What can brick-and-mortar businesses learn about location marketing from a leafy Midwestern arboretum? As it turns out, plenty. The Morton Arboretum, celebrating its 94th year, does a masterful job combining location-based experiences and content that capitalize on the natural beauty of the 1,700 preserve located southwest of Chicago.
Especially during autumn, you might think the arboretum could coast on its reputation as one of the most popular destinations in Illinois. But the arboretum does not rest on its laurels, and for good reason. These days, going for a hike or bike ride competes with alternatives that didn’t exist when the arboretum was founded in 1922 – such as video games, Netflix, and apps that make it all too easy to put off an arboretum visit for another day. Here are two ways the Morton Arboretum attracts visitors in the post-digital age:
The arboretum is renowned for its latticework of trails and bike paths that wind their way through a warren of trees and fields. But the preserve is also a year-round source of special events that take advantage of the stunning setting. For example, the arboretum takes advantage of the seasonal beauty of autumn by hosting a number of events, such as Trick or Trees, which features activities such as pumpkin painting for children, and Theatre-Hikes, during which actors portray literary scenes amid the trees and fields for an outdoor audience. But the events don’t end when autumn passes. One of the arboretum’s most notable events is Illuminations, during which the trees are festooned with lights and projections throughout evenings in November, December, and January.
The arboretum is also a learning center. It’s a little known fact that the arboretum is a center for science and conservation, home to researchers in conservation and biology. And the arboretum shares its knowledge with visitors in many ways. For instance, during fall bird walks, docents and patrons explore the abundance of bird life teeming amid the grounds. On select days, Forest Therapy walks offer the opportunity to “experience the healing and wellness promoting effects of Shinrin-Yoku, the practice of bathing the senses in the atmosphere of the forest at The Morton Arboretum,” which includes an abundance of spruce, maple, ash, and many other trees from all over the world. More immersive programs include a summer science camp where kids can take intensive courses in botany and conservation.
The arboretum offers a powerful lesson in creating memorable experiences that give patrons a reason to return after their initial visits. Businesses such as retailers can do the same, as we see especially during the holiday season.
Questions for Brands
- What kind of experience do you create to attract foot traffic?
- Do your experiences differentiate your locations and give visitors reasons to return?
Other Brands to Examine
Serving up Compelling Digital Content
The Morton Arboretum creates awareness and engagement by sharing content across the digital world where its patrons share their own content, demonstrating the adage that if you want to attract an audience, you need to be present where they live and search for things to do.
And the arboretum speaks the language of its audience: imagery. For instance, the arboretum’s Instagram account in recent weeks has been an explosion of fall colors enticing the Instagram community to experience, say, the bright red leaves of a sour gum or a golden yellow cork tree. Its growing Pinterest community takes advantage of Pinterest’s organizational tools, with images organized under boards ranging from Gardening Ideas to Winter Trees. On YouTube, the arboretum offers more immersive tours that give potential visitors a taste of what they’ll find, such as a recently posted Fall Color Report, which gives you a one-minute tour of maple, Appalachia, and Asian trees as their leaves change color from green to orange and gold. On Facebook, the arboretum also includes user-generated images, thus drawing from a broader palette of images and creating more engagement from its Facebook followers.
Facebook and Twitter also act as sources of updates on the events that the arboretum offers around the year. In fact, its Facebook page is a textbook example of a how an organization can use a local page to generate awareness where people conduct near-me searches. The arboretum makes it easy for visitors to learn about events such as its Boo Breakfast for children, and the arboretum cross-promotes content on other social spaces, including TripAdvisor reviews. By being transparent and informative, the arboretum makes Facebook an important digital touch point that complements its website, which serves as its hub for learning more about things to do there. Patrons can also sign up for an email newsletter that curates content as frequently as needed.
Questions for Brands
- Are you creating content that will engage your audience at a location level?
- Are you distributing that content where your customers are going to find it?
Other Brands to Examine
- Nordstrom, for its mastery of content on platforms such as Pinterest.
- Starbucks, for capitalizing on social spaces such as Facebook to generate awareness for its stores.
Finally, the arboretum makes itself easily findable by making content and basic data (such as its hours, address, and contact information) prominent in mobile and desktop searches – which is easier said than done. True, the arboretum needs to worry about managing data for a single location. But with so many events offered year-round, the organization must ensure that special hours are updated for different activities held at specific locations throughout the grounds. For businesses that operate multiple locations, updating hours to accommodate seasonal events such as holiday shopping can be challenging but rewarding, as noted in a recent blog post by Adam Dorfman.
For brick-and-mortar businesses, content and experiences, combined with accurate location data, are increasingly essential to combat the ever-present threat of merchants such as Amazon, which are expanding into physical retailing. Looking at non-obvious examples such as the Morton Arboretum can provide inspiration. To learn more how to energize your location marketing efforts, contact us. Meanwhile, get outside and enjoy the fall at your local arboretum.