Benicia, CA typically does not usually have to work very hard to attract visitors to the charming jewel of the San Francisco Bay Area. However, as the pandemic hindered tourism, the city turned to Creative Digital Agency (CDA) to forge a different path as it attempted to navigate these unprecedented times.
The resulting campaign introduced the “Great Escape By the Bay” messaging to appeal to locals under lockdown. This creative highlighted a variety of day trip itineraries that promoted mental and physical health. Importantly, all recommendations incorporated shopping or dining agendas to continue driving revenue for small, locally-owned businesses.
This strategy proved to be successful, leading a huge upswing in earned media coverage. Benicia was covered by Visit California, the SF Chronicle, Mercury News, and “Live With Kelly and Ryan,” among others.
Further, the City’s social media engagement and new follower acquisition rate increased by several hundred percent across Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Everything revolved around CDA's philosophy of being "audience-first" in the area’s approach, “making sure the new visitor experience aligned with the authentic changing realities of our audience,” explains Jin Kim, founder/CEO, CDA. “How important were things like mental health to people during the pandemic? Did people's preferences for day trips -- and the distances they would be willing to drive -- change in 2020? How were media consumption habits changing with everyone stuck at home? We looked at local audience data and kept up with audience studies from the big players in the travel industry to determine the best path forward.”
Just when Benicia business owners were looking forward to relaxing COVID-19 restrictions yet another surge in the virus impacted the holiday shopping season.
As a pivot, CDA worked with the city to launch Shop Benicia, a new citywide eGift card program that incentivized shoppers to support small local businesses during the pandemic by purchasing online gift cards which could be redeemed at any participating business in the city.
This Shop Benicia launch was also viewed as a win, with the City’s initial promotional offer selling out in the first two weeks and local media picking up the story.
It is important to emphasize the “immediate business impact” of what we were doing, says Kim. “How could we drive revenue for the destination? We worked closely with the city and local businesses to curate full-day itineraries that allowed for safe outdoor social distancing, while also integrating several relevant retail touchpoints.”
Another key lesson was timeliness. While most destinations were still promoting their "we'll be here when this all blows over" message, CDA recognized an opportunity to release a transformed visitor experience that shaped to fit the realities of the pandemic.
Now, CDA is collaborating with city officials to further Benicia's digital transformation by launching a central online marketplace for local businesses, including eCommerce options.
“If there's one lesson everybody should have taken away from last year, it's that marketers have to plan to adapt to the unexpected,” says Kim.