Rallying the Vermont Attractions Association around a three-year strategic plan.

A sound brand strategy is vital to making smart business decisions on how to spend your time and money.  The Vermont Attractions Association (VAA) was at a crossroads in its business, trying to marry the conflicting factors it faced:  sluggish membership, pressure from many members to create a new consumer website, urging from all sides to “go digital,” and more.  We were asked to come in and provide impartial, expert evaluation of the situation, and recommend a sound brand strategy and three-year strategic plan to the board… one that would best serve the needs of its diverse 70+ members, which included such high-profile brands as Ben & Jerry’s, Vermont Country Store, Cabot, King Arthur Flour, and Simon Pearce.

Our in-depth research and analysis led to the conclusion of a shocking and totally unexpected recommendation:  the VAA should stop trying to think of itself as a consumer marketing organization, and truly OWN its role as an industry trade association.  Whoa.  In this day and age?  So why did all the members believe us – with a standing ovation at the presentation, no less – when we told them they didn’t need a consumer website, social media channels, and PPC campaigns…and that they should print MORE paper maps instead of fewer?  Because the findings didn’t lie, and we did our homework:

  • Full member survey, with an unprecedented 76% response rate, about the value VAA provides to members
  • In-depth interviews with state and regional tourism leaders, board/executive committee members, association leadership, and key stakeholders
  • Secret shopping of multiple VAA members and Vermont Visitor Centers
  • Historical analysis of VAA financials, membership composition, successes and failures, marketing initiatives of the past five years, and more
  • Digital audit of VAA website
  • Thorough analysis of all VAA member communication materials and touchpoints

Our extensive research assessed the VAA’s position in the overall economic and tourism ecosystem of the state, and it also deeply evaluated its benefits to members.   Among the findings were the vital role the association plays in supporting state and regional tourism organizations with key selling/promotional tools to enrich their marketing programs (and maximize their budgets). Also uncovered was the critical role VAA plays as an educational and networking facilitator for its members… leading the charge on unified awareness and sharing costs on statewide initiatives.

The three-year plan that was presented to – and universally embraced by – the members not only gave the VAA a strategic north star and path to achievement, but it also infused pride throughout the membership.  And that, for ANY association, is priceless.

It’s been 18 months since the recommendations were adopted, and the VAA is THRILLED with the path:  membership is solid, dissention is down, and all the tactics we laid out are enthusiastically being tackled on schedule.  And we, ever the supportive agency that we are, continue to scarf down pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to celebrate.