What do most people know about Oklahoma? They probably know the title song from "Oklahoma!" It was the first musical written by the team of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II.
But, anyone who has visited the state will tell you it's the people who live there that make Oklahoma worth singing about. Oklahomans are authentic, genuine, and welcoming – making visitors feel like they belong.
At the same time, travelers fall in love with the uncrowded, pristine outdoors and attractions that offer authentic experiences. Lake Tenkiller is known as "heaven in the hills" for the way the clear water reflects the expansive blue skies, and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum captures the city's emotional journey of resiliency and hope. Music history buffs will want to visit Muskogee where they'll find the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, a museum which collects and documents information archiving Oklahoma's rich musical history.
For these reasons, tourism is Oklahoma's third largest industry and tourists spend more than $7 billion annually, following the state's advice to "come see for yourself." According to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, travel and tourism dollars generate over a billion dollars in annual revenue for Oklahoma's state and local governments and help to support almost 80,000 jobs.
The people that work at the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department (OTRD) truly embody the authenticity and natural joy of the state itself. As Executive Director, Deby Snodgrass led a team that revels in pushing aside stodgy industry standards in favor of effective new strategy. She and her colleagues Jennifer Kalkman, Director of Digital Marketing, and Dick Dutton, Director of Travel Promotion, have diverse backgrounds (public affairs, finance, and broadcast television) but pride themselves in thinking and acting as a team. For this group, it's not about what other destinations are doing but about doing what's best for Oklahoma.
Kalkman and Dutton manage a multitude of marketing channels, from television to print to digital, but have looked for alternatives to traditional media like TV ads which tend to be more expensive to reach their target audience. People are changing the way they consume media, mixing their live TV watching with recorded shows and internet videos, and interacting with multiple screens.
Nielsen has even created a new segment to describe consumers who don't subscribe to traditional TV programming at all. This shift has made it important for advertisers to extend the life of advertising campaigns online so they can get the most out of their marketing investment. With a budget that's only a fraction of some neighboring state budgets, OTRD needs to make every dollar count. Dutton emphasizes, "Taxpayers have entrusted their dollars to us to allocate as efficiently and intelligently as possible."
To secure the most bang for their buck, Oklahoma decided to conduct their own test on channel allocation, with the goal of finding a more effective way of connecting with today's traveler. "We're in the middle of a major shift of how people use tools to plan their travel. We know the web is the number one source of information with 85 percent of people using the Internet," Dutton explains.
To test the value of online viewership and activity, OTRD reallocated 20 percent of their summer "Come See For Yourself" campaign investment to YouTube TrueView video ads.
Kalkman was especially excited about this campaign because it allowed for testing new markets with high potential for visitors. She enthuses, "We launched TrueView video ads in test markets we had been tracking for several years due to a high propensity to travel to Oklahoma, but we could never afford to reach them because they were too expensive to buy television in and were outside of our drive market - cities like Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta."
After running the test Kalkman found that not only did YouTube TrueView ads enable OTRD to reach a broader audience at a lower cost, but they also drove higher website visitation than other marketing channels. TrueView-only markets blew all the others away by driving 486 percent year over year growth in website visitation. The 12 markets running TrueView-only ads accounted for 44 percent of their website traffic (284,000 visits) – funded by only 20 percent of the campaign budget.
What did this mean for Oklahoma? According to OTRD, these results catapulted TravelOK.com into the number one spot among state tourism department websites based on visitation during the month the campaign was live. It also drove TravelOK.com to rank second highest in terms of pages viewed per visit.
In regard to the previously untested, high-potential markets, the test produced some powerful data-driven insight as well. Every city in which TrueView campaigns were active jumped up into TravelOK.com's list of top 15 DMAs nationally that send visitors to the site. The top two California metros tested increased from 3 percent of TravelOK.com visitors to 15 percent at the peak. The marketing team at OTRD now knows, without a doubt, that some of the largest cities in the US have an interest in traveling to Oklahoma.
Given these strong test results, Kalkman plans to "request a bigger share of the overall marketing budget so we can do this more often." YouTube TrueView will definitely be a part of the OTRD media mix going forward and the team is already considering other innovative ways to use the format to drive economic impact for Oklahoma … for a song.
Snodgrass, who first recognized the need for change, has been heralded by her team as the driving force behind the shift to a much more digital-centric marketing strategy. And Governor Fallin recently named Snodgrass to the new position of secretary of tourism. But if you ask Snodgrass about her role in it all, she humbly states, like a true Oklahoman: "It takes a village."
Search Engine Watch (SEW) asked Secretary Deby Snodgrass (DS) a couple of follow up questions via email. And despite the fact that it was the middle of August, she responded much "sooner" than we would have expected from a cabinet secretary in another state.
SEW: How do you explain the test results to public officials who may not be familiar with YouTube, but understand that taxpayers don't want to waste money?
DS: Measurable results speak for themselves, and Google's TrueView program produces hard metrics. Combining measurable results with fiscal restraint translates to proven results for both lawmakers and taxpayers.
SEW: Do you think YouTube levels the playing field for states that can't afford expensive TV advertising campaigns?
DS: Absolutely. Fewer and fewer people sit at home in the evening and watch network television. They DVR their favorite programs and fast-forward through the commercials; or, they simply download the shows they want to see from pay-per-view, Netflix, Apple TV and other digital mediums. Regardless of the size of your advertising budget, it's a challenge to reach consumers in a technology-driven, multimedia world, but Google has found a unique and effective way to place one's message before an increasingly mobile and fluid market.