The Power of Proximity Campaigns, with Karyn Gruenberg

Episode 130

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Karyn Gruenberg is senior vice president of partner marketing and strategic alliances at Brand USA, the public/private partnership whose mission is to increase international visitation spend and market share in order to fuel the nation’s economy and enhance the image of the USA worldwide. In this position, Karen is responsible for leading partner marketing efforts as well as building global strategic alliances to leverage the combined resources and expertise of the industry. Her leadership includes development and oversight of all partner-driven marketing programs and key global media alliances that add and create value for partners, amplify partners, international reach and drive, inbound visitor travel and tourism dollars to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five territories. Among her many accomplishments at Brand USA, Karen established a core partner program strategy that today includes more than 100 programs and 200 opportunities and key media partnerships with BBC, National Geographic, Bloomberg, and Your Own News and Alibaba to name a few. Prior to joining brand USA, Karen led the marketing effort for Meet Minneapolis, the premier Tourism and Convention Marketing Organization of the Greater Minneapolis region. As part of the leadership team, she was instrumental in securing major sponsorships for the city as well as directing all advertising, public relations, digital development, and creative services to market the city. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota and pursued a Master in Business Communications at the University of Saint Thomas, Minnesota. On this episode of Destination on the Left, I ask Karyn to walk us through the many programs available through Brand USA, and how local attractions and destinations can take full advantage of them. We talk co-op marketing, storytelling, and much more – all geared toward the international visitor.  

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How Brand USA uses co-op marketing to bring large-scale messages down to the local level
  • Why storytelling is such a powerful tool in our industry
  • How affordable marketing to international visitors can be
  • The power of proximity campaigns
  • Why coopetition is one of your best tools to bring international visitors to your region

Finding The Difference

How do you market an entire nation? Karyn and I talk about how Brand USA takes a larger message like “Enjoy the Great Outdoors” and helps local destinations craft a message for international audiences. This happens in many different ways. There are fairly traditional co-op campaigns and there are new and exciting storytelling programs, like the one that Brand USA is rolling out with partner Beautiful Destinations called United Stories. And if you haven’t utilized Brand USA’s Inspiration Guide, now is your chance to learn more about it and put it to use for your destination.

Bang for Your Buck

The value of the dollar is a key advantage for international travelers. Even though over the past year value has dropped a little bit, it’s still a good buy. Karyn talks about proximity campaigns being developed by Brand USA. Proximity campaigns give regions dollars and ideas to use in order to market to international visitors. You can experience Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes, and New York City, all within a short drive. Karyn talks with me about how proximity marketing is being used all around the country to highlight the amazing sights and activities available in a given region.


Nicole Mahoney: 00:23 Hello listeners, this is Nicole Mahoney, host of Destination on the Left. I am passionate about travel and tourism and love learning from the experiences of professionals in the industry there. That’s why I’m so excited to introduce today’s guest, Karen Greenberg. Kiran is senior vice president, partner marketing and strategic alliances at brand USA, the public private partnership whose mission is to increase incremental international visitation spend and market share in order to fuel the nation’s economy and enhance the image of the USA worldwide. In this position, Karen is responsible for leading partner marketing efforts as well as building global strategic alliances to leverage the combined resources and expertise of the industry. Her leadership includes development and oversight of all partner driven marketing programs and key global media alliances that add and create value for partners, amplify partners, international reach and drive, inbound visitor travel and tourism dollars to all 50 states, the district of Columbia and the five territories. Among her many accomplishments at brand USA, Karen established a core partner program strategy that today includes more than 100 programs and 200 opportunities and key media partnerships with BBC, National Geographic, Bloomberg, and your own news and Alibaba to name a few.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:44 These programs have helped earned brand USA has strong partner program retention rating of more than 90% and maximize partner contributions. Prior to joining brand USA, Karen led the marketing effort for Meat Minneapolis, the premier tourism and Convention Marketing Organization of the Greater Minneapolis region. As part of the leadership team, she was instrumental in securing major sponsorships for the city as well as directing all advertising, public relations, digital development, and creative services to market the city. In addition, she spearheaded the highly acclaimed rebranding project for Minneapolis and Saint Paul and was instrumental in helping the city when the bid to host. The 2008 Republican National Convention. Karen has earned honors from the International Association of business communicators, the Public Relations Society of America and was named one of the top 25 women industry leaders in the twin cities. She earned her bachelor of arts from the University of Minnesota and pursued a master in business communications at the University of Saint Thomas, Minnesota. Thank you for joining me, Karen. Um, I’m really looking forward to our conversation today, but before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about your own story in your own words? I find it adds so context to our conversation.

Karyn Gruenberg: 03:01 Thanks Nicole, and thanks for inviting me to be on the show today. I’m excited to be here. I had been very fortunate in my career is very early on I, I developed a love for marketing, developed a love for experiential marketing. I started my career working within the arena of business where it was all about live entertainment and what we were selling really was the experience and of course

Nicole Mahoney: 03:24 putting heads in beds.

Karyn Gruenberg: 03:26 So it was very, it’s been a really interesting experience because it transferred over greatly travel industry because again, recreating a desire, an experience, but we’re still filling up those hotels when you work on a city level. So I worked for them, meet Minneapolis, the Convention and Visitors Association of Minneapolis for 13 years, and we got to really rebuild the organization into a marketing organization versus a convention sales organization, which most GMOs back then we’re doing. And it really was creating the experience. It was creating the desire to come. And during that period of time we had a lot of attention to Minneapolis because we were very focused on who we were, which was a city that had great outdoor space despite the cold winters, but had a lot of arts and culture.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:15 Yeah. I, um, I think that’s such a great point that you made in terms of, um, your evolution into more of a marketing organization versus just the sales, you know, the convention sales organization. I’m sure there’s a balance between the two, but how important it is to really sell that experience and to inspire folks, right. To understand what that experience is all about. Um, like you said, be focused, understand what you can deliver and then communicating that out and I think it sounds to me like that was a perfect place for you to start that kind of segwayed you into your role today with brand USA where you’re selling such a larger experience. Right?

Karyn Gruenberg: 04:53 It was ideal. When brand who has say was created, I started speaking with him about coming to work for them because of my DMO experience. Part of what I brought to the table was there’s an expression I use. I did so much with so little for so long, I can do something great with nothing and we’ll work within the DMO world. You’re working on a very modified budget and a small budget, would you still want to do a lot? And we were able to do that and we started building out co op programs for our members and partners, which was an ideal match for brand USA. We began, it was just a marketing organization, but we were required to secure $100 million every year. And to do that, what we had to do is create ways for partners contribute to brand USA to market together. So I’m a strong believer in co op marking because you’re really sharing the message and you’re sharing not only the cost, but you’re sharing space with somebody who’s like you competing against a grand global world where most destination marketing organizations, ours do not do that co op strategy.

Nicole Mahoney: 06:00 Yeah. And I, and I really loved that and that plays really well with what we like to focus on, uh, on this show, which is that whole idea of what I call coopertition, right? Where perceived competitors come together and collaborate on something that they can do, um, bigger than what they can do on their own. And so I know we’re going to have a lot to talk about today. Um, so Karen, let’s sat dive into these questions and we’ll start with creativity and understanding just how competitive the tourism and hospitality industry is, uh, especially, uh, on the global stage. And I’m wondering what kinds of things have you seen or has brand USA done to really stand out from the crowd?

Karyn Gruenberg: 06:41 What are the reasons the USA is so unique is we have so much more to offer in one country than many countries have. As a nation as I explain it is we have more states, more diversity then they have countries all over, all over Europe. Um, so we can put everything into a nice package and say you can get so much value when you come to the USA. Well that’s where we really stand out as being very different. The two most important assets that people look at for the USA for travel is really the great outdoors and the pop culture and we’re able to feature both across so many different strategies.

Nicole Mahoney: 07:23 Yeah, I think that’s a fabulous, and and uh, talk a little bit about how you identified those two strengths. The great outdoors and the pop culture.

Karyn Gruenberg: 07:33 It was done through a lot of research in the countries that were targeted and it came up over and over again. For example in China, the reason they love the great outdoors is because it’s really about the freedom, the freedom they don’t have when they’re in China, despite the fact they also have a lot of outdoor space that is really appealing because it’s wide open spaces and you can tell a very experiential story there regarding pop culture. You know, most music, most films that people follow across the globe really do, are built out of Hollywood and the United States. And you can’t go into any hotel or any venue within your, uh, for China or India without hearing American music. So it really is a great driver. In addition to that, there’s so many global brands of fashion that also come out of the u s and people are buying that up as they traveled to other countries.

Nicole Mahoney: 08:29 Yeah, I think that’s a, that’s a really good trial point. And, uh, I’m, I’m thinking maybe our listeners probably have an awareness of that, but to really think about it in terms of positioning and how we compete against other countries I think might be, you know, kind of a new way for them to think about that. So can you share a little bit about how your programs are leveraging those two strengths, the great outdoors and the pop culture?

Karyn Gruenberg: 08:53 Sure. Um, we have created a variety of programs for that are very different for each market. But four years ago we launched a film around the national parks, a giant screen film and underneath that giant screen film where we couldn’t reach every one of the 400 plus national parks, we then build subprograms for our partners to work with us from a TV series on travel channel. Too many social media programs and a program working with Expedia, really promoting the great outdoors. And we went beyond the national parks is a theme because not everyone has a national park and also many of the national parks have too much traffic and we need to look at other great outdoor experiences to those visitors. But then we took that content and really targeted to the right countries was worse, seriously interested in outdoor space, for example, Germany, that’s a really important selling message for Germany, China, India, those are really important messages. So it took the lead in our marketing efforts.

Nicole Mahoney: 10:00 Yeah, I think, uh, I saw a trailer for that film and it really looked amazing and what a tremendous product that you actually were able to put out there. But I love how you were able to then take it and Repurpose, uh, that program or that a movie down into several other types of content. Um, and, and I’m thinking that several of our listeners might be thinking, sure, I don’t have that national park, but can you explain a little bit more about how this really does trickle down to, you know, those second and third tier destinations? We’re not always talking about just the grand destinations in the U S is that right?

Karyn Gruenberg: 10:37 Correct. Absolutely correct. I’ll give you an example. We worked with Charleston in the Hampton court flowers show for several years and their focus was on the big fountain in their park. And it’s not a national park that everybody goes to him is a lot of proposals in and it’s really a destination. I kind of destination for Charleston and the outdoor space rounded is magnificent and fresh and it’s right on the ocean. So that was one of the destinations that we really spend some time on working how we localize it all the way down to the smaller destinations in greater New York. You have of course the falls, but you have Hudson Valley, which is you to fill in the wine country. All of those great, sure experiences that really set you apart.

Nicole Mahoney: 11:28 Absolutely. Thank you that, those are great examples and, and uh, I think it’s important, um, you know, for, for our listeners to understand just how this big umbrella brand really does trickle down to that local, to that local level. I think that was great. Um, I’d like to switch gears just a little bit and that is um, I love to ask my guests this next question, which is thinking about a time, either a challenge or some sort of adversity and then thinking about the creative kind of solution that came from that. Is there a particular challenge that might come to mind for you and then a creative solution that uh, has come from that

Karyn Gruenberg: 12:07 I started to giggle because there are two that come to mind. One is even though it’s our benefit, it’s also our challenge and that is the enormity of the USA. We have so much to offer and so much to tell him a story you have to figure out how how you do that. Again, it’s very targeted to who your consumer is and then we layer it into this whole co-op level and we’ve done a, the first couple of years were a real learning process because we were selling the USA as a whole. We then started to focus on those assets that are really important to the visitor and the people you’re trying get excited about coming to the USA. The second is the value of the dollar, the value of the dollar from the day I started with brand USA today has grown significantly, although it’s dropped a little bit in the last year and how did we create that into a marketing campaign because it was becoming more expensive to travel here and we created what we call a proximity campaign and it was that this and that kind of campaign.

Karyn Gruenberg: 13:11 You could experience this and you could experience that. You could experience the great outdoors around Niagara Falls, but you can experience the great excitement of New York City all within a short time dried and we identified the dry period that international visitors are willing to take us about five and a half hours and that campaign was one of the most successful campaigns when it came to direct booking that we launched. What we’ve done is taken that campaign and roll it down to the partner level where we use proximity in everything we do within our co op strategy because we are such a big country. People think when you look at on the map, oh I can go from New York City to Chicago, no problem. Well it’s three and a half day drive if you want to drive it and you really have and people don’t always want to drive. They want to get as much as they can, the value of their dollar as close as they can.

Nicole Mahoney: 14:06 Yeah. I think uh, those were too really great examples and I love that idea of the proximity campaign cause it, it really does help folks have, you know, a deeper experience within an area. Right. Instead of just hitting those icons like you mentioned Niagara Falls, New York City, um, they’re able to see so much more that way. Exactly. Yeah. That’s really it. That’s really awesome. Is, is there something coming up that brand USA is working on that you’re particularly excited about that you could share with our listeners?

Karyn Gruenberg: 14:34 Yes. A new campaign. It’s called United stories and it is, we are creating a content mobile lab and it’s going to travel around the United States telling the story of the USA. What’s so great about it is it literally is a vehicle with content influence who’s we’re working with an organization called beautiful destination. And we get to layer a lot of different things, opportunities around United stories and that includes bringing in influencers and visiting journalist and radio. We’re going to do some radio podcast. We’re going to do some, um, one on one interviews. We’ve launched this in the actual center of the United States, which is actually in South Dakota in January. Um, [inaudible] roll out the campaign so it will be in all 50 states over the next couple of years. And it, yes, it will be coming to New York soon. We’ve been to Austin recently. We’ve been to, um, uh, Ooh, uh, Marfa, Texas, which is a little tiny town in Texas that beyond see made famous because of the great shopping experience and cultural experiences there. And I’m really excited. It’s down on the ground. It’s getting a lot of attention and it’s really focused around social. We’re going to create an advertising campaign around it in select countries also.

Nicole Mahoney: 15:56 That’s a, that sounds really awesome. And, uh, I’ll, I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for that because a, I love that it’s got this social component to it, you know, with the and beautiful destinations, of course this is a wonderful influence or I follow their Instagram all the time. So I’ll look forward to seeing these USA images there as well. Um, and then how you’re also using that though to extend that into a, into a campaign just sounds really awesome and that you’re able to get to these small communities such as a Marfa, Texas. I think that’s great.

Karyn Gruenberg: 16:26 And that is brand qscs charge through and beyond the gateways a lot of time looking for great storytelling beyond the gateways.

Nicole Mahoney: 16:37 And we have lots of stories to tell, don’t we? Um, so that’s actually a perfect segue into the next section of this conversation that we like to focus on, which is the whole idea of collaboration and of course so much of what you’ve already described, um, takes immense collaboration or to make that work. Um, so I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about um, you know, how collaborations work with brand USA and, and of course your, your major focus is the whole partnership program, right?

Karyn Gruenberg: 17:08 Yes, it is. My team and I are responsible for anything that generates the revenue in the partnerships or brand USA to market internationally. Again, I’ve had the privilege of being there since the very beginning. So I started with my CMO on building out these walk native programs and I do want to say that almost all 50 states now are engaged in these cooperative programs and then they layer them down to their cities and attractions and regions within their state. So more people can be involved in international tourism and a much more affordable level than they could on their own.

Nicole Mahoney: 17:47 Absolutely. And can you talk a bit about how some of those programs a work?

Karyn Gruenberg: 17:52 Absolutely. Biggest programs we have from the beginning is our inspiration platform, which is an inspiration guy now it’s an inspiration guide on steroids. We build it out to the mobile platform. It’s really creating a big storytelling opportunity for destinations to work is a state level. And then their partners within the state become part of the inspiration guide with their own images in their own stories. It works well together. This tool has become so successful this year we had nearly 80 tour operators. I asked for their own copy of this inspiration plat in that they customize and they now are using for their, mmm, their own guide to the USA. So the, and that has been going on since our very beginning. The other program, and I will say that New York state and the Nys Tia have been very involved working together in marketing is our multichannel program. It’s where we go into very key markets such as Canada, the UK, Brazil, Japan, India, Germany, and we create an advertising program, different media channels and brand USA, um, supports the program with underwriting all the advertising, you negotiating the advertising with media partners in market and then our destinations work together through a cooperation level versus what I would say cooperate [inaudible] level.

Karyn Gruenberg: 19:25 Yeah. To create an overarching message. And, um, New York state has, right, great success with that, with over a million bookings of hotel room nights through our Expedia partner on that program last year. So it’s, it’s a very accessible way to do that. We also go into market and create co OP programs with various media companies. We work with ctrip in China and we offer up those opportunities back to the partners. So they’re getting a bigger reach for their dollars.

Nicole Mahoney: 19:55 Yeah. I think, um, that New York state program I am very familiar with and have also been, um, involved with it. And, uh, it really is incredible on the return that you get for the investment, but also the, um, how you leverage those dollars. And so can you explain a little bit about how that works? Because I don’t know if all of our listeners exactly understand the brand USA model and, and how brand USA matches, you know, local dollars. Well,

Karyn Gruenberg: 20:27 we’re very unique national tourism organization with the only one in the world who does this and the travel promotion act. We were awarded access to $100 million that is collected from visa waiver fees. In order for us to secure that $100 million, we have to generate $100 million from the private sector public sector on a state level industry who will contribute those dollars to brand USA. And then we create programs around that and our program value and be anywhere from a three to one return to a 10 to one return depending on what we’ve done in market. For example, the United Kingdom in the UK, we had been working with companies like the Telegraph News Uk, the Guardian, your own news, BBC to create media programs where they’re also providing added value to us, usually in the millions of dollars that we then share with our partners. So we’ve run for three years series on BBC, around music, the great outdoors filmmaking and our partners were able to participate with us in those programs and received a bigger lift of media to promote their own destination.

Karyn Gruenberg: 21:49 Around that. Yeah. I think, um, you know, that type of leverage just makes this whole international marketing piece so much more approachable, especially for our, you know, our second and third tier and, and even the smallest communities. Right? Absolutely. It’s really the only way some of either a medium sized communities can consider marketing internationally. You know, you, you’re next door to one of our international markets, the border of Canada and many destinations think of that as a domestic market. We think of that as a international market because they have to cross the border. But for many of our partners, that’s all they could afford to market is the border countries of the US, Mexico and Canada. Now because of the word brand USA does, you’re able to reach out to the UK, China, Germany, and for New York. The other market for them is Australia. Yeah, absolutely.

Karyn Gruenberg: 22:49 And, um, I also think that, uh, this, this access to those tour operators that you talked about is, um, something as well that a brand USA is bringing to the table that otherwise these smaller destinations wouldn’t have that access. Can you talk a little bit about kind of how that a supply chain works, if you will? Absolutely. Well, we work on three levels. We have our general consumer marketing, we have our partner marketing, and then we have our trade. Our trade team is 100% focused on building out itineraries in programs and support programs with the travel trade industry. They also challenged them to look at marketing in different ways. The trade industry. Um, I’m looking up right now, so I just need one second about some of the programs we’ve done for the state. We created a series of itineraries with bookable product that we are working, uh, receptive tour operators to share with you exactly what it is. We’re, what does itineraries are as well. I’ll come back to that.

Nicole Mahoney: 23:55 Sure. Um, I think that that’s just so important because when you’re thinking about international, I mean of course Canadians travel a little bit differently, but, but some of these countries that you’re targeting, the way they travel and the way they book their travel as much different perhaps then than we do here in the u s correct.

Karyn Gruenberg: 24:13 I would say absolutely. What is really important though for tour operators to be successful now is really sense of being a part of the mobile world. And we were operators sell themselves various non traditional markets by creating programs. He just finished it two or operator program where we worked with Google to work with individual tour operators to get the message out to those partners.

Nicole Mahoney: 24:43 Yeah, I think that’s great. So Karen, I always like to ask this question of, of our guests has, you know, this is all about learning from each other and you work in so many different partnerships. I’m wondering if there are best practices or things that you have seen that really kind of set the groundwork for a successful partnership.

Karyn Gruenberg: 25:02 Yes. There were three things that I would mention. Number one is you are and be sure that you’re selling what you can own exclusively is yours. MMM. One size doesn’t fit all for each of our partners. I will use Hudson Valley as an example. Hudson valley is filled with beautiful small attractions, beautiful outdoors in very localized, and that’s something that Hudson valley should focus on is their localized messaging or localized way that they have created such an important community where when you go up to Niagara Falls, it’s a bit different. It’s really the Niagara Falls area, even though you have some great shopping on the side. So what I say to a partner is what is your key differentiator in who you are and sets you apart? And let’s focus on that, which often means that not all of our programs will work for you and not all of our messaging.

Karyn Gruenberg: 25:58 We’re work for you, but you’ll be more successful focused on that. The second is to work in the area of coopertition. I mean you really aren’t competing with each other for an international visitor. You’re competing with, we’re competing with other countries. So let’s share the dollars because those are dollars that are bonus dollars. They’re not re transferring dollars within your state or within the country. It’s brand new dollars. And the third is if you don’t have the right amount of money, start small, do it well. And, um, we always tell partners when they’re starting with us. Really. Let’s start by making sure the travel trade knows who you are. So first thing I always recommend is you work with our online training program before you start looking at going out into the consumer world. And we build that program up first and we built it up through a state messaging program.

Nicole Mahoney: 26:54 Those are, those are great pieces of advice and a, just to make sure our listeners got that. So essentially you’re saying find that key differentiator and, um, be who you are, not who you aren’t. Right. Work in the area of collaboration or as I like to call it, coopertition and, and really leverage those relationships, um, by, you know, sharing those dollars and that those dollars are new, uh, to your community. And also, I, I love this last point, which is to start small. So instead of thinking that we’re too small, we just don’t have enough budget, start small and you can get started with some of those online resources. Um, and is there are those online resources free and on your website we can certainly link

Karyn Gruenberg: 27:36 to those in our show notes. The training program is not free through the state and the cities can come up under it and usually the state underwrites the cost of it but just focused on those kinds of programs to begin with.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:49 Okay. And what’s the best way to find out if your state is part of that program?

Karyn Gruenberg: 27:54 You can just ask her see tourism department, about 60% of the states are part of our program or they have their own training program and um, daddy is where you would begin. The other thing is this is free is we need images and story information about heart, about your destination. We’re always looking at great stories to share on our social channels or on our website so you can upload your information to us that we have it for a social channels and I’ll provide you the link for that information.

Nicole Mahoney: 28:29 Terrific. We will make sure that we leave that in the show notes section for our listeners. And uh, Karen, this has been a great conversation. I really appreciate you taking some time out, um, to, you know, talk with us today. I’m wondering if there’s anything else that you’d like to share that maybe I haven’t asked you yet.

Karyn Gruenberg: 28:50 Do you want these international and international or spend? It’s usually three to six times more than a domestic traveler excitement to your destination. And one little thing when it catches on social media could put two over the top. Okay. For an international visitor to want to come visit you like Beyonce did with Marfa, Texas.

Nicole Mahoney: 29:12 Absolutely. What a great example. Well, thank you so much for your time and I know you are presenting at the New York State Tourism Conference and uh, we will have a copy of your deck that you’re presenting in the show notes section so listeners can certainly go there and get more information. And Karen, we’ll look forward to catching up with you again. Thank you so much. Glad to be here. Nicole, what did great podcast, it’s Todd to hit the road again. Visit destination, the

Speaker 1: 29:42 during your travels for more podcasts, show notes and fresh ideas.

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