Kim Harbor '86
Director of Marketing
Department of Commerce
|Marketer Takes an Audience-First
Approach to Promoting West Virginia
From West Virginia to New York and Los Angeles and back, again, her
Marshall University degree from W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications gave Kim Harbour the foundation for an interactive marketing career. Graduating in 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts in magazine journalism, Harbour recieved her Master’s at Parsons School of Design, New York. She
was a children’s book editor in New York, working for imprints of Penguin USA and Rizzoli International, before adding technology to her skill set and producing CD-ROMs based on popular children’s books. This led her career to Los Angeles, where Miss Piggy was her boss at Jim Henson Interactive. In LA, she went from producing Web content for clients like MSN, Disney and Kahlua, to managing the development of large-scale Web applications for GM, Motor Trend, Honda and Acura. She returned to West Virginia in 2004 to raise her family. Harbour is the director of marketing for the West Virginia Department of Commerce, where she leads a 20-member team promoting the state for travel, business and relocation.
Q From magazines, books, CDs and Websites -- what’s the common thread?
A It’s all about communication and reaching the right audience. Marshall’s magazine program taught me how to pitch and package concepts – adding elements of photography or design to tell a story and tailor it to a specific publication or audience. That was especially true for children’s books, where you’d work with an artist to develop a sequence of illustrations to tell a story over 32 or 48 pages. A book that works for a five-year-old, may not hold the attention of a ten-year-old. With CDs, suddenly you were adding music, dialog, sound effects, gameplay and animation to the storytelling, creating virtual environments that kids interact with, explore and shape – and want to replay. Now, this is all online – and it’s mobile… But it’s still about the right message reaching a receptive audience.
Q Technology is evolving. How do you approach it?
A Stay flexible. Keep learning and be open to new outlets and who’s using them. Be strategic with your message and how you deliver it. Especially in this media landscape, things are becoming more fragmented and niche, serving self-selecting audiences. It’s interesting how some bloggers are content curators, and in turn how traditional “mass” media looks to these smaller sources for ideas, trends. It’s important to be aware and take an integrated approach to getting your message out over multiple channels, even small ones that could be influential.
Q Can you talk more about integrated marketing?
A First, you have to have some baseline understanding of the audience and sub-sections within it. For instance, in 2008, Commerce hired R. L. Repass & Partners to study perceptions of West Virginia for travel, business and relocation. We measured attitudes in the large metro areas that surround the state (Atlanta, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Washington, D.C.), as well as perceptions within the state. At the time, Commerce was running a “Come Home” effort for the governor’s office. We wanted to know more about what value statements about the state we should emphasize with our marketing. With integrated marketing you use multiple channels to reinforce your message, strategically.
Q What did you learn about how people see West Virginia?
A Overall, we learned that folks have a positive perception of West Virginia’s natural beauty and high-quality recreation. Respondents see our communities as safe and affordable, and our people as hard-working and friendly. Then, you ask them about our industries. They know we have coal and forestry, but they draw a blank on what else we have. It wasn’t that they had negative impressions – they didn’t know.
What’s interesting was that a third of the 1,100+ people we interviewed had family, friends or some other associations with the state. Still, these folks didn’t know about the opportunities we have in high-tech fields like automotive, aerospace, biometrics, chemicals/polymers or advanced energy research. So, for the past three years, our team has been using this research to underpin our efforts. We take what folks know about the state to introduce them to what they don’t know. It’s fun to play upon the unexpected to make folks take a second look. And say, “Wow. I didn’t know that about West Virginia.”
Q Can you give some examples of projects using this research?
A Here are examples in different media with links to the projects:
Wonderful West Virginia magazine has a loyal readership, about 35,000 subscribers, half inside, half outside the state – including the markets we want to reach. So, Commerce developed two “bonus” issues per year that included profiles of interesting small businesses and industries that folks don’t associate with our state. In the magazine format, we packaged this information with beautiful photos. The business people talk about why they like living and working here. We’ve done this for three years and it’s been award-winning and effective.
For the past three years, Commerce has sponsored summer reunions. We work with reunion planners to provide them with goodie bags (including the magazines, travel guides, business climate brochures) for their guests. In 2011, we worked with 800 individual reunions, each averaging about 80 guests. So, we reached about 64,000 guests with our materials with a fairly small budget. Someone may have left the state years ago, but they come home for a family or school reunion. Sponsoring reunions is a triple win. The planners get great, free West Virginia-themed materials to distribute. Commerce gets our message out about the state’s advantages for business and quality of life. And the guests get a fresh perspective on a place they love.
Online and Social Media
Commerce built a new Web portal, wvcommerce.org, that hosts travel, business and workforce information. After two years, we’re averaging about 600,000 pageviews a month or seven million pageviews a year. This allows us to cross-promote content. City profiles, for instance, are of interest to both travelers and business people. Plus, all of the content from our magazines goes into the site, which boosts our natural search rankings and draws incremental traffic. A large portion of the traffic to our site bypasses our home pages, linking to content deep within our site. Similarly, we use our Facebook pages and Twitter feed to promote our Web content and have folks click to learn more. After one year, our Facebook pages have 6,400 fans, total.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Minisites
A tourist planning a rafting trip is focused on whitewater information and that is different than someone planning a golf vacation, spa getaway or a motorcycle tour on a scenic byway. These information needs are specific and different from an investor looking for commercial property or a consultant wanting to learn about the aerospace industry in West Virginia. So, Commerce has developed a set of more than 20 audience-targeted landing pages to provide highly-customized, relevant content. They’re continually optimized for consumers’ searches on West Virginia travel and business topics. Travel topics change seasonally. SEM gives us real-time feedback on trends, and suggestions for new content.
This summer, Commerce developed a new series of profiles of the state’s top business leaders. A special website, www.businessatthespeedoflife.com presents 21 profiles from a variety of businesses throughout the state. We hired a professional video production crew to help us capture eight CEO profiles in six cities – and to develop a set of videos we could use for our marketing efforts. We pressed a DVD and are in the process of developing other collateral around these interviews. Where a skeptical audience may dismiss marketer’s spin – we’re finding it’s especially effective to have top executives talk about the state’s advantages, unscripted and in their own words. The videos are used in client meetings and in our trade show booth.
Q So, how do these tie back to the research?
A They’re all informed by the research – or in the case of SEM, they extend it and build upon it. In every case, we combine media outlets to enhance the chances of our messages being heard. The CEO quote may be in a video, a magazine article, a website page, a trade show booth or a Facebook post. The pieces work independently, but additively, too. The channels reinforce one another, including any paid advertising we do.
Q Any last advice?
A Plan and measure! As communicators or marketers, figure out a way to measure the response to your efforts and plan for it up front.
This summer Commerce joined with tourism in advertisements in the Washington, D.C. Metro. It was considered an immersion campaign, because for the month of June all of the posters, billboards and signage in several Metro stops, including inside the trains, featured West Virginia. Looking back to our 2008 data, we picked key advantages to stress to the D.C. audience and we developed a set of eight posters: one per theme. Each poster had a QR tag that led to more information on a corresponding mobile site (essential, since this was a commuting environment!) Beyond having a nice awareness campaign, Commerce walked away knowing which messages brought the most traffic to us from this market: “high-tech,” “power,” “productivity” and “balance.” Now, we have info to build upon.
We’re looking forward to doing more with mobile marketing in the next year. Video and digital delivery methods will be primary tools for communicators, more and more – as we narrowcast and syndicate our own content. So, plan to keep learning and re-tooling your skills throughout your career.
If you have questions, feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.