Memory Based Marketing – Is Kenya’s ‘Sense of Place’ its biggest asset?

Memory based marketing is by no means a new concept – it simply suggests that the human mind collects memories via stories and uses these memories to make decisions for the future. Memories is how humans make decisions and I would argue this is especially apt in destination marketing. After all, what is the essence of tourism and travel if not the passion for creating memories?

So why does someone want to visit a certain place over another? A lot of research has been done on the humanistic approach to place, referring to somewhere as having a sense of place (an attraction, emotional reaction, or feeling in relation to the atmosphere, personality or environment of a place). We all have stronger connections to certain places over others and Relph (1976) devised notions of one being an ‘insider’ or an ‘outsider’ based on level of experience with a place. An insider feels at one with a place and has deep experiences with a place whereas outsiders feel alienated or perceives a place as no more than a setting for activities.

In that case, the trick with destination marketing is to promote the location in such a way that it identifies and stays true to its sense of place and then to ensure this is noticed within the visitor experience. With regards to Kenya, I think it is fair to say that we have strong sense of place, it is arguably our strongest asset. Most visitors leave here with a strong connection to their experience and will be happy to relay their memorable travel experience, in fact they are happy to become informal tourism brokers for the tour company that brought them here. The fact that Kenya is uniquely positioned to package these memories and ‘gift’ it to the tourists offers a great opportunity to integrate the promotion of sense of place with the overall memorable tourist experience, but more on this later.

If sense of place is our greatest asset as a destination, what makes Dubai (a place I personally feel has a very low sense of place) get 20m odd visitors to our 2m? To some extent, the answer lies in perception. To look into this, lets go back to some research. In terms of tourist experiences Morgan et al (2010) suggest that whether someone leaves a place feeling like an ‘insider’ or an ‘outsider’ is based on the physical and social environment (activities, social interactions, as well as interactions with those involved in the tourism industry etc.) as well as the factors within the individual such as motivation, expectation, satisfaction, knowledge, memory, perception, emotion and self-identity. Memory, specifically, links the emotional and perceptual outcomes of a tourist event. As an example, I have always had a negative bias towards travelling to Northern Kenya. I grew up hearing stories of drought and famine, poverty and armed attacks. Ingrained in my memory was an area that is a no go (I still haven’t gone!). I treated those that went and talked about the place as hardcore adventure seekers. Despite what they told me, my perception never really changed. I have since seen a number of photobooks tour companies have done of expeditions to Northern Kenya and the scenery looks stunning and almost all reviews and feedback is that it is a ‘must see’ part of our country. The more I see the full story of the experiences these ‘insiders’ have had, the less of an ‘outsider’ I am becoming!

So perception is not just based on individual experiences but is also influenced by worldviews, opinions and social construction, impacted by collective perceptions and political ideologies. Trying to determine why there is collective bias for one destination over another, or the impact of historical negative global news coverage of Africa for example, touches on socio-economic factors I will not cover here. What I can attempt to argue is that destinations like Kenya have a large pool of potential visitors who consider Kenya ‘not for me’. They use externally generated perceptions to make such judgements. They are ‘outsiders’ and converting them to ‘insiders’ requires a promotion plan that taps into their sense of place needs. I will not dare attempt to discuss what can be done at a macro level for Kenya. I know the clever minds at KTB are covering this well (I reference bringing European tour golf and WRC here as good recent examples of this).

I will however attempt to tackle this at a micro level. How can we use the ‘insiders’ to convert the ‘outsiders’ within their sphere of influence? Lew (1989) argued that visitors should experience more of an insider’s perception of a place in order to gain a greater sense of belonging. I have suggested that most tourists that visit Kenya become ‘insiders’, they have a strong sense of belonging and feel at one with the place. They should be our key informal tourism brokers. The ‘outsiders’ that they share their experience with often have strong pre-conceptions of the destination. The best way to change this is to use the memories and nostalgia collected by the insiders to influence the preconceptions held by the ‘outsiders’.

Returning to the thought that Kenya has a great opportunity to integrate the promotion of sense of place with the overall memorable tourist experience . Can we capture and market the memories and nostalgia a visitor takes back? Luckily, Kenya has a set of conditions that makes it one of the few global tourism destinations that can do this easily. We can use the storytelling power of photobooks to capture and ‘package‘ the tourist’s memorable travel experience;

  1. Kenya is considered a predicable travel destination – a tourist’s travel itinerary is generally well known before arrival. Consider this the outline of the ‘story’.
  2. Use images of lodges and hotels the traveller is staying as the basic building blocks of the story. Use stock images to showcase the best of these locations.
  3. Use the driver or travel guide to take images of the guest while they are enjoying the most memorable parts of their trip e.g. while on safari or enjoying a drink by the camp fire.
  4. Use PerfectPics to put together a high quality book together, ‘gifted’ to the guest before they depart. Ensure the book is well curated and branded with content that showcases the experiences in their best light.
  5. A quality book that balances personal content of the guest as well as their most memorable experiences will be wildly shared among the tourists’ inner circle, making them not only the perfect informal on seller for you, but will also be doing so with content you curated.

In summary, nostalgia and memory are crucial to maintaining a strong sense of place and a positive visitor experience. This in turn results in greater destination loyalty and recommendations. Kenya is uniquely positioned, mainly due to predictable, guided itineraries, to be able to package the nostalgia and memories collected by visitors. This means we are able to market the destination using memories, and memories, as research shows, is ultimately what the human brain uses to make future decisions!

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this, positive, negative or indifferent!