A Case History of Territory Marketing: the Paradise Possible model

A Case History of Territory Marketing: the Paradise Possible model

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Introduction(1)*

Since its original conception in 1996, Paradise Possible has been continually expanding its content and applications, and adding new and more advanced functionality. Its original mission statement was: "to launch Le Marche worldwide via the Internet, by promoting its territory, its art treasures, its cultural heritage, its quality of life, its products and services to a global audience of consumers and potential investors."
Today, Paradise Possible (www.paradisepossible.com) is the main access point to Le Marche for visitors who wish to “reinvent their lives” in the Marche countryside, explore the region, build their own travel itineraries and discover special places in which to stay, or shop online for the quality products and services that the territory offers.
Over the same period, on the supply side, the original project has evolved into an integrated model of territory marketing, and thus a possible instrument for integrating and highlighting the strengths and sustainable advantages of the region, in a context of growing international (and inter-regional) competition between territories seeking to attract tourists and investments and promote their products.

An image for Le Marche

The project stemmed from the recognition that the Marche region was little or not at all known outside Italy. At the same time, from a communication point of view, the challenge was to create not only awareness but also an image of Le Marche that could both be attractive to an international audience and highlight the region's unique characteristics and strengths.
To this end, we identified the following set of attributes as the key to building a distinctive image and a unique competitive positioning for Le Marche, which could set it apart from its better-known competitors:

  • The extraordinary richness, density and variety of its natural, artistic, historical and cultural resources;
  • The diffusion of these resources throughout the territory, rather than being concentrated in a few major centres;
  • Quality of life, also widespread and high in all its many facets.

It is this richness and quality that pervade every corner of Le Marche, just there to be enjoyed, accessible to everyone, and in particular the magical combination of nature, culture and society offered by the region, that inspired the concept of Paradise Possible as a “quality brand” for a territory.
As a territory brand, Paradise Possible aimed to provide the region with a unique, irresistible and limitless positioning: a place at the same time desirable and accessible, a ‘paradise’ not for the few, a magical place to live, work, study or simply visit, and the source of quality products (if something comes from Le Marche, it must be good).

The model: a summary

A unique concept in the field of territory marketing, Paradise Possible is at the same time a territory brand for quality of life, an online guide and a provider of products and services for the global audience. The philosophy behind the Paradise Possible model is based on three key concepts which underpin all its applications:

  • Customer-driven applications, placing the visitor’s dreams and passions at the starting point of the process;
  • Integration between products and services offered and information about the territory;
  • Fulfilment-based applications, providing tools and processes that allow the customer/visitor effective access to the products/services on offer.

The model, illustrated in Figure 1, is composed of one territory database, accessible from any part of the site and shared by the various interactive applications, which are in turn interconnected.

Figure 1 – The Paradise Possible model

The common information layer consists of an integrated territory database made up of location records or ‘places’ (areas, towns and localities), interests or ‘passions’ (e.g. nature, art and history, theatre, sport and so on) and ‘resources’, the structure of which varies according to the specific application (e.g., historic buildings, works of art and events, accommodation facilities, products, producers and so on).
The applications developed by Paradise Possible to-date correspond to different ways of experiencing or ‘consuming’ the territory and its products and services, and are aimed at different target segments:

  • PropertyMarche Country Homes (1998) allows visitors to search for their ideal property based on their personal criteria, and provides assistance with purchasing and ‘making it all happen’ through a network of experts.
  • Travel & TourismPassions & Places (2002) offers an interactive, multi-thematic guide to the region where users can create their own itinerary based on their interests.
  • Accommodation - Where to Stay (2002) allows visitors to search for accommodation along their itinerary or in locations selected through other applications, with the possibility to request a booking online.
  • Food & Wine - Marche Food & Wine (2005) offers a guide to typical regional products, with the possibility for visitors to add local producers to their itineraries and make online purchases via The Shop.

The paragraphs that follow describe the rationale and implications for territory marketing of each of these applications.

Property: the dream of a country house

With the first release of Paradise Possible, 1998 saw the launch of its first application, aiming to promote life and living in Le Marche, and particularly in the Marche countryside (Marche Country Homes), along with an introduction to the region (Introducing Le Marche).
Using “homes” and the property sector as the starting point for promoting the territory, rather than following the traditional course of promoting nature, art, beaches and hotels, was not a conventional choice at the time, but over the years it has proved successful and certainly made its mark.
The challenge was to identify a first sector where we could apply one of our strengths to a corresponding, emerging interest among the public, and which at the same time would promote Le Marche and its territory as a whole.
The answer was right in front of us. On the one hand, there was huge international interest (particularly from England) in buying a country house in Italy, where Tuscany was becoming an increasingly restricted and elitist location in this regard. On the other hand, a huge wealth of abandoned farmhouses and historic villas – remnants of the rural history of Le Marche – were there for the taking, throughout the region, at considerably more affordable prices.
Starting from this intuition, we set out to make ‘living in Le Marche’ a dream, as the first and most complete expression of the ‘paradise possible’ idea. Through the ‘homes’ in Marche Country Homes, Paradise Possible started to promote Le Marche as a place to reinvent one’s life, and in particular the Marche countryside, where one can be in closer contact with nature, traditions, local communities, medieval villages and their hidden treasures; a place to discover, lesser known and ‘off the beaten track’.
We believed that by making living in Le Marche desirable and focussing on quality of life, these positive effects on the region’s image would spill over into everything the region had on offer for other kinds of “users” (i.e. tourists and consumers). The cases of nearby Tuscany and more distant California showed that this was possible.
Events following the launch revealed that our intuition had been correct. Paradise Possible’s PR message and activities hit the right spot, resonating with the British public at the time. Le Marche received an unprecedented level of coverage in the financial and general media: The Independent, Financial Times, Sunday Business and The Daily Telegraph were among the first to begin drawing readers’ attention to this beautiful and unknown area east of Tuscany. Articles were aimed at potential property buyers and investors, with Le Marche presented and advertised as the new top destination.
During the same period in 1999, Ryanair introduced daily flights to Ancona, rendering this paradise even more "possible" for English and American visitors. The dream of a country house contributed to launching and promoting Le Marche throughout the world, and provided one of the main reasons for many people to visit the area. This is proven by the boom in sales and restoration of rural properties over the past six years.
Within the region (as far as we have been able to observe through our visitors) this development also had the effect of opening up property investment in traditionally less popular areas, towards the hills and the mountains inland on one side and towards the south on the other. This has led to a rebalancing between these areas and those which were already well-known and relatively saturated, such as the central-northern coast, the Esino valley and the Urbino area. On the other hand, new concentrations have formed, driven by growth in tourism and property investment, with phenomena such as the ‘anglicization’ of the hilly area towards the Sibylline Mountains (so called “Marcheshire”).
The validity of this initial choice from a broader territory marketing perspective has been confirmed by the results of these past seven years. In particular, in terms of mutual relationship and synergies between homebuying (actual and ‘desired’), tourism and territory, we can draw the following conclusions:

  • Promoting ‘life and living’ in Le Marche also promotes its overall image in terms of ‘quality of life’ in its fullest meaning. This in turn reflects positively on the appeal of everything the region has on offer to the wider audience of tourists and consumers as well.
  • The dream of a country house represents a strong pull on the international audience and a motive for travelling to and learning about the territory, which often translates into a series of family visits across the region, making use of existing accommodation and leisure facilities throughout the year, without seasonality peaks.
  • Property sales have multiplying effects both on tourism and on raising awareness and the profile of Le Marche. A country home becomes a centre of attraction for friends and relatives, which in turns leads to people spreading the word and imitation.
  • Homebuying and search for country properties tends to favour areas mostly off the beaten track for general tourism, thus opening up traffic opportunities for new accommodation facilities across less serviced areas.
  • An ever-increasing number of new homeowners intend to provide accommodation services themselves, which in turn will remedy the lack of accommodation on offer in certain areas. These facilities in turn generate employment and income opportunities in tourism and home-related sectors in traditionally more disadvantaged zones.

Tourism and Accommodation: a traveller's paradise

On entering the tourism sector in 2002, Paradise Possible aimed to turn the traditional model of territory promotion on its head by placing at the centre of the process the visitor and his interests. Traveller's Paradise enables visitors to plan their own itineraries, choose and book their ideal holiday in their ideal place, all according to their own interests and passions.
Since the centrality of demand is one of the key points of this model, it is worth explaining the difference between the two approaches.
The traditional approach, centred on supply, tends to promote “destinations” i.e. sites, areas or accommodation facilities, within which the tourist/visitor is presented with a range of local attractions and amenities (what we call “resources”) to choose from for his tour.
On the contrary, in the Paradise Possible model, centred on demand, “destinations” are the final result of the search, not the starting point. Emulating the logical process of a visitor who does not yet know the region, the search starts from his interests (for example nature, art and history, theatre, food and wine, sport etc.) and generates a list of “resources” or “events” relevant to the selected interests, and from there, indirectly, the towns and places that offer them. The resources and events selected by the visitor from among those on offer will in turn determine the “destinations” in his personal itinerary.
More generally, it should be noted that in this model, it’s the resources and events that “promote” the respective towns as destinations in a thematic itinerary, and not vice-versa.
The model goes further, allowing the visitor to select the accommodation facility in which to stay. In this case too, compared to the traditional approach which requires choosing the location first – a choice where the options are likely to be unknown to the first-time tourist - Paradise Possible applies automatically the visitor’s current itinerary and generates a list of accommodation facilities ‘serving’ the places along the route. The visitor can then further refine his own selection, on the basis of personal criteria such as holiday style and facilities required.
It should be noted how the model allows visitors to plan their journey and their stay without the need of knowing the names of the towns and the places, but simply by entering their interests, the type of holiday they want and their wish list in terms of accommodation.
From a territory marketing perspective and to the specific aim of promoting tourism in Le Marche, it is our view that the Paradise Possible model can help harness those particular strengths of the region which, as stated above, provide a sustainable competitive advantage compared to alternative destinations: the extraordinary wealth, density and variety of natural, artistic, historical and cultural resources in a small territory and the widespread nature of these resources.
On the first point, it is important to note that this uniqueness and competitive advantage exist at a regional level, not necessarily at a micro-territory one: Le Marche is a superior destination because it offers so much for every interest in a relatively small area, where everything is within easy reach, and one doesn’t need to travel long distances to go from one treasure to another.
Each town or micro-area, if considered in isolation and outside of the regional umbrella, must compete against an infinitely bigger number of competitors and with narrower scope for differentiation. In other words, like a mosaic, the region - as the territory of reference and not simply an aggregation of micro-territories - multiplies the attractiveness of the single local entities of which it consists. In this light, the individual destinations are not competing but complementary.
Paradise Possible emphasizes this competitive advantage of the region by mirroring the structure and contents of what’s on offer, and making it accessible to demand through the model described above, and in particular:

  • making Le Marche the territory-destination of reference (the "paradise”) and the entry point for the visitor;
  • outlining the countless interests which the visitor can pursue in Le Marche, and making the choice of such interests the starting point for exploring the region on-line and building a personal itinerary;
  • reclassifying and translating the richness of the region’s supply into a database of resources and events, each with links both to the places in which they are found and to the interests system;
  • integrating the interests, locations and resources sub-systems into a single and unified container, thus giving visitors access to the variety and wealth of the whole supply and allowing them to build optimised itineraries at a regional level, and at the same time identify, discover and select individual local destinations.

The second point of differentiation – the diffusion of resources across the territory – also finds in the Paradise Possible model an ideal vehicle for promotion, whereby it’s the resources which are relevant to the visitor’s interests that will determine his ideal itinerary, and only indirectly their locations.
A logical consequence of this model is that - at least when it comes to the ‘intelligent tourism’ segment - the geographical distribution of tourist traffic in the long term should reflect the diffusion (or ‘dispersion’) of resources, with a higher concentration in those areas which are more relevant to the interests of a wider proportion of the audience.
One positive side effect of the above process is that the progressive redistribution of traffic should relieve pressure on traditional tourist destinations (coastal areas and major cities) and be redirected towards the rural and mountain areas, resulting in the revaluation and rediscovery of centres traditionally defined as “minor”. In this regard, it should be noted that the notion of “minor centre” does not exist in the Paradise Possible model: any location can be significant for a visitor - and thus become a ‘major centre’ for him - if it offers a resource which is highly relevant to his interests.
Another positive side effect is that, according to the logic of the model, there should be a correspondence between the diffusion of resources (and consequently the predictable trend towards a greater dispersion of tourist traffic) and an equally ‘diffuse’ demand for accommodation, in responde to which the creation of a suitable supply (agritourism resorts, country houses and B&Bs) should be encouraged.

Food & Wine: the flavours of a region

Food and wine, as a specific interest of the consumer/visitor, is a pervasive element of the experience of a territory. The passion for good food and typical cuisine is spreading to increasingly wider audiences (especially in the United Kingdom and Central-Northern Europe) and customers have ever higher expectations in terms of quality and the possibility of discovering new flavours and local specialities.
Also in this popular and growing field of interest, Le Marche has specific strengths such as the quality of its products and cuisine everywhere across the region, the variety of local specialities, and last but not least, the popularity of organic farming. Journeys and trips to Le Marche can be, and often are, focussed on this aspect.
The Marche Food & Wine section allows food and wine enthusiasts to expand their interest in typical regional produce. Gourmet travellers can find out where to taste or buy products and can add these spots to their personal itinerary. Those who have already been to Le Marche (and global consumers in general) can select the best products and producers, shop online and recreate their experience of Marche flavours and cuisine at home.
In an integrated territory-marketing strategy, where post-trip communication and, more widely, activities aimed at creating customer/tourist loyalty are untapped areas or left to random, we believe that online shopping for typical products from Le Marche offers a considerable opportunity. On the loyalty side, the positive effects of extending the customer’s satisfactory experience will impact their eagerness to return. On the interpersonal communication side, online purchases will in turn create opportunities for ‘tasting’ sessions among friends and in the social life of the customer, thus helping to diffuse the products and flavours of Le Marche around the world and – with them - also the awareness and image of the region.

Macro and micro-territories: implications of the model for a regional communication strategy.

The model proposed by Paradise Possible has numerous implications for a wider and more coherent communication strategy for the region and can, by contrast, offer a key to explain the mystery of the “unknown Marche”.
Instead of concentrating efforts and investments on regional-scale initiatives that could launch Le Marche worldwide as a ‘universe’ containing and composed of a myriad of natural wonders and historical and artistic gems, our opinion is that too often in the past communication and promotion have focussed on individual locations, with no connection among the several, fragmented initiatives, nor common elements that could bring coherence and unity to the message.
This is a losing strategy in a scenario of international competition among alternative destinations, and in the primary objective of creating worldwide awareness and a unique, strong image for Le Marche. This is for two reasons:

  • Because, as stated above, each area or portion of the territory or resource or event, if taken in isolation, is vulnerable to competition. The region, as the macro-territory encompassing all that richness and diversity, is infinitely stronger;
  • Because an international communication strategy - with limited resources available for generating widespread awareness – needs to focus on one name (Le Marche) to be remembered and associated with the many different things it has to offer, not unlike a brand strategy in a business context. Trying to create knowledge of individual micro-territories and resources, without yet having built a strong awareness and image at regional level, can only prove an expensive and ineffective exercise.

On the other hand, the individual components, if promoted in a coherent manner within the regional framework, can in turn add real evidence and strength to the region’s appeal and image with a catalogue of irresistible propositions for a wide range of interests.

Concluding remarks

Paradise Possible, with its project philosophy, its applications and editorial strategy, is an attempt to find a new way to deal with the challenge of creating an awareness and image for the region, by emphasising its strengths as a whole, and at the same time promoting the territory’s individual components, by analyzing in depth and revealing to the global audience the best that the region can offer in all areas.
For the purpose of a winning territory marketing strategy, the model clearly indicates the need for a unified and integrated approach to communication at regional level, overcoming the tendency towards sectorialisation, fragmentation of local promotional initiatives and internal competition between micro-territories within the region.
Paradise Possible provides a tool for achieving this integration. All that is required is the political willingness to make it happen and the involvement of public and private bodies holding the control of - or the responsibility for - micro-territories or resources to be promoted. This would create a network with huge potential, to talk with one voice, for the wider project of raising the profile of Le Marche in the world.

Notes

*Additional notes to the English translation (September 2012)
This article was originally released in June 2006 by AgriRegioniEuropa, an agricultural policy and economics review of the Associazione Alessandro Bartola, Universita’ Politecnica delle Marche (Ancona University). The translation has retained the references of the original text, without updates related to subsequent events.
(1) Founded in 1996 by Giuliano Gnagnatti and Grazia Grazi as a territory marketing initiative to promote Le Marche worldwide, Paradise Possible (www.paradisepossible.com) is an interactive multi-application guide and an online service network of Liberation Ventures Ltd. Its Italian subsidiary, Liberation Marche Srl, is in charge of the editorial and network services for Italy. Paradise Possible is a registered trademark in Europe and the United States.

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