Here’s an example of what inspires word-of-mouth in tourism marketing. Say I brought you a box of chocolates from my trip to Connecticut. That’s nice and you’d thank me.
But say I brought you a box of “single origin cow chocolates” from my trip to Connecticut.
Suddenly, you have questions. And the answers will likely make you want to share the story with other people – in person, by text, by social media, whatever. And some folks who see/hear it may think it’s cool enough to share with THEIR circle of friends. And so on. And so on.
And voila. Word-of-mouth.
The secret there lies in the phrase “make you want to share the story.” People don’t share boring, ordinary, or typical things. They share things that are new, cool, interesting, unexpected, funny, poignant, or extraordinary.
Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates is a Connecticut tourism attraction that knocks the word-of-mouth concept out of the park. Though, to be honest, I really don’t think they think of themselves as a “tourism attraction.” They seem to think of themselves more as cow-tenders, which just makes the story even better.
At this magical farm – which requires you to leave the paved roads to access – the level of quintessential New England barn and local purveyor adorableness is just perfect. But that’s not the story-sharing headline here. The headline is that they produce a variety of chocolates that each use only a single cow’s milk. Like, you can get chocolates made exclusively with milk from Daydream, Creedance, Supreme, and other special cow ladies so earmarked for the purpose.
Not only that, but the type of chocolates each cow helps produce is determined by the distinctive flavor of her milk. For example, ONLY Daydream’s milk is used for caramels (I’ve had them and can see why), and ONLY Queen’s milk is used for the “Zesty Lime & Licorice” chocolate (they weren’t available when I visited because apparently Queen had the day off).
At the sweet little chocolate shop attached to the barn, visitors can find out which cow’s exclusive chocolates are available that day, depending on who is being milked. And there are a variety of other chocolate confections available too… as well as single origin cow milk, with each bottle branded with the cow’s name.
You can build your own box of chocolates by the piece and – this is my favorite part – they put a full menu in each box that fully describes each chocolate and which cow is connected to it. So if you’re giving it to someone as a gift, they get the whole story.
What was in the box I assembled during my visit? Clockwise here, from the top left: Daydream’s Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel, Supreme’s White Chocolate Raspberry Cream, Creedance’s Milk Maid Irish Cream (with a Bailey’s ganache inside, of course), Creedance’s Dark Chocolate Madagascar Vanilla, Vail’s Double Cream, and Valor’s Dark Chocolate Double Espresso.
There’s also a deep and effective amount of authentic brand integrity everywhere you turn on the property. For example, they tell their story – amidst fun facts – with a collection of laminated signs arranged on the barn wall. Kudos to them for that…a high-tech video screen would be out of place here. The laminated signs scream homegrown, slow-paced, personal attention, and loving care, which is precisely the vibe they apply to managing their cows and their entire operation. Indeed, those laminated signs reminded me of the fabulous dairy bar in Nova Scotia that labels their biscuit packaging with masking tape.
So let’s break it down: why exactly does this particular tourism attraction inspire word-of-mouth marketing?
- They built their business around a unique and unexpected story.
- They give people something different to talk about regarding their chocolates. It’s not just that they taste good or have beautiful packaging, which many chocolatiers can claim.
- They connect the product to its source in a fun, engaging, and interesting way. The one simple act of naming each chocolate after its source cow tells multiple positive stories about their business practices. Plus, it’s cute.
The result? I’ll always associate my trip to the Litchfield region of Connecticut with this extraordinary place, I’ll never forget it (out of ALL the chocolate shops I’ve visited in my time – and that’s a lot), and yes of course I told my friends about it. So naturally, I stopped by the barn after my purchase to thank the ladies for their efforts.
Take note of the fact that in everything I just celebrated about this place, I never mentioned if the chocolate is tasty. It DOES happen to be delicious, but THAT’S NOT THE STORY. Their word-of-mouth story is inspired by their branding and operation, not their chocolate quality. The chocolate just has to be good enough to not sabotage the joy a visitor gets from the story. Like, if the chocolate absolutely sucked, it would make the story less impressive and I’d not be inclined to share it. Happily for them, their chocolate is the very opposite of “sucked,” and here we are talking about it.
The Newfoundland Chocolate Company – obviously based in Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada – also has delicious chocolate, and yet that’s also not THEIR tourism attraction word-of-mouth story.
Visitors to this Canadian province are universally struck by the distinctive (heartwarmingly quirky?) culture, style, and even language…even though they speak English.
The first time I was there and someone said to me “I dies at you,” I definitely had no clue what they were saying. And as I spoke to more locals, the joy of trying to decipher conversations that included phrases like “who knit ya?” became increasingly charming and hilarious. I wanted to bottle some of that joy and take it home for family and friends to experience too.
Imagine my excitement, then, when after delivering a keynote speech at the Hospitality Newfoundland & Labrador annual conference, someone gifted me these chocolate bars:
And that’s when I was introduced to the Newfoundland Chocolate Company, who has made a brilliant art out of comingling tourism branding with a scrumptious product.
Believe me, I’m not trying to minimize the thought and care that goes into making their chocolates. But the word-of-mouth headline here is the packaging and the product merchandising. Indeed, they have:
A wide variety of boxed collections that align chocolates with tourism locations around the island of Newfoundland, such as lighthouses, places to explore, and this one featuring shorelines with quiet coves:
They also have bars wrapped to celebrate the vibrantly colorful and iconic houses of Newfoundland (like the ones on Jelly Bean Row):
And of course, those signature NL Sayings bars, whose collection includes a multitude of phrases that allow people to tell stories to the folks back home when they gift these bars as vacation souvenirs:
The really magical thing is the NL’ers take great pride in their distinctive culture, so they ALSO love buying, sharing, and gifting products like the NL Sayings bars. They’re not just for tourists.
This is a very different approach than Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates, but this particular tourism attraction ALSO inspires word-of-mouth marketing with their strategy:
- They’ve inextricably linked their own story to the destination’s unique story and culture, which will resonate with any visitor who was charmed by it (as I was).
- They focus on the things that set Newfoundland & Labrador apart from other destinations, like…you literally can’t get a “Jigs & Reels Collection” of chocolates (nor a chocolate bar that says “arse on dat”) anywhere else in the world.
- They make it absurdly easy for visitors to use their products to tell the story of NL to friends and family when they get back home. Why bring home just a map to show where you’ve been when you can show a map that tells a story through chocolates?
When the Newfoundland Chocolate Company was founded, they originally set out to “create great chocolate that tells a story about Newfoundland & Labrador.” Y’all, they nailed it.
The bottom line is that there’s more than one way to inspire word-of-mouth in tourism marketing. You just have to give people a story worth telling and make it easy for them to tell it. Tell them YOUR story in fun, unique ways. Make it easy for them to take photos and video and remember your story clearly. Make it easy for them to feel good about you.
I may not yet be fluent in the language of Newfoundland, but when it comes to smart branding that inspires word-of-mouth marketing, there’s one thing I know for sure: I loves it.