Case Study: North Dakota Tourism Uses Location Data to Reinforce Media Buying Strategies

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Having a big budget doesn’t always ensure a positive return on investment in marketing, but strategically utilizing location data can increase the chances of a successful rollout.

At North Dakota Tourism, marketing manager Heather LeMoine found a way to use mobile location tracking to learn more about the differences between U.S. and Canadian travelers. Using the information, she’s been able to adjust her organization’s media plan to ensure more successful campaigns.

“We’ve had an integrated digital ad campaign for more than a decade, but tracking and performance came at the leisure of vendor reports, Google Analytics, inquiry attribution, ad effectiveness studies or visitor stories. Even text-to-enter programs didn’t return location information,” LeMoine says.

Although North Dakota Tourism works closely with its agency, Odney, to plan online media buys, LeMoine explains that it was actually a presentation at an industry conference that led her to consider opting a mobile location strategy. Hearing first-hand about the success that her colleagues at Kansas’ tourism division had experienced with a location analytics firm called Arrivalist led LeMoine to reach out to the vendor and begin planning what would ultimately become a campaign to determine which marketing messages are most likely to influence the behaviors of travelers in different geographic locations.

“Often, rural states are underserved in surveying data and data streams,” she says. “Hearing first-hand the success that Kansas was having gave me confidence that this could be a worthwhile resource for North Dakota.”

To evaluate the differences in how travelers responded to North Dakota’s advertising campaigns, Arrivalist tracked changes in the locations of consumers’ mobile devices after their devices were exposed to digital marketing messages.

Using multiple versions of an ad featuring the actor Josh Duhamel—one showing Josh ‘out on the town’ and one showing Josh hiking outdoors—Arrivalist found that the ‘out on the town’ ads were most popular with younger urban fans of the television show Fargo. Ads that showed Duhamel hiking outdoors were more popular with Canadians, who don’t have easy access to watch Fargo on television, compared to Americans who watch the show.

“By the time we integrated Arrivalist’s technology, we were already working with a refined set of vendors known for producing good results. Plus, these vendors were implementing both U.S. and Canadian advertising programs for us. Because we were using the same vendors and the same creative on both sides of the border, the insights we gained through Arrivalist changed our creative strategy,” LeMoine says.

Past visitor studies and secondary research had showed that Canadians were visiting North Dakota for weekend shopping, dining, and entertainment, while U.S. travelers were primarily motivated by North Dakota’s national and state parks. But LeMoine says Arrivalist found that city experience ads were doing better in domestic rotation, and the organization’s promotion of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Canada far exceeded the other creatives in generating arrivals.

Those results changed North Dakota Tourism’s media strategy going into 2017, leading to a 133% increase in digital ad performance. LeMoine says she’s also tracked 19% more verified arrivals year-to-date, and on the traditional inquiry side, Canadian inquiries are up 13%.

“The location verification that Arrivalist shows through their dashboards echoes where we’re geo-targeting and reinforces those media buying strategies,” she says. “In fact, we’re increasing our spend in the Chicago DMA in 2018 because of the arrivals we’re seeing from that market.”

Not only did the data gathered by Arrivalist alter North Dakota Tourism’s creative programming, but it all prompted LeMoine to invest more in video, which was associated with higher rates of completion and verified arrivals. Overall, the organization is allocating 4% more budget into digital campaigns in 2018.

LeMoine says the data she’s been able to collect has been useful not just for planning her campaigns, but also in determining which vendors are underperforming in terms of ROI.

“Some media vendors simply did not make the cut in 2018 because we aren’t seeing arrivals or site traffic from those investments,” she says. “Likewise, those vendors who are high performers, we’re increasing our programming.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.



Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.