be curious to see the same test applied to them.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Adam Proehl: We agree that that it would be useful to study the Dells. We also agree about loving Duluth. Thanks for stopping by and leaving the comment. You’ll have to let us know next time, and stop by aimClear to visit. We’re right at the city’s crossroads, the intersection of Lake & Superior St.

  • Aaron Gordon

    Two questions….
    1. Why have the original charts been altered?
    2. Why were the “rising searches” portions of Google Insights cropped from the results?

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Aaron Gordon: Please, which alterations are you speaking of? The only substantial alteration we are aware of is where we removed a misspelling of the word, “Lutsen” from one chart. It did not change the data. In regards to rising searches, it simply was not part of the study. The main reason we included keywords at all, was to confirm the usage of the “-” and “+” operators. For instance, it was important to prove that using “-GA” removed keyword permutations that included references to Georgia abbreviated. The only way to be sure that the advanced search operators work, such as “” for phrase match, is to look at the keywords. It’s ironic that VisitDuluth’s claim that the operators are incorrectly used, since the keyword clusters themselves prove Google’s documentation regarding operators.

    The main reason we displayed KWs at all were to prove the clusters. It’s kind of funny. Search marketers have been using “-,” “+,” and “” for years in both organic and paid search technology. All VisitDuluth could do is pound the table about quotation marks and minus signs. The computer scientist that KBJR interviewed is not a search expert. All data is subject to interpretation. That said, data trumps opinion. :). Thanks for stopping by.

  • Chris Bacigalupo

    IMHO there are a couple of salient points here.

    SEO, and really any web metrics for that matter, are useful in generating part of a picture, largely in the area of trend analysis. As stated in the KBJR story, the “quantifiable” metrics derived from these efforts have to be taken in a greater context and alone cannot give an accurate indication of the more important qualitative aspects of web content and web based perceptions, in this case about Duluth. Frankly, this is an area where sites like perfectduluthday.com shine. While there may be some web metrics which indicate PDD gets X number of page views, that says nothing about the context that PDD creates and the vibrancy that it supports in our area.

    When you boil it all down, it is people. While important, especially for clients, I think that SEO as a silver bullet has been oversold, I know that AimClear doesn’t see SEO as the only solution to online marketing. Search engines rely on the fact that people use them to find authentic answers to authentic questions. Google will do what it ever is required to insure that results of searches respond to this truth. It’s how they make money selling the real estate around the results. It’s their bread and butter. Waving hands and crafting cyphers will always only go so far in insuring eyes on a link. People who pay money for websites, made by online marketers, want to justify the budget for online marketing, they retreat into a single analysis metric like “hits” or search engine ranking … web traffic and SEO are “quantifiable” evidence. Truth is, it’s hard to assess qualitative results objectively, it always has been.

    Marty, I do appreciate your attempts to create discussion and place Duluth on the map in the tech sector, frankly I see this as the current greatest opportunity for economic development in our region. Growing tech/creative jobs here is a win win. Tech workers appreciate the QOL we have. While search engine placement is component of the awareness spectrum , getting undies in a bunch about Duluth’s digital footprint, or lack thereof, is a bit overboard.

    Let’s focus on, and communicate about, our substance. They will come.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Chris Bacigalupo: Good points Chris, and welcome. I think you make great points. I love your passion.

    We are not measuring “hits” or a single metric. This is not a one dimensional snapshot of robots. We are measuring whether there is quantifiable interest (or not) that humans express. There are no mechanical markers here…only questions real people ask every day…or not. Facebook measures 16 known attributes and dozens or hundreds of others. We’ve found, after serving tens of billions of ads in Facebook space over the last four years that these “interest” measurements are spot on in capturing what 750 million real humans mean, intend, care about, follow, act on, dislike, love, hate.

    Thank you for the kind words. I can assure you my undergarments are not bunched in the slightest. I am dealing in data here, not opinions. Data trumps opinions. And, as you note, constructive dialog rules the day. It’s a bit simplistic to reduce this study to an “SEO” matter. :) Thanks for stopping by. Your input means a lot to us.

  • Nichole

    I lived in Duluth for many years and am an internet marketing consultant, so when I found this article… I had to respond.

    I think VisitDuluth’s main issue is ineffective marketing.

    When people travel, they typically have a destination in mind or type of activity. Travel is about the experience and you don’t get that from any of their online marketing efforts. Pictures (they have a few on Facebook) are great but you need to tell a story. Ask questions about the experience’s of people that live or visit Duluth. Share those stories with others, highlighting why Duluth IS an amazing destination.

    With the world becoming a digital universe, businesses need to embrace online marketing as a way to grow. Although traditional advertising isn’t completely dead, it is becoming less and less effective. In the travel & tourism industry, online marketing is an absolute necessity.

    VisitDuluth’s social marketing efforts are dismal at best. There isn’t anything engaging about their Facebook page or Tweets. Social Media Marketing is about conversation and they don’t initiate conversation. I also noticed that they rarely, if ever respond to comments. I don’t know for certain if they use Facebook advertising but because of the targeting ability Facebook has, they should really focus efforts there.

    They have had a couple videos on their YouTube page (which does lack SEO and their views show it) over the past 4 months but nothing that I would watch and think “Hey, I want to go to Duluth!”.

    They really need to look into the major reasons that people already travel to Duluth like Grandma’s Marathon, Beargrease, etc. and focus on boosting interest in those areas and plan events around them that would draw larger interest. It’s not just VisitDuluth that should be focusing their marketing efforts but a collaborative effort with businesses to promote events that draw visitors and stimulate growth.

  • Nichole

    Oh and Marty…Love the book! =)

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Nicole: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think you make informed points here which lend perspective to the conversation. Thanks for taking time out to share…oh, and I’m glad you like the book :).

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