by Heidi L. Everett
St. Joseph Convention and Visitors Bureau has a new strategic plan to introduce more people to the small-town warmth and big city cool that is affectionately known as JoeTown.
“We were figuring things out as we went along,” said Mary Bruno, director of the CVB. “It made sense to all of us that we get a comprehensive overview of our mission, where we started, and where we wanted to go (throughout) the next 3-5 years.”
The plan was developed by consultant Carolyn Dyrdahl of My Marketing Connection during the past year through a series of discussions and interviews with CVB staff, City of St. Joseph government leaders, community stakeholders and representatives from other tourism industry organizations as well as through examining best practices.
CVB’s mission is to showcase the unique attributes of the St. Joseph area in order to stimulate visits, create memorable tourism experiences and magnify economic vitality.
According to marketing research, St. Joseph is described as charming, welcoming, energized and on-trend. It’s strengths are offering a variety of small shops, food and drink, arts and events, and the Lake Wobegon trailhead.
“The community of St. (Joseph) has always been supportive of its small businesses, including mine. That makes me want to continue to give back,” Bruno said; she owns Bruno Press, a letterpress print shop that makes unique cards and art. “Joetown seems to take pride in the unique, locally owned businesses, independent artists and musicians, as well as being open to new additions.”
The city’s weaknesses, according to the market research, include limited lodging, the absence of camping and slow business on summer weekdays.
The CVB strategic plan through 2025, identified several priorities, including growing awareness about the community, enhancing the visitor experience, forming collaborations, gaining repeat business and leveraging events.
To that end, the CVB will expand on and harness the power of social media to grow awareness about what’s happening in St. Joseph to inspire visits. Currently the CVB uses Facebook and Instagram, but new marketing tactics call for adding YouTube and Pinterest to capitalize on the trend of more visual mediums.
On all platforms, the CVB will aim to amplify the image of what’s happening in St. Joseph with more videos, user-generated content, live-stream event footage and paid social media campaigns.
The strategic planning process “was extremely eye-opening to see what we have built, what was working and where we needed to focus our attention,” Bruno said. “It was super validating to see the marketing we were already doing for Joetown was some of the most successful stats our consultant had ever seen for a small town CVB. We have insane engagement on both Facebook and Instagram. It means people are liking what they are seeing and the marketing is getting people excited to come to visit Joetown. That is good for everyone!”
Expanded analytics to understand what messages and images resonate with followers as well as which digital sources provide the most traffic to social media platforms and the website also will be incorporated.
The CVB will use tactics to enhance the visitor experience as well.
“We are working on a Joetown map and a big sign to put at the Wobegon trailhead to bring the cycling community into town,” Bruno said. “There are some conferences coming to St. (Joseph) this fall we are ramping up for, and we are always working on capturing great imagery of people, places and things that bring people to visit.”
The strategic plan also calls for brochures, an updated digital calendar and pushing out event notifications through a regular e-newsletter. The CVB will measure success of these tactics and adapt.
Bruno understands 2021 is a recovery year coming out of pandemic-related shutdowns and the subsequent economic downturn. The CVB received two grants from Explore Minnesota to assist with marketing, and Bruno say she’s optimistic about the future buzz around St. Joseph.
“I’m happy Joetown is on a huge upswing, and this is the place to come to eat, drink, get ice cream, bike, do yoga, geez, all things,” Bruno said. “I am hoping all St. (Joseph) businesses and the colleges understand it does not really make a difference what gets people to town, but the awesome experience people have once they are here that will keep them coming back, moving here, starting businesses here and raising their families here.”
“Joetown is a wonderful community I believe in, live in, run a business in and want to share with the rest of the world,” she said.