From New York City’s glamour to the awe-inspiring beauty of the National Parks, the USA should be an easy sell to tourists. But to millions of travelers planning their next getaway, America appeared closed for business, and international visitation was declining for the first time in a decade.
First, a strong dollar and weak global economy made a trip to the US expensive for many. Then travelers were faced with the perception that America was unwelcoming. This negative sentiment cast a shadow on the diversity of people and places that have always made the USA an enticing destination.
Tasked with increasing inbound international tourism, Brand USA needed to debunk the myth of America as a unwelcoming monolith and find a new way to inspire wanderlusting around the world.
Our marketing goals were to increase brand affinity for and intent to visit the USA through emotive video storytelling. Focused on engagement as a KPI, we set out to create a campaign that could nimbly explore America’s vastness, while creating an ongoing stream of social content to keep up with the pace of consumption.
As more travelers rely on social media as a way to access travel inspiration, we needed a disruptive production approach to create engaging, story-driven content to meet our audience’s “real-time” expectations, with greater flexibility to optimize in-country relevance across our different audiences.
Our production goal was to create 600 pieces of digital content showcasing 25+ destinations, each adding a different dimension to the larger story of a place.
Research showed that despite negative sentiment around America, perceptions of Americans were overwhelmingly positive. We knew that real, individual voices had the power to help travelers experience the warmth of Americans first-hand and uncover local perspectives to activate their wanderlust, so our strategy was to inspire travel by giving a voice to real experiences in the USA.
To bring these voices to life, we hit the road for a year in our Mobile Content Studio – a shapeshifting fleet of custom #UnitedStories vehicles designed to adapt to the landscape (from a sailboat in Puerto Rico to a surfboard in California) – traveling cross-country in search of authentic stories told from local perspectives. A rolling roster of cross-cultural storytellers and influencers joined us on the journey, amplifying our “many voices” in real-time through a social-first approach that matched our audience’s wanderlusting behavior.
The mobile content lab not only helped us curate a symphony of real voices that present the US as a collection of people and places, but also enabled us to produce a continuous stream of content at scale, inspiring our audience with a perpetually new, dynamic American road trip.
While most travel brands have converged on the idea that travelers want to have unique, local experiences, few have truly acted on the ambition. United Stories gave us the agility to capture the scale and scope of real-time stories that make our nation unique in a way no national DMO - or Brand USA - has ever done before. By prioritizing real voices, we evoked a strong sense of place without overshadowing the human story, presenting the US in a way that breaks through the beautiful, but expected pretty pictures of a place.
Key wins to-date include:
- 25.1 million minutes of video content viewed, 22.1 million video views
- 130% increase in engagement rate vs. past campaigns, 615 million impressions, and 2.3 million engagements
- 219 video assets created, 210 images created, featuring 26 destinations
A brand lift study revealed that campaign performance across video viewership and engagement KPIs is also translating into increased organic search volume and interest in our featured destinations: users across the UK, Australia, and India were over 20X more likely to search for “Hilo Hawaii” or “United Stories” after seeing campaign video content featuring Hilo.
But ROI metrics on the campaign itself can’t truly capture the real value of the United Stories idea because it allowed for many extensions, including influencer activations, sponsorships with brands like Marriott, integrations with partner USA destinations, trade events/activations, experiential activations at iconic US events like Art Basel, and earned media. The campaign’s true impact and exposure is much more far-reaching, exceeding the ROI for any one element alone.