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Posted: July 01, 2012

Tourism: Touting Telluride

Ads emphasize digital media and ‘micro-targeting’ potential guests

Eric Peterson

"My mantra has always been marketing is art and science," says Michael Martelon, president and CEO of the Telluride Tourism Board. "Without the science, the art is aimless. It might be captivating, but it’s aimless."

Martelon came to Telluride last year after two decades in advertising on the East Coast, and quickly brought in IXI Corp., a McLean, Va.-based provider of consumer databases that counts the country’s largest banks among its customers. Martelon was able to get buy-in from the lodgings in the area to share their data for the greater good.

The challenges (the remote location and extreme seasonality) for Telluride haven’t changed, but the approach to clearing these hurdles most definitely has. To plot this pirouette for their 2012 summer ad campaign, Martelon and company plugged the demographics of Telluride visitors into IXI consumer databases that separate the U.S. population into 71 categories. "We are able to understand who our guests are and why they are coming here," he explains. "We end up seeing where we should be putting our message. The data basically drives every decision."

Case in point: Last summer, nearly two-thirds of the Telluride Tourism Board’s advertising budget was dedicated to print publications, resulting in about 20 million impressions. This summer, Martelon anticipates nearly 40 million impressions by funneling 85 percent of the ad-spend into digital media ranging from Pandora digital radio to newspaper websites in target markets. The only offline advertising is going into the local and Colorado Tourism Office’s visitor guide and display ads at Denver International Airport and on the gondola to the base area of Telluride Ski Resort in adjacent Mountain Village.

"In previous years, we put 60 percent of our budget into print," he says. "This year, 10 percent will be going into print." He says the decision was driven by "less waste" in digital media in terms of targeted advertising.

"We have an opportunity to micro-target as a destination," says Martelon, citing an example of "champagne taste empty nesters," a demographic group that represents just 0.3 percent of the population but is 12 times more likely to visit Telluride than the average person. "That’s how granular this gets."

Telluride’s message has traditionally been more "ethereal" and its target less concrete, says Martelon. "Telluride was putting a lot of eggs in the brand image basket," he says. "I grew up in Colorado, and there’s no prettier place than Telluride. There’s just this aura about it. We need to celebrate its quirks. We need to embrace its authenticity."

The new strategy does this with new "Summer of Love" and "Made in Telluride" campaigns and the associated collateral. "We will distribute these creative assets to anyone who wants to use them. You want to leverage everyone off of everyone." The "Summer of Love" moniker isn’t about 1967, says Martelon, rather "all of the things you love about Telluride. Ultimately, we’re trying to show that there’s a lot going on here."

One of those things is the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, held since 1994. Attendance has grown from 1,000 to an expected 27,000 over three days this September. "Telluride is more of a household name these days compared to when we started the festival," says Steve Gumble, the festival’s director, of the growth. "We definitely have a lot more out-of-state attendees now."

Gumble gives kudos to Martelon’s data-driven approach. "There’s a method to his madness," says Gumble. "We sat down with his spreadsheets, and I was impressed. He definitely did his homework. The product is there – he’s not going to change that. What he’s really done is fill the holes. He’s researching every single person who’s come here, and why they come, and why they don’t."

Kieffer Parrino, general manager of Bear Creek Lodge in Mountain Village above Telluride, echoes Gumble’s appraisal, especially the digital focus. "People have these smartphones and they follow the snow," he explains. "If there is snow, they will come to Telluride with no planning whatsoever."

Bear Creek Lodge operator Telluride Alpine Lodging manages about a quarter of the rooms in Telluride and Mountain Village, giving Parrino a broad-based perspective of the local tourism industry. He says business is definitely on the upswing after a few slow years. "We’re definitely a different animal than other ski towns," he says. "People who are coming to Telluride have really bought into Telluride, and we’re getting new ones. And they’re coming back."

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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