The Rising Tide

In Part One, I talked about how the well-funded European company IZI Travel has taken a play straight from the Facebook/Youtube playbook and is offering both tour content creators and tour content consumers (aka tourists) a free platform for building and acquiring mobile tours respectively. While I have not personally used their platform (I intend to soon), what I have seen of their work and mission impresses me. IZI is thoughtfully designed and presented, and their mission is ambitious, admirable…and powerfully disruptive. Here goes the apple cart again!

If you are one of the many tour creators who expects to get paid for your hard work (and building a high quality tour is hard work…much harder than creating your average Facebook post or Youtube video), then your world is about to change. Once the IZI platform becomes pervasive, there will be a tsunami of free mobile tours, good, bad, and ugly, just like we see with Youtube videos. The better content will get more downloads, and the bad content, well, that will get about as much play as this video of me teasing my grandkids (71 views in three years).

Professional tour guides will compete on a level playing field with any Tom, Dick or Harry who schlocks together a tour on IZI’s free and open platform, often just copying Wikipedia entries verbatim to build what I pejoratively refer to as “brochureware.” Pros who take pride in their work will encounter the same dilemma professional graphic designers faced 25 years ago when desktop publishing software made it possible for the next door neighbor kid to play designer when he wasn’t mowing lawns. Why pay for a pro when little Johnny will design your brochure for a fraction of the price?

That will be the new reality, and it will require some new thinking. In Part One I drew inspiration from the bottled water industry, which competes effectively with free by crushing three of the four P’s of marketing: a convenient Product, smart Promotion, and accessible Placement. Below I offer a few best practice examples of how professional tour guides might deal with the coming deluge of free mobile tours.

MyTourGuide is a US based company that offers a free and open mobile tour platform, similar to IZI Travel. One publisher who is taking advantage of the platform is TravelBrains, and one of their tours is called “In the Footsteps of an Assassin,” which leads the tourist on a guided tour of the escape route Abraham Lincoln’s killer took after shooting the US president in the head. This 19th century tale of conspiracy and intrigue is narrated by Michael W. Kauffman, author of a book of the same name, and includes augmented reality, images, quiz questions and more, which alone is great packaging.

But TravelBrains went even further. In a perfect example of the bundling technique I recommend in my book, they packaged their Assassin tour with Kauffman’s high-quality, hardcover book and sell both for about $25. By doing so, TravelBrains shifted the marketing dynamic from selling an “app” (a poisonous brand that means “free” to most consumers) to selling a book, for which most consumers expect to pay. I admire how TravelBrains did this and believe we mobile tour producers need to do more of the same to win in the marketplace.

Good packaging makes placement easier too. Books, videos, tee-shirts, paper maps and other potential bundling partners are all easily seen, found, and evaluated by the shopping tourist. They sit right up there on the shelf, all bright and shiney and pretty, just like ornaments on a Christmas tree! And where is your product, your mobile tour app? It’s buried somewhere on the app store. In other words, it’s invisible.

Out of sight means out of mind, and for most tourists, the app stores are not just out of sight, they are on another planet altogether. Think about it. Tourists are shopping in brick and mortar gift shops, looking at menus in restaurants, walking by posters or kiosks or street hawkers pushing their products. The products tourists see there are your competition, and they will beat you every time until you get your product into the tourist’s line of sight.

That brings us to promotion. To effectively promote, push is the name of the game and always has been. Promote and push are nearly synonymous. But app stores don’t push, they operate on a pull model. In other words, the tourist must actively seek you out instead of the other way around. Granted, pull models can be powerful ~ the iTunes app store and Youtube are second only to Google as search engines.

But consider what happens when a tourist searches for say, “tour Atlanta.” They find over two dozen apps with no way to filter them by the very packaging characteristics that make TravelBrains’ Assassin tour special, like “audio,” “augmented reality” or most importantly, user rating. App stores are not optimized for tours. App stores are not specialty stores. They are, rather, a general purpose store like Wal-Mart, and prospective buyers must wander their “aisles” hoping to find what they are searching for, sorting through all your competitors products just to find yours…maybe.

To win against your competition, you must change the marketing dynamic offered by app stores with active, push style marketing promotions, such as the kind you see here for my tours of Washington DC. These 4×9 inch rack cards sit in racks located in airports, hotels, welcome centers and dozens of other venues around DC where tourists expect to find them. Yes, they compete with hundreds of other cards promoting DC tours, but at least I am in the game, pushing my product under the nose of prospective buyers.

Self-guided tourism brochure

Note I never use the word “app” in my copy, and my link completely bypasses the app store, taking the prospect directly to my product. I compliment the campaign with this video, which appears in kiosks throughout the city. All of this takes money, and so I charge for my tours, hoping my product, placement and promotion will be my bottled water equivalent against free options.

There is no stopping the IZI initiative, and for my sake, I will be keenly watching for the new opportunities it creates. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be part of the next Facebook if you can see it coming? Their free flow of tap water will create greater awareness of mobile tours, and the company genuinely seeks to help content creators with free tools, open APIs, and lenient licensing terms. In my view, whether it comes from a tap or a bottle, a rising tide lifts all ships.