Vail Valley: ‘Professor Lance’ and the power of social media | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley: ‘Professor Lance’ and the power of social media

Ralf GarrisonVail, CO, Colorado

‘Professor Lance’ shows the power of social media===========New Realities bug – Garrison mug==========If you tweet it, they will come. Maybe that only works when you’re Lance Armstrong, but the seven-time Tour de France champion has earned the title of “Professor Lance” after he helped create a showcase destination travel product and then demonstrated the strength of social media promotion in this new reality.After dreaming of a Colorado pro-stage race during a long ride outside of Aspen, Armstrong enlisted the help of Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to create a “Tour de Colorado,” to take place next August around the state. To publicly announce the new race, Armstrong relied heavily on social media site Twitter. The result? Thousands showed up to see him and Governor Ritter introduce the Quizno’s Pro Challenge. “It shows that people in this state are liking the idea of a high-level pro race and also shows you the power of social media,” Armstrong told 9NEWS in Denver. “You just send out a message to a few friends saying ‘Let’s go for a bike ride,’ and all of the sudden a few thousand people are there. It’s the perfect mix.”Armstrong says the mix is perfect, but more important, he proved it’s powerful. What can tourism destinations learn from this Tour de Lance? Important lessons that take us back to two pillars of the traditional marketing mix – product and promotion. Both are key ingredients of a successful destination marketing program and illustrated well by Professor Lance.Lesson 1 • The Product and its positioningWhen speaking about the success of his announcement, Armstrong first pointed out that Coloradans were on board with the idea of a “high-level pro race.” In other words, the product resonated with the population. The race will attract a variety of attendees, all of whom are candidates to spend money on lodging, food/beverage and retail. With the increase of road biking, especially among baby boomers, this product is a perfect fit with the audience. Regardless of strategy, Armstrong shows how everything starts with the product. Increasingly, businesses are changing the way they create consumer demand, enhancing brand position by association with someone or something already established in the minds of the target consumer. For Colorado as a destination and its tourism-dependent businesses, the Tour de Lance is a chance to be connected with a hot commodity: Lance Armstrong and pro cycling. Since tourism and destination marketing at the core are in the business of selling an experience, strong brand association is vital, and what better way to position Colorado and any mountain resorts able to connect themselves accordingly. Lesson 2 • Promotion in the new reality.Armstrong mentioned the importance of social media, referencing his tweet heard ’round the state: “Denver! Join me & Gov Ritter @ the Capitol 4 an exciting announcement Wed @ 10am. Bring ur bike because we’re ALL going for a ride after.” The short message sent a few days before his scheduled appearance brought thousands of people out to the Colorado capitol with bikes in tow, ready to see and ride with Lance. With 140 characters, he personified the incredible power of social media to quickly rally an audience. While social media and Twitter have been the latest rage in marketing for some time, businesses are still trying to strike the right balance between creating a conversation with customers and simply producing noise. As a promotional tool for tourism businesses and destinations, however, Armstrong shows two important perks Twitter offers – immediacy and accessibility. Granted, the celebrity endorsement factor played a large role in the high turnout, but the Armstrong announcement highlights how quickly and easily tools like Twitter can get a message to the masses for (relatively) free – if the product resonates.Twitter and social media in general also establish an air of accessibility between your business and potential clients. More informal than e-mail, Twitter is about starting a conversation. Note how Armstrong refers to his some 2.6 million Twitter followers as “friends.” The power of social media is that it’s just that – social, allowing marketers to connect with clients in a personal way and build loyalty by making their brand identity more open and accessible. There is no magic in this product or its promotion. Rather, Professor Lance challenges businesses and marketers at destinations everywhere to get back to the basics, highlighting the incredible power of producing something that really resonates with your target market and choosing the right channels to effectively promote it. Ralf Garrison is the founder and director of the Advisory Group, which provides marketing services to destination resorts around the country, owning and operating the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) and the Mountain Travel Symposium. You can contact Ralf at rgarrison@adv-grp.com.