OCEAN CITY – A review of next year’s marketing plan highlighted a special meeting this week.
On Monday, the Mayor and Council hosted representatives from the town’s advertising agency, BVK, to review 2023 marketing campaigns and to learn more about the company’s plans for 2024. Officials say the coming year will focus on growing the town’s brand.
“From a growth opportunity and strategic goals perspective, our main goal going into 2024 is to continue to build on the success and awareness of the launch of the Somewhere to Smile About brand,” said BVK’s Stephanie Barkow. “We’re going to be adding in more focus on outdoor rec, nature and well-rounded wellness. We’re going to increase our segment-focused marketing, focus on unique food experiences and local feel, immersive live music for those young travelers and the accessible and approachable atmosphere.”
In a presentation Monday, BVK’s Victoria Simmons said the town witnessed a successful brand launch in 2023. Since that time, she said room tax collections have increased $5 million and visitation has increased 4%.
“That’s really important because in year one of a brand launch, brand awareness was central to our strategy,” she said. “So we’re happy to see those numbers. As we think about moving into the 2024 plan, we’re really building upon that strong strategic foundation.”
Barkow said the advertising agency worked with a third-party research firm, Zartico, to track visitation and consumer spending. She noted that Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., continue to be strong markets for the town.
“This year we understood that Baltimore, Philadelphia, and D.C. are great markets for us year-round,” she said. “So as we look at driving the shoulder season and fall visitation, we’re going to focus on those areas.”
Barkow added that travelers without children spend more time in Ocean City during the shoulder seasons, while middle-aged travelers are spending more money.
“We’re seeing travelers age 35 to 44 and 55-plus are spending at a higher level but visiting at a lower level,” she explained. “So we’re going to look to increase visitation from these healthy spending audiences while also balancing growing our awareness and understanding with younger audiences, knowing that if they come one they will likely to come back.”
Barkow said the agency looked at demographic trends to develop Ocean City’s brand persona. She said that data will be used to develop campaigns for four types of visitors – millennial moms, curious and active Gen Xers, action-oriented males, and connected young females.
“Something we are bringing forward in 2024 is taking that macro persona and breaking it four subsegments, which is going to allow us to develop even more targeted communications based on the unique interests of these subsegment groups,” she said.
Barkow said marketing campaigns will focus on things such as family amusements, cultural activities, land and water recreation, live music and dining. She said the agency will also be looking into the effectiveness of its advertising in 2024.
“Something we’re adding into the media budget next year is to do advertising effectiveness research,” she said. “This will help us understand the return on investment of our marketing campaigns and also to understand how effective it is with our target audiences and increasing the perception of the destination in the way we want.”
In terms of paid media, BVK’s Niki Kaylor said the agency would focus more on digital audio and AI in 2024. She said paid media campaigns would run throughout the calendar year and would focus mainly on adults ages 25-54.
“As we’re creating our media plan, we really want to think through all of our objectives, all of our insights and how we can pull all of that in to deliver the most optimized plan,” she said.
Following Monday’s presentation, Councilman John Gehrig questioned the agency’s use of Zartico. Simmons said the company was a third-party independent research firm that collects information on visitors.
“It takes in data from various resources,” she explained. “One is geolocation data, which allows us to understand visitor movements … and it’s attached to some credit card spending so we can understand where they are spending and how much they are spending.”
Simmons added that BVK would partake in an advertising effectiveness study in 2024.
“That advertising effectiveness study will give us even more data,” she said.
Gehrig applauded BVK for creating a strong brand. He said several officials have received pictures from people who have seen the Somewhere to Smile About logo in different cities.
“There’s been a fair amount of chatter this past year about the creative. I just appreciate the good job on the creative …,” he said. “What our competitors are doing versus what we are doing is a night-and-day difference.”
Mayor Rick Meehan also thanked BVK for their efforts.
“I want to thank you for a very detailed presentation and some follow up to what we’ve done in 2023 and where we’re going to be in 2024,” he said. “I think it’s exciting, and you are continuing to try and keep ahead of the game and keep us in a position to be successful. I look forward to working with you in 2024.”