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Interview With Chicago Convention And Tourism Bureau Executive

Using location-based marketing in the meetings industry

Ritesh Gupta  Mar 21, 2011

The Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau (CCTB), the sales and marketing organization responsible for promoting Chicago as a premier meetings and convention destination, driving bookings into McCormick Place, Navy Pier, and member hotels, has taken several interesting initiatives that have featured location-based technology.

The CCTB has worked on campaigns that have featured a location-based social game. The initiatives have focused on engaging convention attendees and offering users an optimal brand experience.

In order to know more about such initiatives, the organization’s approach towards location-based technology and other related issues, EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to Harvey John Morris, director, Digital Marketing & Social Media, Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau (CCTB). Excerpts:

Ritesh: Location enables marketers to target customers according to real preferences at the right time. Solution providers in this arena say some of the goals of location-based marketing include repeat customer visits, new customer visits, and word-of-mouth awareness. What according to you are the real benefits which marketers can avail at this stage?

HARVEY JOHN MORRIS: Right now, location-based applications give marketers a chance to engage with customers or prospects in a whole new way. The engagement will be different for each brand, but the opportunity exists for all. Using location-based marketing can be both an acquisition and retention/loyalty tool. But perhaps the most promising area is social sharing/word-of-mouth, because users are already sharing their activities via smart phones. So there’s no barrier of creating a new behavior, rather an opportunity to leverage current behavior.

Ritesh: What do you think one needs to be wary of in case of proximity marketing before starting with such initiatives?

HARVEY JOHN MORRIS: Find out what other brands (both your competition and businesses that are near you) are doing with location-based marketing. Become a user of the most popular apps, such as Foursquare, Gowalla, and SCVNGR. Try Facebook Places and Google Local to understand what opportunities you have to leverage your brand. If you discover that the businesses “down the street” have very active consumers in a specific platform, you should consider if that platform also makes sense for your brand and capitalize on the existing audiences.

Another thing to be wary of is only focusing on one platform. Depending on your resources, you need to be where your customers and prospects are. That may mean having a multi-channel approach to location-based marketing.

Ritesh: Can you share your experience when it comes to such campaigns for Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau? What would you recommend as dos and don’ts for planning, executing, and assessing such campaigns?

HARVEY JOHN MORRIS: The CCTB first moved into location-based marketing through the social gaming platform SCVNGR.

(The CCTB became the first convention and visitor’s bureau to offer the SCVNGR social gaming platform to show organizers in September last year. SCVNGR was chosen for an interactive marketing tool to help show organizers add value and promote attendee engagement in an increasingly competitive meetings and convention environment.

The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), the country’s largest manufacturing technology, took place in September and was the first convention at McCormick Place to offer interactive gaming to its 90,000+ attendees and exhibitors. The IMTS 2010 trek included 12 challenges – three challenges in each of the four McCormick Place buildings in an effort to familiarize attendees with McCormick Place, the nation’s largest meeting facility, and drive traffic to exhibitors. Participants who completed at least 6 of the challenges were given a chance to unlock badges to receive discounts at the IMTS store).

What we liked about that platform for a launch was the ability to customize activities and challenges to shape the user experience.

For the tourism industry, it’s all about exploring a city. So we took 3 popular visitor itineraries and created SCVNGR treks based on them, including Navy Pier, Foodie Frenzie, and Presidential Chicago – based on the favorite Chicago spots of the Obamas. We then offered SCVNGR to shows coming into McCormick Place so they could create another layer of engagement for show attendees and exhibitors. The first show to use SCVNGR at McCormick Place was IMTS.

We then targeted the museums and cultural attractions to educate them on the benefits of using location-based social gaming for visitor engagement. At this moment, over a dozen of Chicago’s cultural attractions are on the SCVNGR platform. And we also incorporated SCVNGR into Chicago Restaurant Week to engage diners and get them talking about food, chefs, and restaurants – and then to share that conversation with their social networks.

Ritesh: Travel companies are trying to lend a new dimension to loyalty by mashing up gaming, social, and mobile. How do you assess the potential of the same?

HARVEY JOHN MORRIS: Anything that makes social sharing easier is a good thing. Consumers want meaningful experiences and the perceived value of rewards needs to be there in order to motivate. One of the reasons we chose SCVNGR as our primary location-based platform was that it included gaming elements at its core.

Ritesh: How can the travel industry leverage the combination of location, activity, demographic, and time targeting?

HARVEY JOHN MORRIS: Because mobile phones have become integral to the lives of most consumers, it makes sense to leverage opportunities for engagement when users are out in the world. And because travel/tourism is all about exploration and experience, our category has a unique opportunity to use this combination to engage.

Ritesh: Today, with the number of applications being used that have location enabled advertising, the opportunities for brands to interact with the consumers has increased. What do you think are still the major challenges for this medium to become more popular? How do you assess the current perception about the efficacy of location-enabled advertising?

HARVEY JOHN MORRIS: I think the jury is still out about location-enabled advertising. But one of the biggest challenges is the fragmentation of mobile devices. With the growing popularity of the Android software platform, iPhone is no longer the dominant player for smarter phones. Over the next 2 years, if we continue to see a growth in adoption of android, iPhone and newer Blackberry phones with super apps, then usage should grow as phone capabilities increase.

Ritesh: What sort of benchmarks can one set for assessing the success of such initiatives at this stage?

HARVEY JOHN MORRIS: We measure success through simple metrics: number of players/users, level of activity at one location (e.g., number of challenges completed) and usage across the city. Some attractions/locations are more conducive for mobile phone usage. For example, in our presidential Chicago trek on SCVNGR, the most popular challenge is at us cellular field with the Chicago White Sox. And when you think about it, that makes sense. You have thousands of fans in a passive activity watching a sporting event. So fans are often also on their phones while at the game, checking email, texting, and playing mobile games.

Ritesh: What do you think the industry needs to be wary of in order to ensure that location-based push marketing is effective and doesn’t seem too intrusive?

HARVEY JOHN MORRIS: I think the biggest challenge for any marketer is to be creative in your strategy and relevant in your information. If what you’re offering is relevant to the audience and/or creative enough to capture their attention, that’s a positive. You need to adapt your marketing for the medium and the contextual usage.


Harvey John Morris, director, Digital Marketing & Social Media, Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau (CCTB) is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Online Marketing Strategies for Travel 2011 Conference, to be held in Miami (June 7-8). For more information, contact: Gina Baillie, GM, at T: UK +44 (0)207 375 7197, US Toll Free: 1 800 814 3459 ext.7197, E: .

Using location-based marketing in the meetings industry
Harvey John Morris / Image via


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