The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
A year on from the launch of the Spirit of Scotland campaign, Helen Campbell, VisitScotland’s head of global brand and marketing communications, looks back on the successes so far for the organisation’s first global marketing drive.
Standing on the Isle of Skye as the camera crew filmed the footage for one of VisitScotland’s atmospheric adverts, Helen Campbell was in for a treat. The night’s sky was brought to life by the aurora borealis, the magical northern lights that appear when charged particles from the Sun interact with the Earth’s magnetic field.
Campbell could feel that thrill going up the back of her neck as she watched the array of shapes and colours overhead. That intangible sensation of delight is at the heart of VisitScotland’s first global marketing campaign, the “Spirit of Scotland”, which was launched just over a year ago. The campaign builds on the sensation that visitors feel when they travel to Scotland. It’s a combination of the welcome they receive, the wonder they feel when they see our nation’s natural beauty and the thrill they enjoy when they get to take part in a ceilidh for the first time or listen to the trill of a fiddle.
That intangible feeling was definitely present for Campbell when she was on filming duty on Skye. “It was the first time I’d seen the northern lights and I’d wanted to see them for years,” explains the organisation’s head of global brand and marketing communications. “I think you can certainly feel the spirit of Scotland on the islands. Each one has its own feeling and its own magic.”
Taking that intangible feeling and turning it into the organisation’s first global marketing campaign was no mean feat. VisitScotland wanted to make the Spirit of Scotland more than just a marketing tool – it wanted to create a social movement behind which fans of Scotland at both home and abroad could muster.
The £4.25m campaign was launched on 10 February 2016 at Edinburgh Castle, with stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill riding along a giant set of letters that spelt “#ScotSpirit”, the slogan at the centre of the campaign. Using the hashtag on social media gave Scots and their friends a quick and easy way of showing their support for the campaign and the wider tourism industry, including selfie-queen Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister.
Looking back at the first year of the campaign, Campbell is clearly delighted. “The figures speak for themselves,” she says.
“#ScotSpirit has been used more than 300,000 times in the first year. On the day that we launched the campaign, it was the second-highest trending hashtag on Twitter in the UK and among the 20 highest trending globally – that’s an amazing result.
“But the campaign has been about much more than just the launch. The number of people following VisitScotland’s Facebook and Twitter has risen by more than 50% and our Instagram followers are up by nearly 200%.
“More than 66 million people globally have watched our special ‘Spirit’ films and nearly half of the 45 to 54 year olds who have seen the videos say that they’re now more likely to book a visit to Scotland. The number of people signing up for our email newsletters has also risen by 80% to 2.8 million.”
Generating a buzz on social media is one thing, but have all those clicks and posts and tweets turned into more pounds in the till for the tourism industry? “The relaunched visitscotland.com website has seen a 15% rise in visitor numbers and that’s led to £573m-worth of referrals to tourism businesses,” replies Campbell. “Marketing activity in 2016 delivered a net impact of £58.4m for the Scottish economy. These are real, tangible results.”
Data from the International Passenger Survey shows that the number of overseas visitors to Scotland increased by 4.5% year-on-year between July and September and the amount of money they spent rose by 13.8%. Over the same period, the number of visitors from North America – the area that benefited from the highest level of campaign investment outside the UK – jumped by 36% year-on-year, with their expenditure climbing by 57%, representing the largest volume of trips by American and Canadian visitors to Scotland since 2006.
The success of the Spirit of Scotland campaign isn’t just being measured in its monetary value though. As well as sparking a social movement to support Scotland, the campaign also aimed to widen the scope of tourism so that it could be enjoyed by poorer members of society and not just those who can afford to take a holiday.
The campaign teamed up with the Family Holiday Association to help 250 families from disadvantaged backgrounds receive relaxing breaks. More than 30 tourism businesses donated free accommodation, activities and transport.
One of the secrets to the success of the spirit campaign has been the number of partnerships that VisitScotland has forged. “We teamed up with a lot of the online travel agencies (OTAs) like Booking.com, Google and Trip Advisor,” Campbell explains. “These OTAs play a really important role. It’s not just about customers who are looking to book a trip but also about potential customers who are looking for inspiration.
“We worked with these websites to supply them with content, so they now have accurate and engaging information about Scotland. It’s the same kind of high-quality content that we have on our own website.
“The amount of data that’s available to us now is simply vast. We can understand the search terms that visitors are using in much greater detail and we can tailor our content accordingly.
“It’s the same with our email newsletters. Those are becoming so much more popular now because we can tailor the content to suit the reader, giving them more of the information that they want.”
During the first year of the campaign, an extra 3,500 users joined VisitScotland’s online community. Almost 3,000 people created bespoke itineraries on the organisation’s website.
Campbell points to the amount of time the organisation spent engaging with tourism businesses before the launch of the campaign as one of the reasons for its success. Figures show that seven out of ten companies working in the tourism industry recognised the hashtag and its meaning.
“I think that tourism companies are now realising just how powerful the internet can be when it comes to marketing their business,” she adds. “It’s no longer enough to just have a static webpage that advertises your accommodation or visitor attraction – visitors want to be able to read reviews, check availability and book online.”
Looking ahead to the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology – the current themed year – Campbell recognises the vast array of opportunities for tourism businesses to use the spirit campaign to promote their products and services. “This year’s theme really is a gift that ties in so well with the campaign,” she says.
“The Spirit of Scotland campaign is all about the welcome people get, the interactions that they have with people while they’re here and the thrill they get when they find out what makes Scotland special. It’s all about bringing that spirit to life for visitors.”