Rockport and Fulton are small communities along the Texas coast, 30 minutes north of Corpus Christi, with a population of less than 25,000. The Rockport-Fulton Chamber has been the area's marketing arm for more than 30 years.
Tourism is our top priority, and the 18-member Tourism Development Council (TDC) facilitates collaboration among elected officials, business leaders, and marketing specialists to effectively promote the area. With a budget of $450,000 funded through the hotel occupancy tax, the TDC recommends an annual Community Marketing Plan to the chamber board, the Rockport City Council, Fulton Town Council and Aransas County Commissioners' Court.
When Rockport-Fulton became one of the five chambers in Texas to receive a five-star rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Accreditation Program in 2010, we were told that the area we needed to improve was our branding. We agreed that our branding was not as good as it could be, but we didn't know where to start. Branding seemed like a task for a "bigger city" to take on, but we began working on it.
Where to start?
A staff member and I attended a conference where we listened to a program about how to brand your community. We then wrote a plan and brought it to the TDC, which gave unanimous approval. Next, we needed to learn more about the perception of our community from our target audience, so we held a series of focus groups in San Antonio.
Wow, were we surprised at what was revealed as we listened and watched through a one-way window! When the focus groups compared our advertising to that of other Texas coast vacation spots, they said our ads were "retro" and our photographs were "unprofessional." It's not always pleasant to hear unvarnished criticism, but this process showed how you must constantly poll your audience to make sure you're on target, and that you must be adaptable and open to change. On the plus side, the focus groups clearly knew our community as a place to relax and unwind.
Next we held a series of strategy sessions within our community to determine how we could brand ourselves and "sell relaxation." We issued a request for proposal and chose five candidates to bid on redesigning our tourism logo and ads with information learned from the focus groups. We enlisted another focus group to help us decide which logo and ads were the best fit. We paid close attention to our target audience.
The TDC and chamber staff developed a plan for execution of the rebranding process, which gained full support of the chamber board of directors. Branding must have general acceptance, and making that happen with a total chamber staff of six is no small matter, but once everyone is on board, the process becomes fun.
The fun begins
Our plan included first determining our identity: We are the "Charm of the Texas Coast." Next, we created images to illustrate how we became who we are, and we identified activities, locations and and facilities that reinforced our brand experience. Then we created advertising messages, a slogan and logo.
While all this was going on, it so happened that the chamber's program of work called for improving the image of the chamber. Until this point, designing a new chamber logo had not been part of the strategy. We were so focused on the community brand we neglected our own 22-year-old logo!
We developed a plan and budget, unanimously approved by the board, to include new branding for all chamber activities.
We put the new logos and ads in motion. All advertising reflected messaging derived from the new position statement. The website was redesigned, new billboards were put up and new brochures were printed.
We unveiled the new branding concept at the first chamber luncheon of the year, and everyone loved it. In addition to the general excitement about the new brand, we've seen website visits rise seven percent comparing January 2013 to January 2012. State occupancy numbers spiked after the brand was introduced and continue a steady climb. Sales tax revenue in our community is up more than 10 percent; bulk mail responses to our promotions are up 15 percent.
We now do Visitor Tracking Studies to obtain feedback about visitors' experience here. This information helps drive our planning for creative strategy and tourism product development. We collect data at various events, retail locations, beaches, hotels, restaurants, attractions and the Visitor Information Center. A recent report we shared with local elected officials noted that Rockport-Fulton visitor satisfaction ranges from 95 percent in the fall to 98 percent in the spring and summer.
Promoting the community is only one of many tasks our chamber performs, but this rebranding effort helped unify the region's marketing attitude and it raised our community's level of consideration and delivery about our "tourism product" and how it will continue to create a climate for growth and prosperity.
Diane Probst is president and CEO of the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce in Rockport, Texas.
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