Villing & Company

A Tale of Two States: IN v MI Tourism

Indiana and Michigan have much in common. They share a border. They share Lake Michigan. They even have a common history in automotive manufacturing and other related industries.

When it comes to marketing tourism, however, Indiana and Michigan represent the ultimate tale of two states. One state consistently gets it right. The other has never figured it out.

The latest example of Indiana’s struggle is a story just out about the disconnect between the tourism strategies of Indianapolis and other cities and the state’s new campaign launched based on the tagline, “Honest to Goodness Indiana.”

I think most people would agree that this slogan doesn't quite sync with the more cosmopolitan brand strategy of Indianapolis. (Still, this new slogan beats a short-lived one about 20 years ago that was something to the effect, “Indiana. We’re 24.7% nicer.” I kid you not. Don’t remember the exact words and can’t find them anywhere but it was real close to that.) But... I digress.

Having competed ourselves for the Indiana tourism account in the past, we can totally understand the challenges involved and this is certainly not intended as a criticism of the agency that developed the new tagline. To be sure, it is a daunting task balancing the needs of the quaint, small town attractions in rural areas of Indiana with those of Indianapolis – or, for that matter, even South Bend where Notre Dame is the #2 attraction in the state. Add to this challenge the fact that Indiana’s tourism budget has been declining for years. Officially listed as $2.3 million in 2012-2013, it is well near the bottom of state rankings and only 15 percent of the national average of $14.9 million per state.

By contrast, Michigan spends $27.4 million annually – despite its own economic hardships in recent years. Maybe more to the point, the Pure Michigan campaign that I have admired for years is based on a sustainable brand strategy that works as well for Grand Rapids and Detroit as it does for small harbor towns on the Great Lakes.

At the time we were competing for the state tourism business, Indiana was ranked as the number one drive-through state in the union. I assume that distinction is still true. But while some would view being a drive-through state as a negative, I believe it represents a major opportunity. If the state could convince a few of those passers by to stop for a while, the economic impact would be huge. And I, for one, believe Indiana has the potential to create a powerful tourism brand. But, honest to goodness, Indiana, it’s time to restart your engines and re-think your approach to tourism marketing.

Filed Under: general

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