In West Virginia, pride and heritage are the foundations of the culture. Agritourism offers a unique, uncharted experience for West Virginians in their home state. Yet, most residents are unaware of the presence of more than 220 agritourism businesses operating within the state. Just as concerningly, most are not familiar with the term “agritourism” and what it encompasses.
To combat this unawareness, we partnered with WVU Extension to increase West Virginians’ awareness of the state’s agritourism industry and equip agritourism businesses with resources to promote themselves and agritourism effectively.
In August 2022, we began to conduct primary and secondary research to learn more about the interests of travelers and the needs of agritourism business operators. We studied campaigns that benefited the agritourism industry in other states, and analyzed their approaches. Then, we conducted two focus groups with WVU Extension agents deeply familiar with West Virginia’s agritourism. Then we analyzed the feedback provided by visitors on popular travel websites and business pages. Finally, we conducted five-in depth interviews with agritourism business owners and operators.
From this research, we learned:
Notably, most agritourism owners and operators expressed that they strive to create an educational, down-to-earth experience for travelers. Based on that finding, we decided that the campaign should be simultaneously educational and evocative.
From our research, we identified two target audience segments to engage throughout the campaign. The primary audience comprises West Virginia travelers, ages 55 and older, who live in the Potomac Highlands and are unaware of nearby agritourism businesses. The second target audience includes agritourism business owners and operators whose businesses are operating within West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands.
Based on these demographics, we created the following target audience personas to help guide the campaign’s tone and outreach strategies:
For our primary target audience, our goal is to familiarize them with agritourism and connect it with the concept of what it means to be truly local. Most importantly, we want West Virginians to be aware of local agritourism businesses and the special family-oriented experiences they have to offer.
For our secondary target audience, agritourism business owners and operators, our goal is to help them build connections with one another. Secondly, we wish to provide them with marketing resources to promote agritourism throughout West Virginia.
The agency developed a governing brand idea, an overarching concept based on research insights, to serve as the foundation of the semester’s campaigns.
“Roots of the Appalachian Experience”
Further, the campaign seeks to answer this seemingly fundamental yet complex question: “What does local mean to you?” To help answer this question, the campaign messaging aims to draw a connection with these adjectives:
“Meet Me in the Mountain State” Agritourism Trail
To ease the planning of weekend getaways and afternoon adventures, the account team designed a portion of the “Meet Me in the Mountain State” agritourism trail, accessible from WVU Extension’s website. The trail provides a list of farm-to-table restaurants, farm markets, u-pick farms, breweries and other agritourism businesses and experiences throughout the state.
The trail includes helpful guides for West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands, Eastern Panhandle and New River-Greenbrier Valley.
This all-encompassing online trail is promoted with decals featuring QR codes distributed to agritourism businesses throughout the region. The trail enables travelers to search for prospective destinations with ease.
Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit
Supporting the promotional efforts of agritourism owners and operators, the account team created the Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit, which includes social media templates, radio scripts and posters, among other valuable tools.
This user-friendly, free resource will provide a competitive advantage for business owners and operators with limited time, funds and marketing expertise. Furthermore, the toolkit helps the agency and WVU Extension to enable agritourism businesses to promote agritourism and educate West Virginians about opportunities “right down the road.”
An example of a Facebook post template available to agritourism business owners and operators within the Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit.
Home Grown Networking Event
On Thursday, Dec. 1, the account team and WVU Extension hosted a networking event for agritourism business owners and operators at Swilled Dog, a cider distillery in Pendleton County, West Virginia. At the event, the account team presented the Truly Local WV Communications Toolkit to attendees and demonstrated how to use it.
The event also featured catering and beverages from the local market and two giveaways. Additionally, attendees were asked to share what local means to them, giving the account team and WVU Extension further insight into how to continue the campaign.
As an additional tactic to raise West Virginians’ awareness of agritourism and generate interest, the account team created Facebook advertisements promoted throughout the Potomac Highlands.
To provide a resource for WVU Extension to continue the campaign, the team also developed traditional paid advertisements, including newspaper and radio advertisements with scripts included.
An example of a potential newspaper advertisement designed by our team
Success and Results
The concepts and strategies piloted in this campaign provide a foundation for future work. For instance, the Home Grown networking event achieved positive results from participants. Seventeen agritourism businesses were connected at the event, and 90% of attendees indicated they would utilize the Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit to support their companies’ promotional efforts. Moreover, 28 Meet Me in the Mountain State decals were distributed.
Additionally, the digital advertisements reached over 30,000 people and received a total of 735 engagements, including nearly 650 link clicks and six shares.
“We are so lucky to have an opportunity to bring students into our communities where they can showcase their skills and provide tangible tools for West Virginians.”
– Tara Curtis, Director of Communications and Marketing at WVU Extension