Transitioning to a Marketing Partner Model? It’s Time to Create Change Advocates

Summer is coming. That means vacation season is almost here, and most DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) are ramping up their promotional efforts to take full advantage of America’s penchant for road tripping and jet setting.

Even as DMOs continue the important work of filling hotels and airports, hosting tours and booking meetings and events, many have been forced to take a fresh look at their business models.

To be sure, the travel and tourism landscape has been fundamentally changed by technology. DMOs have been forced to adapt, evolve and reimagine how they fulfill their missions in the Internet age, where communication is democratized and information is always a click or tap away.

Printed membership listings and maps just won’t cut it anymore, so many DMOs are moving away from the traditional membership-based model in favor of a more inclusive Marketing Partner model. No longer will tourism promotion dollars be used only on firms that become “paid members” of your DMO; now, every business, organization and agency in a region is a potential marketing partner.

To manage the change successfully, DMOs need to turn former members into marketing partners. You need to change the way employees work, and you need to redefine your organization in the eyes of the region.

This, of course, is a massive change. Do it well, and your DMO can grow, thrive and differentiate itself; but, give the change short shrift, and disaster might ensue.

Here’s the good news. If you communicate consistently and openly with all of your critical stakeholders, you can mitigate the risk of alienating (former) members, stressing out employees and spooking local officials. More importantly, if you do it well, you can turn potential resistors into staunch advocates for the shift.

Here are three tips to galvanize your stakeholders into an army of change agents.

1) Tailor your message to your audience

When you’re going through a major change like a shift to a marketing partner model, a one-size-fits-all message isn’t good enough. Each of your stakeholder groups (employees, former members, potential partners, etc.) will be impacted differently, and you’re going to need different things from each group to make the transition work.

Take time to understand the change impacts on each group (and, in certain instances, on specific partners or individuals) and then tailor your message for the audience.

This approach will ensure everyone understands what’s going on and what you need from them. Plus, tailored communication gives folks a sense of ownership in the process, which is going to be invaluable as you move forward.

2) Get personal with influencers

Every stakeholder group will have individuals or organizations that are particularly influential. This could be a major attraction or resort, a long-time employee, a former leader or a pillar of the community.

Don’t rely on your typical communication process to engage these people. Instead, have your executive director or another tenured leader reach out personally before the transition is announced broadly. Don’t just tell these individuals about the shift, ask them about it. Solicit their advice and make it clear that you need them on board to make the change successful.

Destinations International

3) Explain why the former model isn’t good enough

It’s important that you explain what the marketing partner model is going to look like, but it’s equally critical that you tell folks why the current membership model isn’t good enough.

A person who is prone to resisting a change will always respond with what I call the “status quo pushback.” It goes something like this:

 “We don’t need to change because we’ve always done it this way and it’s worked just fine.”

To combat this response, you need to clearly explain why the current way of doing things won’t suffice. You need to explain why the DMO can’t compete with a legion of Internet travel sites that are unconstrained by membership lists, or why the DMO needs to diversify and expand its revenue streams to stay relevant.

If you respond appropriately to the “status quo pushback,” you can keep potential bad apples (those who fear or resist change) from spoiling the whole bunch.

In July, Lean Out Communications will be discussing a practical change framework for DMOs at the Destinations International 2018 Annual Conference in Anaheim. Our presentation is entitled “All In: Navigating Your Transition to a Marketing Partner Model through Change Communication.” See you there!

Lean Out Communications is a trusted management consulting firm that empowers organizations to navigate change and grow sustainably. We use a proven collaborative process to help you engage your key stakeholders with practical, repeatable and scalable solutions, tailored to your needs, so you can meet your unique objectives.

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Gene Nichols

Gene Nichols, MBA, managing partner, has more than two decades of global experience helping organizations navigate successful change, manage their reputations and drive sustainable competitive advantage.

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