I used to love driving up to the small tourist town of Solvang, CA when I was young.  I would get in my car and drive with my radio on for hours and hours just to see the sights.  I love exploring new areas of the country, discovering what’s around the bend, finding the hidden gem tucked away in mountain landscapes of Colorado.

Lake Arrowhead was another one of my favorites when I lived in the area at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains.  It has a charming alpine village feel to it.  There are several wealthy communities to stroll through around the lake.  A beautiful setting.  My only complaint with that mountain range was that it wasn’t big enough.  I was used to the Continental Divide.  That’s hard to compete with.

I discovered, through my research on destination marketing, however, that Lake Arrowhead was on the brink of disaster due to the lack of tourists in the early 2000’s. 

That’s where Leslie McLellan, the town’s marketing director, found herself when the town cut her budget almost in half.  She dove in to social media marketing around 2009 which took up a FRACTION of her marketing budget and saved the one of the best little towns in Southern California from becoming a ghost town!  I checked her website out and found a great report called The Small Town Marketing Handbook.  I have added a few of my own thoughts to her 10 point lesson.

1.  Communication – Listening Is The Key

You have to get your message out…talk…then LISTEN.  Whether your business succeeds or fails isn’t all about you and what you do.   It’s also about how people perceive you and how well they think you relate to them.

2.  Partnerships

Partnerships are valued not just on their ability to help you, but also on their contribution to your reputation.  It’s about word-of-mouth and helps you expand your marketing reach by a lot!

3.  Stretching Marketing Dollars

Social media costs less than traditional marketing.  Joining local groups goes a long way as well.  Stay active and build relationships.

4. Working With Traditional Media In A Variety Of Ways

Look, just because you get on board with social media doesn’t mean you should throw out all conventional media forms.  Build relationships (ie, partnerships) with local radio & TV stations, newspapers, Chambers of Commerce.  The idea is to focus on media outlets that produce the best results for you.

5.  Looking For “Other” (Out -Of-The-Box) Ways Of Doing Things

Don’t be afraid to get ideas from customers, or even young kids.  Offer to teach a class on marketing.  Search the Internet for things to do.  Find success stories that inspire you and help you think “outside-the-box”.

6.  Ask For Help When You Need It

Enough said.  Seriously.

7.  Share Your Enthusiasm, Be Active In Your Community And Spread Good News

The sky’s the limit on this one.  And what a great way to meet new friends!  Make the most of your networking opportunities.  This kind of networking has been done by the wealthy and powerful for generations and look what it has done for them!  But honestly, the     whole point of a small town culture is to get back to what’s important – true friendship.  And although, in my experience, many small towns can be just as anti-social as big cities, it’s important to reach out to one another.  Leslie’s right about the 90’s.  In many ways, they were impersonal.  And we have heard our fair share of Hollywood’s reference to middle America as “fly-over country”.  Time to show the world what fly-over country is really like.

8.  Branding

Notice this is #8 on Leslie’s list.  That means it’s important, but it’s not the ONLY thing that’s important.  There’s plenty of information on the web about this.  Just don’t get lost with branding your business at the exclusion of all else.

9.  Volunteering

I always check myself on this one.  In my opinion, we should want to give to each other just for the joy of giving and nothing else.  Bottom line, a gift with strings attached is not a gift, it’s a loan.  The most valuable gift you can give to people is your time.  This is a great way to give back to your community and become known for it.  Because as you become known as someone who is ethical, compassionate, and sincere, that speaks to people for more profoundly than a sales pitch on a commercial.

10.  What’s In It For Me (the Customer)?

Your customers are your main concern.  They should know that.  Which means you have to go out of your way to make sure they know that.  You can’t please everybody, but constructive criticism is not something to be afraid of.  Collect it, store it, use it.

Check out Leslie’s story at:


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