MEREDITH — If you do a Google search for “The Grand North,” the third and fourth listings are about northern New Hampshire attractions, which have been working cooperatively since Roger Brooks consulted with Coos County, its towns and their businesses in 2007-2008.
Brooks and his business, Roger Brooks International, came up with a marketing scheme that brought businesses and towns together on one website, with one set of marketing materials that featured the best and, more importantly, the most unique parts of the North Country, folding them together under the mantle, “NH Grand: Experience New Hampshire’s Grand North.”
“Tourism went up by 25 percent in the first year,” Brooks told participants at the 38th annual New Hampshire Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Meredith on Tuesday.
Audience members, many of them business owners and state tourism promoters, listened intently as Brooks used slides to demonstrate the need for businesses and their communities to find what’s unique about their offerings and “differentiate” themselves from other areas.
Meredith, for instance, is “a beautiful place, the Inn at Mill Falls is worth the time alone to come here, but there’s so much more,” Brooks said. “But Meredith is not the only town offering these things to people. It needs to make a distinction for itself.”
Brooks, an expert in the fields of tourism, community branding, downtown development and destination marketing and a board member at the U.S. Travel Association, told the conference attendees to first “find your unique selling proposition.” Once found, the product development and marketing stages must be completed.
“You need to jettison the generic. You cannot be all things to all people,” he said. “You have to promote what’s different about you.”
He cited several examples of towns and businesses across the continent that have found success once they identified a marketable niche. In Kellogg, Idaho, the process was long and hard. The town used to refer to itself as “The Pit Stop Along Interstate 90,” and then tried to promote its alpine village, but that didn’t work.
Then it focused on the uniqueness of the local Hiawatha Trail for bike riders, and the town took off and is now listed among top travel destinations in the country by travel writers.
Once found, the theme for a tourist destination must pass the “four times” test, which means that the destination must provide enough of an experience to justify spending four times the amount of time it takes to travel there.
Brooks said he saw a sign on his way into Meredith indicating it’s a great place to live, work and play.
“That’s what we all think of our towns,” he said. “In this day of differentiation, we have to have destinations that will outplay and outlast others. If everything was just like home, we wouldn’t want to leave home.”
The conference participants applauded Brooks several times, and many said they learned a lot.
Gregg Pitman, of the New Hampshire Campground Association, said he will take the lessons back to his 140 private campground owners in the state.
“We need to ask, what’s special about out campground? What can we use to tell people there’s a better camping experience available here?” Pitman said.