Broadening appeal for the City of the Big Shoulders

We are entering our 5th year as Digital AOR for Choose Chicago, a partnership that has lead to continued year-over-year growth in visitation and tourism revenue for the city.

Long considered the midwest’s “big city”, Chicago’s tourism strategy had been focused on maintaining low-hanging regional traffic to sustain consistency, as convention guests filled hotels. Furthermore, the marketing approach involved high-cost traditional broadcast channels and limited digital investment with a single network buy to support it. In 2016, new leadership under the directive of Mayor Rahm Emanuel had been tasked to reimagine this approach and meet the lofty goals he had set for increasing revenue from tourism. The new strategy looked beyond the midwest and convention reliance, expanding to national and international leisure consumer targets who represented longer stays and greater spending potential. But to support this strategy an entirely new approach to marketing was required.

Partnering with the Choose Chicago team we needed to chart a “digital forward” course for the city.

The Approach

Reconfiguring for a new objective

Embracing “digital forward” meant a foundational realignment for the organization. Data forward initiatives for revising segmentation and understanding travel intent drove all activities, as we worked together to revise the framework for the city’s overarching content strategy, aligning audience interest directly to core destination attributes.

Welcoming visitors, on their terms

As the program took shape and the “Welcome Home” creative concept was established, we looked at search behavior and cross-device utilization to guide better understand audience journey patterns. This set the course for migrating the organization away from large network and broadcast buys, instead tailoring channel utilization to more efficient investments where we could measure impact.

This new approach saw immediate returns, breaking the mayor’s 3-year visitation goal – after only one year of performance.

“I truly value Envisionit’s partnership as we’ve scaled our programs, evolving further towards digital forward as an organization. Bringing efficiency and insight into how we engage our audiences, we’ve seen continued growth since day one.”

Rita Chen, vp of marketing, choose chicago


Audience targeting with no boundaries

Since the beginning, we had looked to develop a framework that capitalized on behavioral and contextual signals to guide media strategy, not just proximity to the destination. So whether it be regional, national, or international objectives, geography no longer defined the program, it only represented a variable in our targeting mix. Freeing the organization from this previously imposed limitation allowed us to diversify partner direct relationships, support influencer programming, and scale paid search & social investments with greater efficiency.

Visibility and engagement

Over the years we have put a significant focus on leveraging rich media ad tech across partner direct and paid social to ensure optimal engagement. Leisure programs not only tailored to our content pillars but we were able to utilize a contender methodology to test which ad types and messages performed and then optimized future efforts accordingly.

Augmenting capabilities

As with all DMOs capability and resource management is a priority. As our program was taking root we identified an opportunity to expand support for content development. Partnering with marketing leadership we developed a content and technology team to ensure organic performance amplified paid efforts and could support the needs of the Choose Chicago partner community.

Every destination, needs a high performing destination

The Choose Chicago website represented another opportunity to move the organization forward. We embarked on a multi-year initiative to reimagine the property. Leading stakeholder interviews and requirement definition we were able to re-platform the site in WordPress while maintaining the existing CRM. In order to execute, we needed to audit nearly 4000 pages of content and redefine the entire data structure, expanding capabilities to support partner promotion, event marketing, travel inspiration, and new revenue opportunities across both leisure and convention.

Hey, hey, what do you say — Chicago’s gonna win today

In 2017, Chicago took home the hardware. Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards named Chicago as the Best Big City in the U.S., Bon Appetit awarded Chicago the Restaurant City of the Year, and TimeOut London named us the World’s Best City. Even the Welcome Home campaign won an award — the Best Marketing Campaign award during the Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism.

Since then the city has been honored with Best Big City in the U.S. 4 times in a row and has exceeded every visitation milestone the mayor’s office set forth.


The Results

The Program That Works

James Beard Awards, NFL Draft, Restaurant Week, Year of Theater, summer programs, winter programs, no matter the campaign objective, the city has realized significant ROI from their tourism investments. Embracing “Digital forward” is a continual journey of transformation for DMOs, particularly as the landscape continues to evolve beneath their feet. After 5 years of partnering with Choose Chicago, the positive impact of this journey is felt every day by us, the organization, and most importantly the city we support.