Using storytelling to sell – a ‘no brainer’ for Kenyan Tour Companies?

Marketing has always placed a large emphasis on emotions when it comes to selling – How do people ‘feel’ about my brand / experience / product. We spend a lot of time on developing products and solutions that make people ‘feel’ what we would like and as a consequence, hope they ‘do’ what we would like them to do! From a destination marketing perspective, if people ‘feel’ the authentic, diverse and innovative nature of Kenya as a destination, they will visit us more often (the ‘do’ part)! Similarly for a tour company, if they ‘feel’ your warmth and excellence in service, they will give you return business and recommend you to their friends.

I want to deep dive into the thinking that goes through the human mind that drives decision making, relating it to marketing Kenya as a preferred destination. I am not a behavioural economist or psychologist, nor am I an expert in destination marketing. My expertise is based purely on my research, the fact that I ‘sell memories’ for a living as well as my love and appreciation for Kenya as a stunning tourist destination.

It does not take a psychology PhD to know that as humans, we do things that will keep us alive in the most pleasurable way possible i.e. we like doing things that make us happy. How do we decide what these things are? We use our memories to guide us!

There is extensive academic literature on this, and I could quote a bunch of them (I won’t), but in essence, we know that storytelling existed before any language was ever written. We keep countless stories in our memories, unconsciously put into our minds with their sole purpose being to help us make decisions in the present that impact the future. The purpose of memory is to help us choose. Everything from getting stung by a bee to falling in love with the wrong person is stored in our memory banks; experiences of the past are recalled to help us make decisions for the future. Worth noting that just because something is stored in the memory bank and used to make decisions, it does not mean that the decision it makes is always correct! In terms of destination marketing, this interpretation of a memory can have a significant impact on collective perception. Arguably African destinations suffer the memory bias of a long run of poor global news reporting, but this is a whole different topic that I will write about in another thought paper.

Anyway, all very well and good I hear, but what does any of this have to do with marketing Kenya as a destination or in helping a tour company marketing its services? Well everything really, because I would argue the essence of tourism and travel is to help people ‘create memories’. We are all in the ‘memories business’. Research reveals that memorable tourist experiences contribute to favourable tourists’ behaviour with respect to destination loyalty and supports the idea that sensory stimuli that lasts a long time in tourists’ memory is crucial for marketing the destination. We know the Kenyan experience creates a plethora of memories and sensory stimuli. The question is, how do we use the memories created to help sell us? If only there was a way to capture and package memories (spoiler alert – there is!).

The power of storytelling and its ability to sell is well documented. A good storytelling based marketing campaign should spark fond memories, evoking a feeling, which leads to increased interest, brand loyalty and ultimately, a transaction. The story should resonate emotionally with the reader, should be personalised and ‘locally’ told and ideally be multi dimensional in content, with relevant nuances that the reader relates to.

The ‘ideal’ travel destination story would have the tourist as the narrator, with the destination having control of what, when and how it is narrated, so that it highlights the best of what the destination has to offer and but is presented to an audience that is heavily vested in its content. Very few destinations in the world would be able to do this, because there is almost always no way of narrating such a ‘controlled’, personalised story. The closest we get is perhaps theme parks where images of tourist can be captured at various points, but in that case the story is often just a single image of an important moment e.g. a water splash on a roller coaster. Most markets either tell generic destination stories (e.g. 10 things to do in Sardinia) or one so personalised, the destination has no control of content (e.g. a couple’s blog of their trip to Sardinia).

Kenya offers a unique difference. We are one of very few markets that can ‘have our cake and eat it’. We can tell a very personalised story of a tourist’s trip, documenting with great accuracy all the major highlights of the trip. How?

  1. Kenya is considered a predictable travel destination – a tourist’s travel itinerary is generally well known months 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 campfire.
  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 widely 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.

To summarise, we know that memories drive decisions and memories are created through stories we capture. Via our ‘Safari’ photobook, Kenya is uniquely positioned as a destination where we can create personalised branded communications that very effectively capture stories that resonate emotionally while conveying tourist’s ‘real’ experience. Very rarely does a destination get presented the chance to have such complete control of the storytelling potential of its product – we can define, create, publish, sell, optimise and profit from the curation of a tourist’s story.

The impact of this opportunity in using ‘insiders’ (tourists who feel at one with a place) to convince ‘outsiders’ (people who consider a destination as alien to them or ‘not for me’), will be subject to my next thought paper. Suffice it to say, this insider / outsider conundrum is perhaps the biggest hurdle destination Kenya needs to overcome to truly maximise its potential as a world class destination. For now, I am excited to hear your emotive, logical, academic or even comic responses to these sentiments!