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Pow wow marketing 101

In American Indian culture, the pow wow has long stood as a way to celebrate Native customs.

If these events are well-attended, dancers feel a greater sense of appreciation, tribal members feel honored and vendors stand to make more profit. If these events have a low turnout the collective self-esteem of the tribe may suffer, vendors may have difficulty making ends meet and the outside public cannot benefit from the richness of learning about American Indian culture.

But just how does a tribe get more people to their pow wows? The answer is marketing.

Such a corporate sounding word might strike fear in many pow wow organizers who have for a long time leaned on old fashioned techniques like word of mouth or flyers posted at the local recreation center.

These techniques still work and should not be discounted, however, in today’s culture of technology, social media and the Internet, marketing techniques such as printing flyers and hanging a few signs with arrows pointing to your latest pow wow are often lacking – they just need a little more support.

The great news is that many of the most up to date ways of getting the message out to a receptive public are free. Welcome to the world of social media marketing.

Craig Cooke is the CEO of Rhythm Interactive, a marketing and online advertising agency that helps companies leverage the digital domain to attract new clients, build brands and enhance customer relationships. Cooke, a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe is a recipient of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s 40 Under 40 Award. He brings more than 18 years of interactive, marketing and management experience to his company.

Cooke knows the importance of social media for any event or organization looking to get the attention of the public. “Social media is an excellent channel to utilize for organizations with little or no budget. The biggest investment with social media is time. An amazing aspect with this channel is being able to deliver messages to a large number of people for free. If a small budget does exist, e-mail is still a great channel. It doesn’t have the appeal that social media does right now since it’s been around for so long, but I consider it a staple item in the overall marketing mix.”

Not wanting to exclude those unfamiliar with social media, Cooke explained some options.

“There are so many options when it comes to social media but let’s cover the big ones. A Facebook fan/brand page can be setup to represent your organization. From here you can invite people to become ‘fans’ of the page. It’s actually a collection of pages; the nomenclature Facebook uses can be confusing at times. There are also Facebook groups but fan pages are more flexible and will allow you to message a greater number of people. As you build up fans, you can post to your wall and send group messages, all for free.

Photo by Vincent Schilling In today’s culture of technology, social media and the Internet, marketing techniques such as printing flyers and hanging a few signs with arrows pointing to a pow wow are often lacking – they just need a little more support.

“Twitter is another big one. It is the fastest growing social media site today. A Twitter page is easy to setup and it just takes time and effort to build up followers. But the same principle applies as Facebook. Once you start getting a lot of followers, you can post updates to reach your followers for free.”

Cooke warns that only pertinent messages should apply.

“One important thing to remember when using these channels is to provide value. Do not message people about how it’s 9 a.m. and you are sipping coffee with the team. People are busy and don’t have time for trivial matters like that. Post messages that discuss schedules (such as when certain performers or VIPS are scheduled to appear, etc.) or other information that is actually useful to someone.”

Another option tribal organizations can utilize is LinkedIn, a business friendly social media tool. Though only individuals can join, members can join groups, post events and conduct research in the Web site’s vast network.

With everything considered it is not to say a budget of any sort is to be discounted. According to Cooke, an effective way of driving traffic to tribal organizations is a combination of orchestrated direct mail and e-mail campaigns.

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“I love the one-two punch of direct mail and e-mail. Small tribal organizations should count on direct mail as a strong customer acquisition tool that will motivate people to sign up for their e-mail list. E-mail then can be used as an excellent customer retention tool.”

Cooke suggested as budgets get bigger, so should the professional level of the marketing approach.

“With large tribal organizations, a budget of some sort should exist. I recommend targeted direct mail (that) contains a call-to-action. For example, (a postcard that reads) ‘Go to our Web site at www. ... and sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive free admission to our pow wow.’ The direct mail piece can also list the social media sites the tribe has a presence on.

“Print display advertising in local papers and relevant publications should also contain similar messaging. The aim is to drive a higher level of consumer engagement, raising top-of-mind awareness and creating a higher propensity for consumers to take action.”

Cooke said as budgets continue to rise, higher end mail pieces and more sophisticated methods of direct mail marketing can specifically target desirable customer segments using variable data through the use of digital printing.

In other words, individually designed mail pieces distinct to each and every customer can be created with the use of digital printing techniques. Additionally, mail recipients can receive mail pieces with a personalized Web site called a PURL. When potential guests go to this personalized Web site, they find a message online geared directly to that customer.

For tribal entities that may have casinos on their reservations and want to turn pow wow visitors into casino attendees, Cooke suggested tying in a variety of casino promotions.

“For example, pow wow ticket stubs can indicate that they can be redeemed at one of the dining facilities at the casino for a free appetizer or for a promotional giveaway item that can be picked up at the casino gift shop. People love free and if they are in close proximity to free stuff, many will act on it.”

With the technological marketing front growing, Cooke believes online video is also a powerful tactic to add to a tribe’s public relations efforts and that mobile phone marketing will be a channel that is up and coming.

The biggest take away according to Cooke, is an integration of all of the above listed efforts.

Dante Desiderio is the economic development policy specialist for the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C. As an official who works diligently with issues that affect a tribe’s ability to grow its local economy, to include cultural tourism and economic development, his perspective on correctly marketing a pow wow also carries significant weight.

He said since many tribes exist in rural or remote areas, drawing traffic may sometimes be challenging, but the cultural perspective of a pow wow can have certain advantages to include monetary gains. Making stronger efforts to gain attendees could pay off exponentially.

“There is a new impetus for tourism based on eco- and cultural tourism. It’s proven that the spend rate for eco- and cultural tourism is almost three times the regular tourism rate.

“It is a whole different audience and it is a more upscale consumer that you are dealing with. The spend rate is a lot higher. And they tend to spend more time because they are there to learn instead of doing a superficial visit.”

Desiderio said tribes without a budget need to be creative. He said tribes could approach local radio stations in order to make a community announcement. If they cannot afford much more than signs, “make sure they are in the right place.”

Additionally, Desiderio suggested reaching out to an untapped demographic. “What we lack are international visitors. We lack a central source to pull that together so that if someone from Germany is coming over, they would want to attend. But what type of resource do we have in order to appeal to those visitors who are much more interested in attending that cultural experience?”

Perhaps Desiderio’s point is worth investigating. Once again, it is worth noting that social media has very few international boundaries. Contacting travelers is a few mouse clicks away.