How a Small Texas Town Became “The New Aspen” Using Strategic Tourism Marketing

Tracy Marlowe  |  January 24, 2024

In my nearly 20 years of running my full-service marketing and branding agency Creative Noggin, I have often been asked which clients or projects stand out. Without fail, this question brings to mind the travel and tourism marketing program we put together for Fredericksburg, Texas—a destination we rebranded and marketed for over 14 years through our partnership with the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau.

And it’s not just because of the natural beauty and prime location of Fredericksburg—a small town of only 10,000-ish residents tucked in the Texas Hill Country. It's also because of the incredible results my team achieved for this charming historic town.

Over time, through highly strategic branding, media planning, and advertising campaigns, we managed to transform Fredericksburg from a town known primarily as a great place for a weekend antiquing day trip to a widely treasured getaway destination among sophisticated travelers, not to mention the U.S.’s 2nd most traveled wine destination. Wine travel in Texas? Yep. It’s true.

Here’s how we did it.

The Starting Point

When Fredericksburg first became our client in 2009, the city’s brand was ready for a refresh.

Historically, the city’s primary draws were antique shopping and the peach farms, which were, of course, seasonal. However, when we engaged with the CVB, they knew that the city’s offerings were beginning to evolve as they began to see new attractions including high-end retail, fine dining, vineyards, and wineries.

Likewise, there was an opportunity at hand for Fredericksburg to expand its visitor demographics. Historically, the majority of tourists were baby boomers. However, the wider variety of experiences now available meant it was time to attract younger travelers with more sophisticated tastes, higher household incomes, and a willingness to stay overnight (Note: Tourism marketing in the US is typically funded by hotel occupancy taxes (HOT)).

When the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau hired Creative Noggin, we both agreed that we needed to update the brand while still preserving the city’s Texas appeal and German heritage.

How could we attract new markets without alienating their current baby boomer audience?

By leveraging one of the town’s most precious assets: Its historical charm.

Tactics

After a very thorough discovery process— including a deep dive into visitor research demographics as well as perceptions and awareness studies—we were ready to get to work.

Below is a glimpse into the primary tactics we used to transform Fredericksburg’s image and skyrocket its tourism volume.

Branding

Prior to 2009, Fredericksburg’s branding leveraged torn antique paper, dated fonts, images of models aged 60+, and a more subdued color palette.

With a goal to appeal to a younger demographic while preserving Fredericksburg’s core baby boomer market, we implemented a vibrant new brand that felt more in line with the experience of visiting Fredericksburg.

Updates to their branding included:

As the years went on, we updated and refreshed the brand to reflect the changing destination. As our tourism marketing was successful and brought more sophisticated travelers, those travelers demanded more sophisticated lodging, dining, and attractions. The destination boomed with entrepreneurs, who brought enhanced offerings to address the high demand of travelers.

The Fredericksburg brand needed to continue to mirror the evolving destination, so we made certain to fine-tune our strategy and brand as time went by. 

Media Planning & Placement 

Prior to our engagement, Fredericksburg’s media plan had prioritized ad quantity with less focus on quality. Additionally, our research showed that the majority of visitors were coming from San Antonio and Austin, both of which were less than two hours away from Fredericksburg. This meant that many travelers were making a day trip to visit, which did not contribute to HOT revenue.

We recognized that to attract a different demographic we would need to make a dramatic shift in our media strategy. We aimed at targeting potential travelers who were a further driving distance away, as well as those from more affluent households who would stay the night and spend more while in Fredericksburg.

Our strategically-devised media plan took Fredericksburg advertising from small quarter-page ads on the backs of a large number of publications to full-page ads in fewer but more carefully-targeted publications. We emphasized geographically targeting the affluent markets of Dallas and Houston.

This strategy succeeded in capturing the attention of visitors who would spend the night—and their money—in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County. Research studies over the subsequent years showed a shift in visitor demographics, including:

  • Higher household incomes
  • An increased number of overnight stays
  • More visitors from both Houston, Texas and Dallas, Texas

Digital Marketing 

Digital marketing has been innovating at a rapid pace over the past decade. Likewise, Fredericksburg’s advertising campaign and media plan evolved dramatically with the incorporation of cutting-edge digital marketing tactics.

In the early 2010s, the Fredericksburg digital advertising budget made up only 5% of the city’s total annual media spend for media that year. By the early 2020s, digital spend made up 55% of their total ad spend. Of the 92 million impressions garnered by the overall media plan, digital advertising made up an estimated 80 million (or 87%) of the total annual impressions purchased.

Well-negotiated and efficiently planned digital media buys—complemented by digitally-optimized, evocative creative—made a major impact on the stellar overall results.

Our digital media buy and creative mix included:

  • Digital buy strategy, planning, negotiation, and buying
  • Display ads
  • Geographically and demographically targeted ads
  • Geofencing
  • Animated and static ads
  • Pre-roll videos
  • TV commercials (CTV)
  • Over-the-top (OTT) streaming ads
  • YouTube ads
  • Social media ads
  • Search engine marketing (SEM)
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Paid search ads
  • Sponsored content (published articles, social posts, and email)
  • Email newsletter to opted-in subscribers

Out-of-Home Advertising

Fredericksburg’s close proximity to popular destinations San Antonio (my hometown!) and Austin made those cities ideal areas for out-of-home advertising. We targeted high-traffic areas to reach travelers who might enjoy a side trip to Fredericksburg. 

By creating captivating displays in airports and a mall frequented by tourists, we emphasized the unique aspects of Fredericksburg, setting it apart from the surrounding area. Our visually striking digital billboard advertisements showcased the charm of the Texas wine country, delightful small-town holiday celebrations, and the renowned Fredericksburg peaches during peach season.

Collateral

We created new and evolving printed collateral that reflected the city’s brand evolution, always centering visuals to convey the authentic experience of visiting Fredericksburg.

Collateral included:

  • Pocket folders
  • An attractions and dining guide
  • A visitor information center rack card
  • Rack brochures
  • Annual reports targeted toward local business owners and community leaders

Print Advertising

The travel industry is among the industries where print advertising is alive and well in tourism marketing plans. Visitors will still visit a website and book a trip after viewing an emotionally compelling print ad that drew their interest.

Advertising in higher-end print publications was identified as an effective medium in our tourism marketing plans for reaching eclectic travelers, both domestic and foreign. Creative was focused on creating a proverbial visual “speed bump” for readers as they flipped through a publication.

Print ad themes were targeted according to Fredericksburg’s natural seasonality. The themed-ad approach continues today, with ads highlighting everything from peach season to unique lodging to music to grape harvesting.

International Reach

Fredericksburg has become a small historic town with a very cosmopolitan appeal. It was even hailed as ”the new Aspen”  in early 2020.  As the appeal and accolades grew, so did visitation from visitors outside of the United States. Our tourism marketing outreach extended beyond borders, and our collateral system made certain to address the needs of international travelers.

Through a collaboration with Brand USA, Fredericksburg has built a special section on VisitTheUSA.com that reaches foreign travelers in eight different languages who are researching travel to the United States. The Brand USA Inspiration Guide has also served as a unique vehicle to reach and inspire travelers to include Fredericksburg in their American travel plans.

After seeing an increase in travelers from Mexico, Germany, Japan, and France, core Fredericksburg brochures were translated into Spanish, German, Japanese, and French to better accommodate travelers from these countries.

Our Role: Fredericksburg’s Outsourced Marketing Department

Our relationship with Fredericksburg felt less like a vendor-client relationship, and more like a close partnership. Creative Noggin served as the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau’s Outsourced Marketing Department. This means that in partnership with the tourism department’s small in-house team, we handled everything from strategy to graphic design to media buying to photography, and so much more.

We were simply an extension of their marketing department, allowing them to leverage our powerful in-house experts in a fractional capacity.

The Results

My team’s excellent branding, marketing, and advertising contributed to the following results for Fredericksburg:

  • +282% increase in yearly HOT tax collections
  • +206% increase in yearly visitor travel spending
  • +1,086% increase in yearly unique website visitors

They also received innumerable accolades.

Is your destination next?

Would you love to see similar results and make your destination stand out to potential travelers?

My team at Creative Noggin is ready to help destinations, attractions, and lodging attract fanatical visitors. If you lead a tourism marketing department and are looking to make your destination irresistible to your ideal travelers, we would love to talk to you.

Get in touch now.

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