Approaching Destination Marketing From a New Perspective with Stuart Butler
In this episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast, Adam is joined by Stuart Butler, Chief Marketing Officer at Visit Myrtle Beach. Having recently transitioned from the agency side to the destination side, listen to hear how Stuart is utilizing his unique background to improve the use of high-quality content within the destination.
"Content is not just king, but it's everything. Everything you do is content in some form or fashion. Everyone is consuming content and if you're not publishing great content as things get more competitive, you're going to get lost in the shuffle. You have to create content that people choose to consume." -Stuart Butler
Meet our Host and Guest(s)
- Name: Adam Stoker
- Position: Co-Founder and CEO of Relic
- Favorite Destination: Fiji
- Dream Destination: New Zealand
- Name: Stuart Butler
- Position: Chief Marketing Officer at Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce
- Favorite Destination: Myrtle Beach
- Dream Destination: Horsmonden, England
“Approaching Destination Marketing From a New Perspective with Stuart Butler: – Show Notes and Highlights
- A growing organization should work together to get it done, whatever it has to do. Move faster and learn more.
- Myrtle Beach has over 1700 restaurants.
- Myrtle Beach went through a brand revamp during the COVID pandemic.
- Myrtle Beach DMO is focused on their consumers, not their CVB members because they believe that they serve their members better by serving their customers.
- Myrtle Beach’s three pillars of strategy:
- DMOs need to figure out what value they can provide to their audience.
- Become the content that people choose to consume.
Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:
Stuart Butler: [00:00:01] Content is not just king, but it’s everything. Everything you do is content in some form or fashion. Everyone is consuming content. If you’re not publishing great content, as things get more granular and more competitive, you’re going to get lost in the shuffle. You have to create content people want and choose to consume.
Adam Stoker: [00:00:20] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Destination Marketing podcast. I’m your host, Adam Stoker. As many of you know, I own an advertising agency that helps destinations get the right message to the right people at the right time. We’ve got a wonderful guest today. His name is Stuart Butler and he is the Chief Marketing Officer of Visit Myrtle Beach. Stuart, welcome to the show.
Stuart Butler: [00:00:42] Hello. How’s it going?
Adam Stoker: [00:00:44] Great. We’re excited to have you. You’re one of the unique guests that we have on the show that I’ve experienced your destination as a tourist. I’ve got some unique insight from my trip. We can talk about some of the things that I found when I was there. It’s going to be a fun conversation.
Stuart Butler: [00:01:02] Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it and hearing a little more about your experience when you came to Myrtle Beach recently.
Adam Stoker: [00:01:08] Yeah. It will be a fun conversation to preface it. I think this will maybe ease your mind a little bit. We had a wonderful time. We had an amazing trip. This isn’t going to be an inquisition here or an intervention. It’s we’re going to talk about —
Stuart Butler: [00:01:24] — destination. Good.
Adam Stoker: [00:01:26] Yeah. We are going to talk about some of the wonderful things that you guys are doing there in Myrtle Beach.
Stuart Butler: [00:01:30] Great.
Adam Stoker: [00:01:31] Well before we do that, we’ve got some ice breaker questions we like to ask as we dive in. The first one is, what is your dream destination, Stuart? You live in an amazing place like Myrtle Beach, but we want to know if you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Stuart Butler: [00:01:46] Yeah. Like you said Myrtle Beach is a great destination. We call ourselves permanent vacationists here. I was in an Uber last week and the guy said, “You know we’re really blessed. We get to live permanently in a place people pay a lot of money to come visit for two weeks a year. I do, I love this destination. I don’t get the vacation that often because I work so hard but if I did it would be December 25th of any year in a little village called Horsmonden in England, which is my mom’s house where I grew up. I would be eating Christmas dinner surrounded by family because to me travel is more about the people you travel with than the destination itself. Christmas dinner is always the best meal of the year, especially when my mom cooks it so that’s where I’d traveled to right now.
Adam Stoker: [00:02:29] You know what let’s talk-
Stuart Butler: [00:02:30] I time travel as well.
Adam Stoker: [00:02:32] You time travel. That’s a good answer. Most of the people that I asked that question to, can narrow it down to the country or the region. You’ve narrowed it down to a very specific address, your mom’s address.
Stuart Butler: [00:02:43] I could give you the specific address if I didn’t think people would mob my mom’s house.
Adam Stoker: [00:02:47] Well with the following we have, I mean she would never get any rest because we just got millions and millions of listeners that would probably stop by.
Stuart Butler: [00:02:54] Yeah, especially for Christmas dinner.
Adam Stoker: [00:02:55] Yeah exactly. I love that maybe what’s a memory from or a tradition from Christmas at your mom’s house.
Stuart Butler: [00:03:03] Well we have a lot of traditions, some of which I brought. I’ve lived in America for 20 years. We’ve brought a lot of those traditions with me but my favorite is probably the Christmas crackers. I hope you’ve seen this but some people call them snappers or poppers. It’s basically a paper cracker that you two people pull either end and it snaps. It makes a little popping noise and inside it has a little riddle or a joke. A paper hat that you wear and a little toy of some kind. Every Christmas photo that exists in our household is us wearing paper hats from Christmas crackers.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:33] Okay, the Christmas crackers, I haven’t seen that. I’ll have to look up a video of that.
Stuart Butler: [00:03:38] Yeah. They started to sell them more in the US. It is becoming more popular. Target stores tend to carry them now. A lot of like world markets, things like that will carry them. I’m trying to tell everyone I know and share that tradition with folks in my circle.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:52] Great. Yeah. I’ll keep my eyes open for that. Well, let’s talk Stuart also about maybe one of your favorite trips you’ve ever been on a vacation that really stands out to you.
Stuart Butler: [00:04:01] Yeah, I think the one that really stands out and the one I definitely want to recreate is a trip to Italy to Cinque Terre. I went there in college with my then girlfriend, now wife, who was the reason I moved to the US. She’s from South Carolina. We took a weeklong trip to Italy. We went to Venice, which is beautiful. We went to Florence but my favorite was Cinque Terre. Just walking along these little quaint villages and along the cliff faces. It’s just, I don’t know, it’s very humbling and very grounding. It’s a place I want to take my kids to for sure.
Adam Stoker: [00:04:35] Yeah. Is Cinque Terre on the coast?
Stuart Butler: [00:04:37] It is, yeah. I think it’s on the northern kind of Riviera of Italy if my geography is right. It’s been a while since I’ve been but it’s a collection of little villages or hamlets that you can walk between the closest to are like a 20-minute walk along the cliff phase. The longest is a little over an hour but you can kind of spend two or three days, stay in little hostels or bed and breakfast in each of the villages and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. There was one in particular I forget which of the villages it was that, but it’s probably the best meal I’ve ever had. It was a very simple salad. They literally went out back and plucked some lettuce and tomatoes fresh from where they were growing. It is true farm to table.
Adam Stoker: [00:05:14] Oh wow.
Stuart Butler: [00:05:15] They put on the plate with no dressing and it was so delicious. You didn’t need dressing. The main dish was freshly made pasta like spaghetti pasta and like a fish, a medley of different fish. It was freshly caught that day. Oh my Lord, it was, you didn’t need seasoning and you didn’t need anything. We actually enjoyed it so much that we went back to the exact same place the next day and had the exact same meal because it was life-changing. It was great.
Adam Stoker: [00:05:40] Yeah. It’s funny that you mentioned, you said earlier that whom you’re with has so much impact on the quality of the vacation. Right? You mentioned your mom’s house for one and you mentioned a trip with your then-girlfriend, now wife. It is an interesting tradition I would say around relationships even when you look at a marriage, a honeymoon is a tradition to go on. When you get married, travel is such an integral part of building human relationships when you go places together. I know that my wife and I can have the craziness of chasing kids around and everything throughout the year and then we go on a trip together and that’s when a lot of our focus on our relationship happens. It really is a fascinating way to improve your connections with the people that you’re closest to.
Stuart Butler: [00:06:28] It really is. It’s a place or it’s a time when you really get to know people. I think it was Mark Twain or someone said something along the lines of, you know you really don’t know if you like or don’t like someone until you’ve traveled with them, like that’s when you really find out. I think for me with the trip to Italy with my then-girlfriend, now wife, that’s where we really got to know each other. We’ve been dating for a few months before that in college, but that’s where we really got to share our deepest darkest secrets and fall in love. I think it is something where you get out of the routine and you open your mind to new experiences. I think you create memories because it’s something new and that’s the way the brain works. It remembers stuff the first time a lot more than it does things that you’ve done repeatedly every day.
Adam Stoker: [00:07:13] Yeah. It’s also kind of funny how the romance of it when you try something again years later. I’ve had restaurants that I’m just like, “Oh that was the best restaurant ever.” I go later in a different circumstance, like maybe I’ll go for work or something like that and it just doesn’t taste the same. It’s just not the same as it was when I was alone with my wife on that vacation. Yeah, it’s fascinating what travel especially with a loved one will do for your memory. Anyway, I don’t mean to romance about travel in general throughout our discussion today, but it just kind of hit me based on what you said.
Stuart Butler: [00:07:47] Yeah.
Adam Stoker: [00:07:48] Well Stuart, I want to let everyone, that’s listening kind of get to know you and your background and maybe how you ended up in the role you’re in today. You gave us a little sneak peek of it that your wife is from South Carolina and that explains you getting all the way to South Carolina from your birthplace. Would you mind kind of walking us through a little bit of your background?
Stuart Butler: [00:08:09] Yeah. Like most people have found, I kind of fell backwards into this industry. I’ve only been in the DMO space for four months and brand new I came from the agency side. I was sitting on your side of the fence for the last 20 years running an agency in a software company in a hotel space. I’ve been involved in tourism but that was always all by happenstance as well. I actually started out, my undergrad degree was Physics with Space Science. I always kind of had this one eye on America and wanted to work for NASA. In my final year of college, I did a computer programming project. I built a robot arm and had to learn how to program it. My professor showed me this magical thing called the Internet. I used email up until that point but I never really figured out that you can learn literally anything you want to from the internet so that just blew my mind.
I went from thinking space was where I wanted to be, to the internet was where I wanted to be because space is cool and you can discover it but you could create things on the internet. I’ve always been a creator I like creating new solutions to age-old problems. I enrolled in a Computer Science conversion post-grad degree, which is where I met my girlfriend at the time who was from America studying in England. We dated for a year there. We dated for a year, long-distance where we were 4000 miles apart and then that really tests the relationship. It makes you really understand whether or not that’s what you want from a person, from a soulmate. Finally, I came to visit her in South Carolina and she was in Columbia, South Carolina at the time. I said I like South Carolina. It’s got a lot going for it. The people are the friendliest I’ve ever met, but I don’t think Colombia is for me.
We took a day trip to Myrtle Beach, actually an overnight trip to Myrtle Beach while I was visiting her. I remember sitting in Peaches Corner on Ocean Boulevard and it’s the first time I’ve ever eaten a foot-long hot dog. I just sat there thinking I could do this all day.
Adam Stoker: [00:10:16] It was the hotdog that put you over.
Stuart Butler: [00:10:19] It was the hotdog that we discovered. I made a compromise. This is the trick and the secret to a good marriage. We made a proper middle compromise. I decided to move 4000 miles to Myrtle Beach. She moved 200 miles from Colombia to Myrtle Beach and we call that the middle. That’s how we compromise in our relationship.
Adam Stoker: [00:10:39] You’re a smart man. Yeah. You’re a smart man with how you structure those compromises.
Stuart Butler: [00:10:44] Yeah. It has worked out really well. I was fortunate enough to get into the entry-level of a software company/agency and build that up to a multimillion-dollar company that went from regional to national in the course of a few years and then we sold the software off to a company called Jonas Hospitality back at the end of last year. I decided it was time to put an end to one chapter in my life and start a new one. It happened to be on the Board of Directors for the Chamber of Commerce and CVB. It’s a joint chamber of CVB. I have been the marketing chair for the last two years. I’ve got to work with this team a lot and really become very fond of them and what they were doing. The job opening came along at just the right time. I decided to roll the dice and jump to it. I don’t know if it’s the dark side or the light side but I jumped ship to the other side. I’m having a blast. It has been four months in and we’re having a lot of fun shaking things up.
Adam Stoker: [00:11:42] Yeah. I got to ask, what is that like going from the agency side to the destination side and maybe the pros and cons of what you see on each side.
Stuart Butler: [00:11:54] Yeah. When I came in with my eyes sort of open because I’ve been on the Board of Directors but I will say this. I’ve never been in a role in my career where it was more fast-paced and yet slow-moving at the same time. The amount of volume of things that are coming across my desk on a daily basis is just incredible. We’re doing so many amazing things. We are a pretty large destination. We are up there in terms of budget. We have a lot of stakeholders that we have to keep happy, but there is bureaucracy too, that means that I’m used to being in the for-profit world where I could make a decision and have it executed and in production the next day. That’s not how this place works. We’re trying to deconstruct certain things and reinvent how we do things. We are trying to break down some silos and empower our team to not have to ask permission to just do things and move a little faster.
I really like a team that is scrappy and what I mean by scrappy is it’s kind of a word that’s a combination of two definitions. It means both made up of scraps like very versatile and have a lot of different skills, but also a little feisty and willing to roll up your sleeves and figure it out and fight to be competitive to win. We have a team here that can write and do video, do a little graphic design and do a little HTML. They are multifaceted. We’re just trying to encourage and empower all of them to just elevate their game and think outside the box. The big thing I think that held a lot of destinations back is that everyone just thinks of themselves as a destination. They focus on things like lodging.
We think of ourselves as a lifestyle brand. What is it that people see in themselves and in the destination that’s similar and how do we tap into that? We go from being just something they care about while they’re planning and consuming a trip to something that they care about 24/7, 365. That’s the shift we’re making right now.
Adam Stoker: [00:13:56] I want to come back to this because I think you said something really interesting there before I do though, I love that you said that scrappy is an important component for you and your team. We have six core values here at Relic and scrappy is one of them. We talked a lot about how job descriptions sometimes are just out the window. Let’s just all work together to get it done whatever we have to do. I think it’s an important thing especially if you have a growing organization with lofty goals. You’ve got to have a scrappy team.
Stuart Butler: [00:14:28] Yeah because it’s changing so much right. I think we’re moving at the speed of digital and it’s faster. It’s more accelerated than anything that’s ever happened in the history of humanity before. If you’re not constantly learning and evolving and evolving your skill set, you’re going to be obsolete very, very quickly so you have to be scrappy. Really when I’m hiring and we literally just hired a new creative director yesterday, but when I’m looking to hire team members, the priority for me is, are they scrappy? I’d rather have a scrappy person than anyone with experience or skill set that they already have. I want people that can figure it out. When I go to them and say we need to do this or I read this article and this is the next trend we need to be on top of, I can just throw it at them and know that they’re going to go do the research. They’re going to watch YouTube videos. They’re going to do tutorials on how to and they’ll come back to me and say, didn’t have a clue what you’re talking about a week ago, but now I’m an expert on this. Here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s the plan. That’s how we all need to work in this modern digital age.
Adam Stoker: [00:15:29] I love it. I suspect that a little bit of that scrappy mentality comes from the things that you had to do on the agency side before you ended up on the on the dark side as you called it.
Stuart Butler: [00:15:38] Yeah, for sure. I mean when I started the company, we were less than 10 employees. I remembered my first few weeks there. We were making layoffs and I was almost on the chopping block. It’s funny how life could have gone in a very different direction had that happened because I got my visa through the job. I would have maybe been packed off back to England, but we were making cash calls to our clients at the time. I mean it was an insane time. It was the early 2000 and dot.com boom. It kind of come and gone. Now we are having to reinvent ourselves. We had some software products that weren’t well organized. We really had to figure it out. I started out as a developer and then ended up as a project manager and then ended up as kind of a sales engineer and a salesperson and then an account manager. Then I said, hey, we’re doing all this stuff with software and we’re building websites, but we need to get traffic to these websites. Let’s go figure out email marketing because that seems like the best way to drive traffic and then let’s figure out search engine optimization.
We kind of built these vertical solutions out of nothing. We just created it with the team we had. We went and rolled up our sleeves and read a lot and listen to a lot of things and watch videos and just figured it out. We went and hire a talent that had the skill sets that we could tap into but it was built from the ground up on a shoestring budget and then we sold it last year for several million dollars to a global public company.
Adam Stoker: [00:17:07] Fantastic.
Stuart Butler: [00:17:08] You had to be scrappy.
Adam Stoker: [00:17:09] Yeah. I think that’s a great trait to have and I think every destination should be full of scrappy people. Let’s go back through to, it’s something that you mentioned that I said I’d come back to. You said that you don’t want to just be a destination as Myrtle Beach. You want to be a lifestyle brand. Before we dive into that, I want to talk a little bit about my experience at Myrtle Beach.
Stuart Butler: [00:17:31] Great.
Adam Stoker: [00:17:32] Then let’s talk about how close you feel like my experience is to where you’re trying to go as a brand. I would love to look at that bridge and see. My experience is just anecdotal, right? I’m not speaking for the masses as they attend Myrtle Beach, but I do think it would be kind of a fascinating look at what my experience was compared to where you’re trying to go.
My family and I, well I’ll even back up a little bit more. My wife and I have been making our way up the East Coast. We started with Savannah, Beaufort, and Hilton Head. Everybody said if you like this, you got to try Charleston so then we went to Charleston, the next year, my wife and I. This year as we were trying to figure out what to do, we wanted to do something as a family. I didn’t know much about Myrtle Beach. I mean it’s a name that I had heard a lot and I knew that there was great beaches there and everything, but I didn’t have a lot of context. As we were looking, I actually looked at Hilton Head first and all their family-style resorts were taken. They were booked. Then I started working my way up the coast house. Well, I’ve heard about Myrtle Beach, let’s take a look. It seemed like every resort had multiple bedroom cottages, had a water park in the middle of it and had great access to the beach. Right?
As I looked at that, I said, man, this would be a great place to take my family. We booked a place. It was the Sheraton Resort villas that were down near Broadway, which we’ll talk about that too. I thought that was such an interesting part of the destination. We booked that trip and went there not really knowing what to expect. The good news is that I met you between when I booked the trip and when I arrived. You gave me some great tips on great things to do when we were there but what we found when we got there was that it is a destination tailored in my mind to full family experiences. When I went to Hilton Head, Savannah, and Charleston, they were all wonderful places for me to go with my wife. They were wonderful romantic destinations. I didn’t see the quantity of family activities at those destinations that I found at Myrtle Beach. It seemed like on every corner. There were things that me and my family could do.
We were there for six days. I don’t think we even scratched the surface on the activities that were available. We went to the beach for a couple of days. We went to the Ripley’s Aquarium, which was fantastic. We went to a place called WonderWorks, which might be one of the coolest places I’ve ever walked into.
Stuart Butler: [00:20:09] WonderWorks. Yeah.
Adam Stoker: [00:20:10] What I walked away with was Myrtle Beach is the quintessential family destination. Now you talked about you want Myrtle Beach to become a lifestyle brand. How does my experience fit into where you’re trying to go? Is there a gap of where you’re still trying to get to, that maybe we didn’t recognize as visitors?
Stuart Butler: [00:20:33] Yeah. I’m glad you described it that way because it’s exactly what we’re trying to do here and what we’ve really always done. Think about that Myrtle Beach isn’t that old as a destination? It’s less than 100 years old as a city and as a municipality. It really started in the kind of the 20s and 30s as a meeting place for the rich and famous. They put a big hotel here, one of the biggest on the eastern coast called the Ocean Forest Hotel. It was put there because it was halfway between Miami and New York. It was kind of a good starting place.
Adam Stoker: [00:21:04] Okay.
Stuart Butler: [00:21:05] That’s kind of how we were, we became a mecca for tourism. What’s interesting about our destination is we are eclectic. We are really a melting pot of people. The residents here, over 90% of the residence here did not grow up here. They moved here in the vast majority of them vacationed here before they moved here, which are really cool. It’s a multi-generational place because like you said, you barely scratched the surface. I’ve lived here for 20 years. These restaurants and attractions and things, I haven’t experienced yet because it’s just so many. We have over 1700 restaurants.
Adam Stoker: [00:21:40] Wow.
Stuart Butler: [00:21:41] There are new ones every year. When you say Myrtle Beach, it’s interesting. There’s a nomenclature that we need to clear up. One, it’s the city of Myrtle Beach, but when we’re talking about Myrtle Beach, we see the city of Myrtle Beach as the front porch, but we’re much bigger as a destination. We are actually 60 miles of coastline on the south end of Pawley’s Island, all the way up to the little river on the North Carolina border and then inland too. We have some really quaint little villages or towns like Conway, Aynor, and Loris. We were really marketing 14 unique communities that are all offer something a little different for different people but because of that, because we have these 14 communities with something a little different to offer and we’re all made up of a melting pot of people from diverse backgrounds from all kinds of countries.
We really are a place where anyone can find where they belong. We define family as whatever you define family as. In your case it’s traditional man, woman, husband, wife and two kids kind of a family, right? But your family could be your sisters that you grew up within your sorority, or it could be your golf buddies, or it could be your school friends from when you’re in middle school. It doesn’t matter what you define as your family. You can come here and have fun and find something for you. We are really leaning into that. We have a new brand. We went through a brand revamp over the last two years during COVID. We kind of came to the conclusion that Myrtle Beach is exactly what it’s always been. We appeal to families, whatever you define as your family, but you’re a place where you can come as you are, you won’t get judged, you will find your tribe and you will belong here. That’s what people have recognized for decades and that’s why repeat visitation is like 67%.
Adam Stoker: [00:23:28] Wow.
Stuart Butler: [00:23:29] You don’t get two-thirds of people coming back year after year unless you nail the experience.
Adam Stoker: [00:23:35] Well you mentioned that no matter how you define family, you come as you are and you’ll find your tribe. Well that has a lot to do with Myrtle Beach as a melting pot of people from all walks of life and all around the world because people have come, they found their tribe, and they’ve stayed. I think that speaks to kind of the culture of Myrtle Beach. One of the things you mentioned, you said I think you said 14 communities that make up Myrtle Beach as a whole but then even within those communities, there are destinations within themselves. Right?
Stuart Butler: [00:24:10] Yeah.
Adam Stoker: [00:24:11] Next to our resort was a place called, what was it called? Broadway?
Stuart Butler: [00:24:16] Broadway at the Beach.
Adam Stoker: [00:24:17] Broadway at the Beach, that’s right. I knew Broadway but I couldn’t think of the second half of it. There’s a lake in the middle of it where there are boats. These racing boats that do these amazing turns and spins and stuff in the water and you hear people screaming as they’re going on the boats. All around it there’s the WonderWorks, there’s the aquarium, and there’s a- Gosh. There are so many things all the way around it.
Stuart Butler: [00:24:42] There’s a Kwik-E-Mart. If you’re a Simpsons fan, we have like a Simpsons 4D show and an actual Kwik-E-Mart. The first-ever reproduction of the Kwik-E-Mart from Simpson’s which is well —
Adam Stoker: [00:24:41] We missed that. We didn’t even see that while we were there. There was the giant Ferris wheel.
Stuart Butler: [00:24:55] You can buy a draft beer and Homer Simpson paraphernalia. It was great. You should have seen all of it.
Adam Stoker: [00:25:01] I have to get back to that next time. By the way, dozens and dozens of restaurants were around there as well. We spent probably 40% of our time actually at Broadway on the Beach while we were there. I think that’s another thing that fascinated me about Myrtle Beach that even within these 14 communities, there are these little high-density tourism attractions within Myrtle Beach. The challenge in my mind if I was in your role is how do I have an overarching brand of Myrtle Beach and get all these kind of micro attractions throughout the destination to be on brand and coexist together.
Stuart Butler: [00:25:45] Yeah. It’s a challenge but it’s one that I relish. We are going through some transformational times right now here in Myrtle Beach. With me coming in and kind of looking at Destination Marketing a little different, trying to look at this as a lifestyle, and not a destination and also changing our fundamental, the economics of our business. I think I just got back from ESTO in LA, which was my first foray into the industry. I think one of the things I came back with, was a hunch I had before I went, but the event really confirmed it. I felt like a lot of folks in our industry are so focused on what one of my board members has criticized us for in the past.
We are majoring in our miners. Meaning, we are so focused on things like what does membership structure look like? How do we generate more funding? How do we advocate with the city or the state legislator to get more tax dollars? We are spending so much time on the economics that we’re not spending as much time on how do we create a great tool or utility for a guest or visitor to discover, plan, book, experience, and remember share. This entire journey of the consumer, how do we touch them across the entire life cycle of the journey? One of the things I’ve done over the last couple of months, I spent the first month or two really listening to a lot of folks and trying to understand the complexities of how everything is intertwined. You step over to your left and something pops up on the right. You didn’t know it was connected. We create a very tangled web in this space.
Adam Stoker: [00:27:24] Yeah.
Stuart Butler: [00:27:25] I’ve deconstructed our membership. We found some new revenue streams that we’re going to lock in for five years, which takes the burden off of our members. One of the things that are allowing us to do is democratize our membership because up until now it’s not cheap to join CVB as a member. It creates this situation where we don’t have all 1700 restaurants that we can really promote because there’s only a finite number that are members. We are changing this so that we can get all 1700 members. Once we get all the attractions of all the restaurants and everything on board, I can really tell their stories. That leads to really where our philosophy is which is we are ruthlessly focused on the consumer, not our member. Not that we’re not focused on our members, but we believe we serve our members better or investors better by serving their customers. That philosophy allows us and frees us up to do a lot of interesting things in terms of content. Content and data and the product itself. Those are the three pillars of our strategy.
Adam Stoker: [00:28:30] Yeah. I’m glad you bring up content because you are doing some really unique things from a content perspective. Stuff that as I look at it is so much more organic and doesn’t have that call to action at the end, but instead it allows the quality of the content to provide an implied call to action. Tell me a little bit about some of the content projects that you’re working on.
Stuart Butler: [00:28:55] Yeah. Some of it, I’ll probably keep a little close to our chest. I might talk a little vague about it.
Adam Stoker: [00:29:01] No problem.
Stuart Butler: [00:29:03] It is novel but in broad strokes if we deconstruct the conventional wisdom. Right. A lot of people look at paid owned and earned media as kind of the three pillars of what you’re producing. A lot of DMOs over the years have really relied on the paid primarily. They will get money. They are under this pressure to spend all that money. They end up spending it on Google ads or display ads or whatever it is. I think we’ve kind of adopted that mindset even as we get into things like video content. One of the things I noticed that ESTO was people. We’ve had this narrative about storytelling for a while. We know that humans respond really well to stories. It tugs on our emotions and it can compel us to do stuff. People have understood that for while in marketing.
How DMOs manifest that I think is problematic because at the end of the day they’re still creating an ad. We saw these award-winning videos at ESTO where it was a family that may be traveling in an RV to this destination. You’re telling the story of family, but you still have to pay to get that in front of people. It’s really just an elaborate iteration on a display ad and once someone sees it, they’ve consumed it. They don’t really care about it beyond that consumption. They’re really just trying to get by it to get to the next content. If we look at consumer behavior and say, “Well we know that it’s going to be harder to reach audiences over time because there are more ad blockers and more third party cookie challenges. We know that people like Google are getting bigger. We know that they’re going to charge more toll keepers as historically it always charges more.
We also know that if you want to go after a specific demographic or audience that’s getting more fragmented. You are going to have to get a little more granular in terms of your targeting if you want to reach a specific audience. It’s going to get more and more challenging and more expensive to pay to get in front of people. We’ve kind of taken this quantum leap and said, well rather than creating content that we have to pay to get in front of people and leased the land that ad lives on, why don’t we create content that people want to consume? Content that people choose to consume. Content that people choose to share and that influences them. Its content is for consumption first, it’s an advertisement second. That’s the difference between what we’re doing.
I’ll give you an example from my former life, which is very similar to what you’re doing here. I think it illustrates a mistake that a lot of destinations are making. At Fuel, which was my agency before. About four or five years ago, we were a very regional agency. We said, “How do we stand out in the crowd?” It was when podcasting was really coming to the forefront serial and some other good shows that really made it mainstream. We were an all-consuming podcast. We said this is untapped. No one’s doing it. Let’s create a podcast about hotel marketing. We said, “Okay if we’re going to do that we need to do it right.” We need to identify our audience and say what did they value? What is going to interest them? What is going to keep them coming back? Right? That could be education but we felt like education alone wasn’t enough. We had to be entertaining because we were also competing with every other podcast that was out there.
Adam Stoker: [00:32:21] Right.
Stuart Butler: [00:32:22] We’re competing for eyeballs and media attention with every other option out there and there’s more than there’s ever been to compete with. How do we stand out? We created a podcast, it was similar to yours, it wasn’t interviews but it was tangible tactics and trends for the hotel industry, but we did it with a comedic spin. We try to be funny. We showed our personalities as we poke fun at each other. We quickly grew an audience of thousands and thousands of listeners and not once did we sell during that show, but we established ourselves in authority. By the time I left and we sold we’ve gone from a regional agency to a global agency. We’ve grown several times over in terms of scale. The only marketing we did was that podcast. It cost us $80 to start that podcast. We went aboard the Yeti mic and stuck it in the middle of the table. By the end, every single sale lead we got was a result of that podcast.
Adam Stoker: [00:33:14] It’s not about ROI turning $80 into millions of dollars. That’s pretty good.
Stuart Butler: [00:33:18] Yeah. It was great. It started with that kernel of knowledge of we have to provide value. I think the mistake a lot of DMOs are making, we’re exploring podcasting right now as a channel for us. The mistake I think a lot of DMOs are making is, they haven’t figured out what value they drive to their audience. If we go back to the storytelling example of the video and telling the story of a family where’s the drama or the intrigue or the mystery or the hook that gets people compelled to want to keep coming back?
Adam Stoker: [00:33:51] Right.
Stuart Butler: [00:33:52] Where’s the value that beyond watching it that first time? With a podcast, I think a lot of folks will do the same where they all interviewed local businesses and that’s fine if your target audience is your stakeholders. If it’s your locals, your business is your investors. I think that does fine but you’re going to have a limited audience because most vacationers aren’t going to go seek that. How do you create a podcast that touches people beyond the destination? What we are exploring is ideas where we’re telling human stories that connect with people on a very rudimentary level that people want to tune into as entertainment that happens to be about Myrtle Beach.
Adam Stoker: [00:34:35] Right.
Stuart Butler: [00:34:36] Myrtle Beach is kind of the backdrop, not the star of the show, that’s where we are going. We feel like when the hearts and minds in terms of producing valuable content that people choose to listen to or watch or consume, Myrtle Beach will be there. We will be imprinting Myrtle Beach in their minds 24/7, 365 versus just when they’re actively looking for Myrtle Beach. That’s the difference.
Adam Stoker: [00:35:00] Yeah. I love the way you look at that and you broke it down between paid, earned and owned media. The place that I’ve found as I’ve gotten into Destination Marketing over the last 10 years, the owned media channels have not been nurtured, cultivated, and really there’s been a lot left on the table there. It’s the long game. That’s what I tell everybody when we’re talking about owned media is this is not a quick fix. You’re not going to generate the audience that you want to generate in the first 30 days that you start this, during the first 12 months that you started an owned media channel but over the years, over time. You can generate so much of an audience that you don’t have to rent through paid media, someone else’s audience in the future. Right?
I love your approach to this. This is why we have recommended that destinations get into podcasts and start podcasts for their own destinations. You’re absolutely right about the storytelling aspect and that it has to go deeper than just, “Hey visit here because,“ right? It has to tell a story but it’s a real cost-efficient way to break into an owned media channel that is manageable whereas some of these high budget destinations, which I would probably put Myrtle Beach in certain scenarios compared to other destinations.
A higher budget destination where you can probably create larger scale owned media. I won’t let the cat out of the bag with some of the conversations that you and I have had, but you have the opportunity to do things that maybe other destinations don’t. It can also be your email. It can also be your social media channel. I would advise every destination listening to kind of follow your lead Stuart and focus on those owned media channels whatever you’re able to afford. Even though it’s the long game, play the long game and build those audiences over time.
Stuart Butler: [00:36:57] Yeah, 100%. I think if you look at Airbnb as an example, right? Airbnb over 97% of their traffic comes directly because they’ve created a brand. When I say we are creating a lifestyle brand, that’s what I mean. We want to be the place people look for us. Airbnb has done that creatively through content primarily and through compelling content and telling stories and things like that. I think we can do it and we also need to as an industry start thinking a little differently about owned content. I am not saying that us and our agencies can do all of it because you end up with a product that is at the end of the day, still an advertisement. It doesn’t need to be that. It needs to be the content that people want to consume. You have to be a cathedral thinker. Right? That’s not a phrase I coined. There are other folks in the industry that used that, but you have to be someone that’s thinking 5, 10, 20, 30 years. How do I build block by block? An owned media asset or the ecosystem that can yield long-term rewards.
I’ll give you a little sneak at one of the projects we’re working on. This will kind of illustrate the right way to do it in our opinion, and then how a lot of folks would traditionally approach it. We are creating a children’s book. I won’t get specific about the target audience is, but it’s a children’s book aimed at kids with a certain disability. How a lot of DMOs would approach that is they would say, okay, we have copywriters or agency has copywriters. They can write a children’s book. We have graphic designers. We can illustrate that children’s book. We can put out the children’s book and we’ll pay to place it in different places. Again, it’s a paid ad where I might create the owned asset, but I’m still paying to get in front of people.
We are taking a different approach. We are saying, “Okay, we’re going to go to the community that this is the target audience of and find an author that has already established a children’s book author and ask them, commission them to write a children’s book around the subject that we’re looking to write it about. We are going to find someone in that community that also illustrates children’s books. They’re going to illustrate it. We are going to pay them to do it and then we’re going to publish the book as a real book, not as an advertisement. Now, the book all the time is programming people and it has Myrtle Beach as the backdrop, but that’s not the primary purpose. The primary purpose is now we’re building goodwill within this community but we’re also providing utility within this community. We are being helpful. I know you had a guest a few weeks ago and he that was talking about this being helpful. Not helping not selling.
Adam Stoker: [00:39:29] Yeah.
Stuart Butler: [00:39:30] That’s what we want to do with our content. We want to become the content people choose to consume. We have to be helpful primarily. We have to help before we sell. We are approaching this as if we are a media company or a publisher. I really think and I believe this in my heart of hearts, that every brand out there today is becoming a media company. Every marketing team has to think of themselves as a media team first and foremost, because content is not just king, but it’s everything. Everything you do is content in some form or fashion. Everyone is consuming content. If you’re not publishing great content, as things get more granular and more competitive, you’re going to get lost in the shuffle. You have to create content people want and choose to consume.
Adam Stoker: [00:40:18] Yeah, I think what I hear you saying Stuart and correct me if I’m wrong is that there are so many destinations out there creating content, but they might just be creating it for the sake of creating content when in fact, if you take a look at where you need to go, you build a much more intentional content roadmap that’s going to help you get there without just being so in your face, come here, visit here, visit here.
Stuart Butler: [00:40:41] Yeah. We, as marketers have this tendency to take a checkbox mentality towards marketing. We say, “Okay. We’ve got to have a social channel. We’ve got to have a Facebook page. We’ve got to have a website check that’s down. We have to produce a video check that’s down without really stepping back and thinking about why are we doing what we’re doing? What is our core purpose? How can we make a difference while we’re doing this? If you really have those deep philosophical kind of existential conversations, it really changes your focus. I love the phrase, “Where focus goes, energy flows,” because it really sums up the fact that we have a choice of where to put our time and we can all create time. We can all choose to do these things great. I really reject the comment that a lot of folks make, which is, “Well, my team is too small. We don’t have enough time.”
To me, it’s about prioritizing. It’s about figuring out what you should be spending your time with. There are great content creators out there. We just go to TikTok or YouTube. These are kids with no money, no time other than they are in school all day. They may spend an hour or two, a couple of times a week producing amazing content and building up these massive audiences without a single penny being spent. We as marketers need to adopt that kind of scrappy mentality of being content creators and publishers. If we don’t have the resources internally, go partner with people. You had a gentleman on your show a few weeks ago from Orlando North Seminole.
Adam Stoker: [00:42:09] Gui Cunha.
Stuart Butler: [00:42:11] Right. He was talking about enlisting student athletes to be content producers for him. That’s a brilliant approach because it’s not that expensive. It’s a new direction or new evolution of influences, or have them become content producers for you. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Find people in the community that are already being content producers and enlist them to be a partner with you and to help them and amplify them because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if it’s yours and you’re creating every ounce of it or if people are just telling the right story to encourage people to come to your destination, that’s what really matters. How do you become a catalyst to tell the stories by empowering content producers that are already producing content to do it the right way?
Adam Stoker: [00:42:57] Great. Stuart, if you had to boil down your best piece of advice that you would give destinations that are listening into like 30 seconds, what would you say?
Stuart Butler: [00:43:05] Stop thinking of yourself as a destination and stop thinking of yourself as a brand. If you do that, it really frees you up to start thinking about everything from a different perspective from data collection to content generation. Everything is going to be able to be tackled with a fresh lens. We as an industry and I’ve been kind of tangential to the destination industry, from the hotel side for a while, but I feel like there’s a lot of me, a lot of stuff going on. We are doing the same that they’re doing. I’m not talking about the social movement #MeToo. I’m talking about me as well. I’m going to copy what everyone else is doing.
Because everyone else has said they’re doing a podcast, I’m going to do a podcast. Because everyone else says I’m doing this TikTok thing, I’m going to do this TikTok thing. Stop and think about why you’re doing it. What did your brand represent? What is the lifestyle, the people that choose your destination are looking for when they come there and really embrace that and tell great stories that consumers want to consume? If you do that, then the rest is just going to happen organically. People are going to come to your destination again and again and they’re going to become the future story. Tell us and do your work for you.
Adam Stoker: [00:44:20] I love it. Stuart, where can people go to learn more about you and your destination?
Stuart Butler: [00:44:24] You can find me on LinkedIn, Stuart Butler. You can also find us at visitmyrtlebeach.com. We’re getting ready to RFP our website. If you guys want to throw your hat in the ring and anyone else.
Adam Stoker: [00:44:38] Hey, count us in.
Stuart Butler: [00:44:40] We have done a good job with the website we have. It’s a little old, but we really want to become the utility for all people related to Myrtle Beach. We want people to be able to discover things they have not discovered before plan when they haven’t been here before. Someone like you, you had this curated person that was helping you one on one. We want the website to be able to do that for anyone that’s coming to Myrtle Beach for the first time. We also want people when they come to their destination, to be able to use that website to figure out what they’re doing and why they’re doing it when they’re doing it and how best to do it so that everyone that comes here has the greatest experience they can. They leave completely broke but go home extremely happy and then they come back again year after year.
Adam Stoker: [00:45:24] Broken happy. That’s the goal.
Stuart Butler: [00:45:25] Yeah.
Adam Stoker: [00:45:26] Well Stuart, thanks so much for coming on, sharing a lot of your valuable insight with us. We really appreciate it.
Stuart Butler: [00:45:33] Yeah, it’s been my pleasure. I really have enjoyed your show. I think you do a great service to the industry with the insights. I’ve learned a lot. You’re coming into the industry for the first time listening to a lot of people. The first thing I did when I knew I was coming over to the lights/outside. I decided I was going to go find the best podcast and yours quickly rose to the top two or three that I really liked and yours is one of them. Congrats on what you’re doing. Best of luck. Thank you for having me.
Adam Stoker: [00:46:00] Thanks a lot, Stuart. I really appreciate it. Thanks, everybody for listening. We appreciate all our listeners including Stuart. If you enjoyed today’s content, please make sure you leave us a rating or review. It really does help us to continue to grow our audience and provide the show for the industry. Thanks, everybody and we’ll see you next week.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently from destinations around the world. Adam, why does my destination need a podcast? You talk about it on your show, but why?
The podcast format gives you the opportunity to tell that story in a unique way. The most engaging form of advertising is storytelling and that storytelling will allow the visitor to have a more well-rounded view of what they want to do when they get to the destination. If you do an effective job of storytelling with your podcast, you get to access that audience through every stage of the funnel instead of renting an audience and not knowing which stage of the funnel that audience is in. If any of you have considered doing a podcast, I would really look into it. It’s the long game. I would look at what it takes to start one. We obviously have a product at Relic. Every destination needs to start today and do a podcast. You will reap the benefits over the next several years and years and years.