THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
THE JOHN DEERE PAVILION: SELLING TOURISM, NOT TRACTORS
Den Gardner, Contributing Editor
Do you remember what Kurt Warner of the St. Louis Rams said when he was asked, "Now that you've won the Super Bowl, what are you gonna do now?" His answer was the obvious, "I'm going to the John Deere Pavilion!"
Well, maybe not. But the pavilion's overwhelming popularity is a testament to a great marketing scheme, a great historical name and a great area of the Midwest.
The pavilion opened in August of 1997 and is part of Moline's Riverfront Project Civic Renewal Program, which started in the early 1990s. With attendance already exceeding 550,000, Manager LuAnn Haydon is thrilled with the public's response to the facility.
"I'm in awe of achieving this success," Haydon says. "An important key to our success was that we had a clearly defined marketing plan. To a company never involved in tourism before, we weren't sure what would happen."
Entry to the pavilion is free. Tourists enjoy exhibits with vintage and modern-day equipment, interactive exhibits, a feature film titled "The Bounty," ag-theme murals created by artist Robin Moline and wrought-iron truss designs by sculptor John Medwedeff. All this in a 14,000 square foot, glass-enclosed structure with an additional 12,000-square- foot front patio used during warm seasons. Even after you eat at the Planted Earth restaurant and buy some souvenirs at the John Deere Store, you'll still consider the visit a bargain.
MARRYING MACHINERY & TOURISM
Let's face it; John Deere knows how to sell machinery. Tourism? Now that was entering the danger zone for the company. In the case of John Deere's new venture into the world of tourism, it was an ability to see that to make the pavilion a success, an agency with experience in tourism was needed to chart the course.
That agency was BVK/McDonald, Milwaukee, Wis. Haydon explains that Deere has a number of agencies that do a wonderful job of helping the company sell tractors, combines, planters, sprayers, lawn care, golf and other construction equipment. In this instance, it was selling a tourist attraction for the first time. Time for new blood.
"This was John Deere's first attachment to tourism," Haydon says. "We all know marketing is the key component to any business. You really need marketing when you're in the tourism business. BVK led us down the tourism path."
In a competitive situation, BVK's experience in tourism, which included work by a handful of employees for the state of Wisconsin's tourism group, ultimately won it the business. Jennifer Simmons, vice president and director of research and strategic development for the agency, says it was a natural to leverage the equity in the brand name John Deere to give this effort a boost out of the gate.
"The name John Deere is part of the heritage of America's heartland," Simmons says. "This man played a huge role in developing agriculture. We decided to build on the legacy of John Deere the person so people could feel not only what the company was, but also who John Deere was. That's why we chose the theme Where The Legend Lives On."
Simmons says, "John Deere clearly knows its audience. They know ag. We know tourism. By marrying the two together, this joint approach has worked."
Adds Haydon, "Our brand name speaks for itself. Anybody connected to the good earth knows what 'John Deere Green' means. We wanted to build a pavilion that would tie individuals back to farming. We know most of our visitors have been on our equipment at one time or another in their life. We want them to come here and see, feel, touch and climb into our products."
RESEARCH AND IMPLEMENTATION
Before the marketing plan was implemented, the agency did a tourism audit of the Quad Cities area. "The pavilion isn't the only attraction in the area," Simmons explains. We wanted to make sure we had an attraction that would help the tourism industry in the area."
Once the survey was completed and analyzed, the core market area was established. It was decided that in year one the focus would be an approximate 250-mile radius of the Quad Cities area. Year two was beyond that area to major cities in the Midwest. "It's been at a fever pitch since the day we opened," Haydon says.
The marketing plan includes trade show efforts as part of the Quad Cities' marketing plans to promote its area. "I sit on the board of the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau," Haydon says. "We travel to shows selling our property as well as the area."
Other natural audiences are John Deere dealers and their customers. "That's the true green people we go after," Haydon says. "That includes current customers as well as retired farmers and others who have purchased our equipment over the years." School groups also comprise a significant number of visitors to the pavilion.
To reach consumers, one major advertising effort is a four-color newspaper insert circulating to 1.2 million subscribers in major Midwest media. The single ag media in that group is Iowa Farmer Today. The rest of the media include daily newspapers in Chicago; Madison, Wis.; Milwaukee; Peoria, Ill.; Kansas City; Minneapolis and St. Louis. "The piece is used throughout the year in all our marketing efforts," Haydon says.
PR DRIVES EFFORTS
Through it all, however, public relations "drives our efforts," says Simmons. "From a strategic sense, once the idea of a corporate museum was conceived, we knew public relations would be used to attract tourists. Lots of major corporations have museums - Motorola, Hershey's Chocolate World, Ford, Coca-Cola and Kellogg's. What we had to do, mostly through PR, was transcend from ag equipment to tourism."
In the first year, Haydon estimated that the PR effort received in excess of $800,000 in comparable worth to advertising. And Wendy Artman, public relations account supervisor says, "Our main focus has always been on media relations - simply talking to reporters about the pavilion - what it is, who it attracts, and the many stories that we hear from guests day after day. It seems once we get the opportunity to talk to media, they are fascinated by the pavilion and by its success."
Specific tactics implemented since the pavilion's opening include:
*5K road race
*Street festival with booths and live music
*Displays of antique Deere equipment
*Address by Gov. Jim Edgar
*Actor playing John Deere and speaking of vision for future
*Video news release for national distribution.
FIRST YEAR MEDIA TACTICS
*Consumer media tours in Midwest
*Ag and regional travel media promoting the new pavilion.
SECOND YEAR MEDIA TACTICS
*Continuing media relations with ag and regional media
*Targeting category media such as collector magazines, retail trades to promote the store, general technology and computer media, women's magazines and school/learning magazines
*Targeting national dailies with success of John Deere Store in corporate museum setting as the angle
*Targeting motor coach media and RV and motor home travelers.
Currently, efforts include use of mat releases nationally to promote the pavilion, the launching of a website to provide virtual tours of the pavilion and continuing efforts at media, with special emphasis on family publications.
When you get through it all, Artman probably sums it up best: "We have been fortunate to have a great story to tell," she says. AM
Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.