The Transformative Power of Traveling With Pride

To mark the beginning of Pride Month, all of us at Madden want to reaffirm our commitments to the LGBTQIA+ community and to fostering safe and inclusive experiences for all travelers.

Connecting people across places

Our tagline is “connecting people to places,” and we believe that, by helping visitors to discover and explore destinations, we are also doing the important work of building relationships between people and different ways of life. To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

Spotlighting LGBTQIA+ travel stories 365 days a year

At Madden, we don’t just work to inspire empathy and bridge communities one month out of the year. We work closely with our clients to share the unique and diverse experiences of the members of their communities year-round through representative storytelling and the development of inclusive creative assets. Centering LGBTQIA+ voices allows us to credibly market destinations to travelers who might have concerns about visiting a new destination. 

As discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals continues to rise, it’s especially important today for LGBTQIA+ travelers to know where they can travel and find friendly environments and welcoming leisure experiences. LGBTQIA+ travelers have legitimate concerns about avoiding risks while traveling. Recently, many of the top travel and hospitality brands publicly opposed state laws. International travel can be especially risky for LGBTQIA+ individuals. These factors are on top of the existing societal challenges some LGBTQIA+ individuals experience

By highlighting welcoming environments for LGBTQIA+ travelers, we knock down barriers to visitation and harmful monolithic perceptions of destinations. Representation and recognition are powerful tools for DMOs and activists alike. We’re proud of the work that we’ve done to amplify LGBTQIA+ stories in Buffalo, Oakland, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, and Palm Springs, and we look forward to our upcoming promoting LGBTQIA+ stories for destinations across the country.

Being real about the value of, and challenges to, diversity

We believe that helping destinations celebrate their LGBTQIA+ partners, residents, and visitors is not just the right thing to do, but a necessary thing to do. We understand, however, that destinations might be experiencing pressure from inside their communities to shy away from or ignore LGBTQIA+ stories and audiences. In our experience, these pressures come from people motivated to avoid backlash from a loud minority that oppose LGBTQIA+ representation rather than antipathy towards LGBTQIA+ folks.   

When faced with situations like this, we reiterate our belief that travel is for everyone and that destinations should be confident in their convictions and implement LGBTQIA+ initiatives from a posture of integrity because LGBTQIA+ representation matters to consumers. 

In fact, there is a huge gap in advertising that DMOs can fill. According to a 2021 Nielsen survey, only 1% of ads included LGBTQIA+ representation outside of Pride Month. And this is an advertising gap that consumers will reward brands for filling. Community Insights Marketing reported that 71% of LGBTQ community members are more likely to purchase from a brand that does outreach and advertises to the LGBTQ community, and a survey from GLAAD, an LGBTQIA+ media advocacy organization, found that 77% of non-LGBTQ people feel more positively toward brands that include LGBTQIA+ people in their advertisements.

These feelings are especially true for younger consumers. According to consumer insights giant MRI-Simmons, Millennials and Zoomers prioritize destinations, products, and services that embody the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion over those that are not representative or inclusive. 

Beyond the business opportunity for DMOs that consumer demand for LGBTQIA+ representation signals, we encourage all our clients to promote LGBTQIA+ stories because representative storytelling is one of Madden’s core values. For us, it’s important that we work with clients that align with our values, especially diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).  

Expanding workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts

While we’re expanding our work with inclusive destinations, we’re also leveling up our company DEI initiatives, and we welcome our partners to do the same. We founded an LGBTQIA+ employee resource group this year, which meets monthly to discuss relevant issues and lead workplace discussions on topics such as Pride planning, pinkwashing, and upcoming staff training. We’ve also been consulting with experts in the LGBTQIA+ travel space to guide how we balance our commitments to travelers and destinations in a climate of LGBTQIA+ travel advisories and legislative battles.

Taking Pride outside

As we get ready to promote events around the country this Pride season, let’s remember the profound opportunity that we have in the tourism industry to connect people to places and one another year-round. To say that there’s never resistance to elevating LGBTQIA+ voices would be disingenuous, but we are firm believers that these difficult conversations are necessary to build empathy and extend our DEI efforts beyond the walls of our individual organizations. As Twain also said, “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth.”

There are numerous resources available for those looking to support the LGBTQIA+ community, including resource lists for LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies, crisis support for LGBTQIA+ youth, and LGBTQIA+-focused travel guides.

Making the Most of Your First-Party Data

We all know how important it is to gather first-party data. That is the information a business collects directly from its audience, customers, or social media followers. With privacy regulations continuing to tighten across many platforms, first-party data is becoming even more vital — meaning DMOs should have a set tactic in place to build up their first-party data collection. That tactic could be promoting a new visitor guide, seasonal gated content, or sweepstakes signups. But it’s not enough just to gather the data, you need a plan for what to do with those leads, which is why email marketing is more important than ever.

Email marketing falls within your owned channels, so you have more freedom and oversight into what, when, and how communication and information are being delivered. As DMOs are shuffling their many “to-do’s,” oftentimes a specific focus on email and marketing automation falls to the wayside. So when it comes to email and navigating your new-found data, here are some things to keep in mind:

Platform capabilities

There are a lot of well-known players in the email and marketing automation space. DMOs must understand what capabilities they want from an email marketing platform and what they can manage. Questions you’ll want to ask yourself before determining which platform is right for you or to better understand your current tools include: 

  • Number of Sends — How much or how often do you plan on communicating with your subscribers and how many subscribers do you expect? Furthermore, make sure you plan for the future and not just where you’re at currently.
  • Integrations — How are you going to add leads to your database? Integration options can be a key way to easily move leads around automatically. Does your platform offer an open API and developer resources?
  • Segmentation — Do you want to be able to segment your lists, for example by interests or location? If you plan to segment, you’ll need to make sure you have a reason for the segmentation and that you’re using this information in a way that helps the user by sending them content geared specifically toward their particular segmentation, such as interests or location.

Understanding your audience

Speaking of segmenting…understanding who you’re talking to in your emails is key. Just as you’re tailoring your messaging for prospecting versus remarketing or behavior audience versus geotargeting, you want to do the same thing for your email. 

Consider how you want to segment your audience:

  • Should you segment your audience into similar pillars as your marketing?
  • Do you need to segment your audience based on geography, and will the information you send consumers adjust based on geography?
  • Think about the time of year they’re traveling and how that should impact the content you’re creating.

Audit your form

Your email marketing plan starts with your data-collection form. When collecting first-party data, it’s not enough to simply have a signup form to gather information. You need to think critically about the information you’re asking for on the form, as well as how you will use that data. You must have a specific use for every piece of information that you are requesting on the form. For example, if you’re asking users if they’re interested in sustainable travel, but you don’t have any information or content to share with them, don’t ask. Furthermore, keeping your forms simple, requiring only the necessary information, will reduce the barrier to form submission. Where can you implement condition logic for personalization or decrease the form length?

Also, think about where your form is placed on the site. For DMOs without any kind of booking integration on their site, email signup is a big conversion. Here are some points to consider when plugging your form across the site:

  • Make sure your form is easy to find. People don’t want to scroll through a mega drop-down menu to find out how to learn more about your destination.
  • Place your form in a consistent place across the website, but also find other opportunities to promote it throughout your site.
  • If you’re thinking about a pop-up or a larger area to support signups, don’t put them at the top of your page. If you’re giving your signups more real estate, we say great! But if it’s one of the first things a user sees on your site, that’s like asking someone if they want kids on a first date. Slow down, and let them get to know you first. Consider the scroll depth of placing a website block lower down on the page after your user is more engaged — it can be placed above the fold if done well.

List hygiene

When it comes to email list hygiene, it really is as simple as quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter if you have a list of 100,000 subscribers if they’re not opening or connecting with your content. We recommend you have a process to validate those leads that come in. Also, within your planning, try to have a workflow set up to reconnect with those subscribers who are becoming less and less engaged with your emails. Through that process, you can start to weed out the unengaged and provide tailored messaging to those who are still interested.

You can’t do it all

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you really can’t do it all. It’s more important to identify what you want to do that you feel you can commit to and do it well. Maybe you can only commit to a monthly email. Okay, take time to figure out what you’re going to do and provide yourself the time and resources to execute it (If you need help, I know some people!). Maybe you want something set up that focuses on an onboarding flow to connect with those leads while they’re hot. You’ll spend a larger amount of time upfront to get your emails, segmentation, and workflows in place, but you won’t spend as much time managing it monthly. As we all know, things are always changing, so we encourage you to re-evaluate your email marketing tactics every few months, but with a solid plan already in place, you’ll likely be making only minor tweaks.  

Code Switching

Everyday, we choose what we want to show or cover up based on our level of comfort and safety. For neurodivergent people, “masking” is a way to imitate in order to accommodate others. There’s other words that get thrown out to describe this behavior, but whether it’s called “code switching” or “covering” or “assimilating” it’s just people trying to navigate a world that’s not always safe or comfortable. To those who feel they have to hide their true selves, it can be exhausting.

What is Code Switching?

Code switching by definition is: “The use of one dialect, register, accent, or language variety over another, depending on cultural context, to project a specific identity.”

Maybe a more pertinent definition for this article comes from Harvard Business Review: “Code Switching is adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities.”

There’s been a lot of talk about this lately, so you might be thinking “I don’t know if I agree with all this” but you can let down your guard. This blog is just to show that code switching exists, explain why it can affect performance, and to give you some ideas to encourage people that may feel out of the conversation to join in.

At the Olympics in 2016, Barack Obama went viral for giving a standard handshake to an assistant coach and then immediately giving a full embrace to Kevin Durant, after USA Basketball won the gold medal.

Why did Barack Obama change the way he greeted Kevin Durant from handshake to “man-hug”? It’s obvious that his level of comfort was different with KD. He allowed himself to share a more genuine moment because he felt secure that both parties were okay with it.

This is all normal and not always negative. I speak to my nephew differently than my father. Who’s getting the REAL me? Am I being fake? No. Neither is getting every facet of my personality at once (and honestly, who would want that?). We all navigate the world, trying to adjust for perceived differences. Communicating our thoughts through these differences allows us to understand and empathize with each other. We do this mostly subconsciously, just as members of an orchestra are acutely aware of each other’s tempo, volume, pitch, etc. At the same time, we mute out things that are discordant, things we don’t think will be understood or accepted by the listener. 

Why do we do it?

It’s easy to be comfortable when you’re surrounded by your inner circle. Whether you share the same experiences (friends, coworkers) or a shared background (the same hometown, the same university, the same profession, the same ethnicity), some commonalities instill trust. 

Contrast that with how it feels to be a “visitor”. You could be in another city, state or country. You have the feeling that no one is looking out for you or rooting for your success. You’re more dependent on people to find your way around. If something bad happens, you can’t be confident you’ll get the benefit of the doubt.


For example, you’ve been invited to Thanksgiving Dinner for the first time by a family you don’t know very well. Would you tell them an off-color joke? Would you root against their team during the football game? Of course you wouldn’t. You just try to fit in. You show a vanilla version of yourself. Being a vanilla version of yourself is better than giving strangers the wrong impression.

Similarly, when confronted with a room full of people, we all examine the situation carefully before we decide who we’re going to talk to or what we might say to them. Sometimes it takes another person to make us feel more welcome.

Last year, a few coworkers and I went on a tour of a partner DMO to meet with clients. One of the days we were there, we scheduled a meeting at a yacht club. I entered that room with trepidation since I’d never been within a mile of a yacht club. The closest thing I could imagine was a scene from the movie Caddyshack—rich guys in captain’s caps eating caviar and talking about vacationing in The Hamptons.

As soon as the conference room door was opened, I immediately felt uncomfortable. For some reason, I thought it’d be appropriate to wear a Hawaiian shirt. Of course, when we got there everyone else was in a jacket and tie. Sticking out like a sore thumb, I hid in a corner and was counting the seconds before we could leave. As I waited there, a guy I had never seen before immediately started walking toward me from the opposite side of the room. When he got to me, he extended his hand and said: 

“Man, I’m glad to see you here! I thought I was the only one of ‘us’ in here.”

I immediately felt more at ease…

He told me his name was Walter. I found out later that he’s the chief of police in his town. Even though, on the surface, we had very little in common, at that moment, he felt like he had more in common with me than any of the other people in that room.
I thought to myself: 
He’s Black, I’m Asian.
He’s Texan, I’m not.
He’s dressed appropriately, I’m not.
He knows everyone there, I know no one.

But, despite these differences, just by seeing each other, we felt a little more like it was okay to be there and to be ourselves. I thought it’s crazy that one of the highest ranking officers in the city felt strongly enough to single me out because, he thought, by being a minority, I was the closest person to him in a room full of people. Either that, or he saw I was stressed out and knew he could help. Either way, it worked!

Code switching at work

You might be able to pass as a simpler version of yourself most of the time, the problem is feeling like you have to be a vanilla version of yourself at work. For most people, to excel at work, it takes everything you have. Trying to perform while maintaining a facade can make this impossible. Code switching at work manifests itself in a lot of different ways and some are hard to recognize. 

Here are some examples:

  • Women changing their tone or cracking lewd jokes to be part of a “boys club.”
  • People of color changing their natural hairstyles to “look more corporate” or comply with white-centered dress codes.
  • Foreign language speakers trying to reduce their accent or not feeling comfortable speaking to one another in public.
  • Non-binary individuals wearing traditional-gendered clothing in the office.

Personally, when I feel out of place, I find myself:

  • Walking around smiling no matter how I feel.
  • Being silent when I have STRONG OPINIONS. 
  • Giving deference when I actually don’t agree (being a “yes person”).

Imposter Syndrome

Code switching promotes the attitude of “I’m just lucky to be here.” In other words, you’re here at someone else’s expense or by some mistake. Instead of being confident you can take the next step or contribute a surprising idea or expose a flaw in an existing process, you stay silent.


“Covering” is closely related to code switching. Covering is hiding some aspect of yourself because you’re afraid it will affect how others feel about you. Deloitte conducted a survey of over 3000 diverse employees.
They found: 

  • 61% of participants admit to “covering” a part of who they are at the workplace.
  • (79% of black people, 67% of women of color, 66% of women, 63% of LatinX) regularly hide some aspect of their identity at work.
  • 53% believe it was EXPECTED BY LEADERSHIP to cover up their identity.

Jane Elliot

As a schoolteacher, Jane Elliott became known for her “Blue eyes vs. Brown eyes” exercise, which she first conducted with her third-grade class on April 5, 1968 (the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.). She did this to show how unfair and arbitrary racial prejudice is.

When explaining the benefits of showing our whole selves, she said, “We don’t need a melting pot…we need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl you put in different things. You want them to maintain their identity. You appreciate the differences.”

A lot of people ask, “Why can’t everyone just learn to be “professional?”. We are taught that we should strive to be a society or a workplace where everyone is the same. I would counter that by asking, “What do we lose when we tell people if you can’t be the same as everyone else you aren’t good enough?”.

Of course, this doesn’t mean there are NO rules to communicating at work. Obviously, there are things that you might be comfortable saying to your closest friends that aren’t suitable for work. But a good idea is a good idea no matter how it’s expressed. We’d have more participation if we prioritize IDEAS over differences in style or vocabulary.

What can you do to encourage people to contribute?

Think about ways to make EVERYONE feel respected and safe. This will be different in different situations, but it means to:

  • Aim for inclusion: Listen for signals that someone is uncomfortable speaking up. Sometimes you can sense frustration if you are aware of the problem. Sometimes the person might WANT advice on how to speak at work (or speaking up in general), other times you might have to reach out to them (ask them their opinion until they feel it’s ok). Give people “room” to contribute (don’t talk over them) and ENCOURAGE people to speak up.
  • Be an example: Exemplify vulnerability and participation. Show that asking questions and being vocal is a strength. Feel free to speak in a way that’s natural to YOU. Be conscious that “business speak” is dynamic and doesn’t have to be the same for everyone.
  • Reach out: Create safe places where we openly talk about tough topics for underrepresented people. This is something we’re doing at Madden Media with our Employee Resource Groups.

When we share more of ourselves, we benefit from everyone’s unique experiences. Here are some details about me:

  • I’m the youngest of 7 kids.
  • I was in choir all four years of high school. 
  • I love gardening, and The Golden Girls. 
  • Now that I’m 50, my favorite exercise is riding my bike around town.

Hearing details about someone’s life can surprise you, but it shouldn’t. Everyone’s life is a tangle of beliefs, burdens, trauma, and dreams that came about from a hundred different experiences, influences, and circumstances. 

So, imagine how things would change if everyone felt secure to contribute from their own experiences, fighting for their own ideas, knowing they are respected for their unique contributions, knowing their opinions are taken seriously, being encouraged to admit when they need help.

If more people felt free to contribute EVERY ASPECT of their personal experience, not only would that benefit the company, EVERYONE would feel a part of that success.

National Travel and Tourism Week 2023: Madden Moves Travel Forward

This year’s National Travel and Tourism Week theme is “Travel Forward.” This is appropriate, as we want to mark this week by committing efforts to move the travel industry forward because of the macro-level impact tourism has positively impacting countries, regions, states, cities, towns, and everything in between.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, direct travel spending totaled $1.2 trillion in 2022—powering communities and livelihoods across the country—and the industry supports a total of 15 million American jobs. Travel is an essential economic engine for communities nationwide. 


Over the pandemic, many communities across the world were negatively impacted when visitors stopped coming. Local residents were given an unfortunate, but eye-opening experience. Their quality of life fell. Their favorite “date night” restaurant transitioned to exclusively take out, the museum where they took their kids on the weekend closed, and the bar where they hung out with friends was forced to close. They realized residents aren’t enough to sustain a local economy; they realized the power of tourism, and how it moves their community forward.


Now, as travel rebounds, there is much to be thankful for, and much to be watchful for as well. At Madden Media, because we work exclusively within the travel and tourism industry, we are doing this daily on behalf of our over 200 DMO clients (every week feels like National Travel and Tourism Week for us!). As the U.S. Travel Association and destinations across the country celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week, we want to take a few moments to share the three key ways we are moving travel forward.

  • Generating a collective impact for client communities by boosting their local economy
  • Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion through representative storytelling
  • Advocating for sustainability through destination stewardships


The reason we focus on the travel and tourism industry is because when it’s done right it’s the perfect balance of style and substance. More than just clicks and impressions, our work with DMOs generates a collective impact in communities. Tourism is an economic engine, boosting local economies by bringing outside dollars into our DMO clients’ states, counties, cities, and towns. Hotel and lodging tax revenue can fund schools and parks along with emergency services and other vital needs. Paychecks from hospitality jobs feed families. As a destination marketing agency, we do much more than advertising; we help destinations enrich their local communities and improve their residents’ quality of life.

Take for example the “Beyond Words” campaign we created with Visit Idaho. By showcasing the destination and attempting to create an emotional connection with travelers, we inspired families, outdoor enthusiasts, road-trippers and travel buffs to travel to Idaho—increasing tax revenue, growing lodging, and stimulating economic activity. 

Overall, the campaign generated a 58% year-over-year increase in hotel revenue per available room and a 40% year-over-year increase in bed tax revenue. In Winter FY23 alone, the campaign generated $4.7M in credit card spending according to a Net Economic Impact report with one of Visit Idaho’s data partners.


Along with generating a positive economic impact, we need to ensure the work we do with DMO clients is contributing to a positive social impact. Travel is for everyone. To move our industry forward, we must promote destinations as places we all can live, work, and explore. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”  Celebrating diversity and promoting inclusivity are vital if the travel industry is going to truly move forward. It’s not just the right thing to do—it matters to travelers. The rising generation is more diverse than its predecessors, and Millennials and Gen Z prioritize destinations that embody equity, diversity, and inclusion values over destinations that don’t. 

In our work with Discover Atlanta, we demonstrated the power of representative storytelling to highlight the destination’s diverse voices. Madden worked with local Black content creators to write inspiring, personal stories of their favorite places to spend time in Atlanta, so travelers would get a local’s view of the city’s outdoor activities, dining, history, and more. Each piece included bios and headshots of the author, further personalizing the content from a local’s perspective.



Another challenge faced by the tourism industry – that we’re working closely with several clients to address — is that of overtourism. Overtourism overwhelms communities’ public resources and threatens to damage fragile natural assets. Increasing visitation volume beyond a destination’s limits can also harm resident sentiment and decrease a DMO’s support within its respective community. That’s why we work with communities to promote destination stewardship, creating campaigns that work in concert with the DMO’s community stakeholders. 

Working alongside our clients at Visit Port Aransas, we built our campaign around three key pillars. First, we focused on driving higher quality visitation rather than a higher volume of visitation. Second, we embraced environmental stewardship as a key business objective—creating an illustrated sea turtle spokesperson to advocate for the beach destination’s environmental health. Lastly, we prioritized tactics that engaged residents and ensured they felt their voice was represented in Visit Port Aransas’ destination marketing.


We are very lucky to be part of an industry where we can connect our work to positive results in our clients’ communities. We’re humble to be a part of this industry, and grateful for opportunities industry partners create to help us move travel forward. In April, Madden traveled to D.C. for Destination Capitol Hill to speak directly with legislators and their staff — giving us a chance to discuss the importance of this vital industry as one of the key ingredients in a strong economy.

This National Travel and Tourism Week, we are doubling down on our commitment to ensure our work with clients generates a positive economic impact for our client communities, advocates for sustainable tourism, and promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion. Only then can we ensure we continue to move travel forward, and travel continues to move our country forward. 

Email Marketing in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

By Alana Smith, Email Marketing Strategist

There has been an explosion of affordable and accessible (no-code and low-code) AI technologies in recent months. ChatGPT, in particular, has savvy marketers wondering how to leverage the power of AI to improve the quality and efficiency of their work. Email marketers are no exception. 

Here are several high-impact ways that email marketers can use AI to gain a competitive advantage.

AI-Assisted Content Creation

Subject Lines

Mailboxes are more crowded than ever before. Email marketers need powerful, personalized subject lines to stand out. AI can help. 

A single, well-crafted AI prompt can generate dozens of memorable subject lines. This method can be a great cure for writer’s block! The AI can help one see new creative possibilities when a tired, busy mind might get stuck framing the message in a familiar way. 

Email marketers can go further by using AI-based sentiment analysis to refine the tone of their messages for unique audiences. E-commerce giants eBay and Groupon use the IBM Watson Tone Analyzer to perfect their email subject lines.

Headlines, CTAs, and Body Copy

Email marketers know that getting an email opened is only the first step. To engage subscribers and drive site traffic, the body of the email needs to be equally compelling. 

Serving dynamic content—displaying different versions of an email to different segments of an audience based on commonalities in their contact profiles—is a great way to improve email performance and has never been easier to achieve. An email marketer can simply characterize a segment of their audience for the AI and ask it to transform their generic message into a targeted one. By refining the generated language, repeating the process for each audience segment and using common ESP features to disperse the content, an email marketer can easily take their game to the next level.

Drawbacks and Risks

Just as users have gotten more sophisticated at detecting phishing attempts in their inboxes or low-quality information online, frequent AI users are already beginning to recognize some of the hallmarks of content composed by chatbots. Rather than using AI to create a positive experience with their brand, email marketers could inadvertently turn off subscribers. 
The “assisted” in AI-assisted content creation is key. As cool as new offerings such as GetResponse’s GPT-powered AI Email Generator or are, email marketers should always lend a human touch to their emails and avoid taking an autopilot approach to campaigns.

Insights From Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics uses large amounts of historical sample data to forecast future trends, events, and outcomes. While a list of a thousand contacts will not yield meaningful conclusions, clients with large audiences can leverage data-driven insights from AI to improve their campaign performance. There are three key ways that predictive analytics dovetails with email marketing efforts: send time optimization, individualized content recommendations, and lead validation. 

Send Time Optimization 

Lots of digital ink has been split over the years on the topic of optimal send times. Each major industry has their own body of research and many individual marketers are familiar with the practice of using an A/B testing regimen to identify the best day of week and time of day to send their emails.

Boosting email engagement is a big business and AI is changing the game. New tools offer the chance to personalize send times based on individual subscriber behavior. AI sends each contact their email at a unique time within a determined window using its predictive analysis based on when specific subscribers tend to open their email. The days of sending an email to thousands of people all at one time are fading fast.

While some add-on tools are available, such as Iterable AI, many top ESP providers are rushing to fold optimization features into their current product offerings. Premium ESPs Marketo and HubSpot use Seventh Sense’s Email Delivery Optimization System, while  Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign have their own proprietary programs.

Individualized Content Recommendations

By now, many users are familiar with the “if you liked x, you’re sure to like y” content formula. Regular consumers see that formulation as streaming services and online shopping platforms curate content but may not realize that sophisticated AI—with little understanding of the unique content or product offered—is operating behind the scenes. 

These AI-driven recommendations are a powerful source of personalization and engagement and are not limited to websites or apps. Services, such as Litmus Personalize and Movable Ink, let email marketers in on the action. Those for whom e-commerce-style conversions are less relevant, can still use AI to present blog content and recommend travel activities. 

Lead Validation

Email marketers should always use a service, such as ZeroBounce or BriteVerify, to validate their leads before sending. “Cleaning by sending” is not a best practice, and contact validation is especially important when the marketer controls their own sender reputation. Marketers familiar with the validation process will know that “catch-all” leads have always been tricky; their email domains will always return a valid response from the SMTP service, whether the email address is actually valid or not.

AI is capable of taking out the guesswork. Certain validation services can now score catch-all leads and return a value that indicates how confident they are that a lead is valid. By trusting in an AI with a large data set, email marketers can reduce hard bounces, protect their sender reputation, and place more emails in the inbox.

AI is a New Frontier

Email marketers are on the edge of a new frontier, where the possibilities for improving campaigns appear endless. With a little caution and a goal-oriented mindset, the email marketer is poised to enter a golden age of innovation. Creating dazzling content and using insights from predictive analytics to drive engagement has never been this easy, because AI tools have never been this accessible and user-friendly.

Explore Branson Partners Go Digital With SEM Co-Op

There’s an old, tried-and-true saying about accomplishing more together. If you want to see it in action from a destination marketing standpoint, just take a look at Explore Branson

Developing a SEM Co-Op Program

In partnership with Madden, Explore Branson offers a cooperative marketing package to all its partners, but, as a community famous for its live entertainment, the organization wanted to help these partners step up their digital marketing efforts in a cohesive way. Explore Branson worked with our Madden team to develop a new Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Cooperative Program for their live entertainment partners, creating the first matching co-op program for live shows. Through this program Branson/Lakes Area CVB matches SEM marketing funds invested by its live shows and theaters partners. The program also includes educational workshops for Branson’s partners teaching them the value of SEM.

By combining efforts through this co-op, the shows and venues receive a greater share of relevant and interested consumers going to their site rather than a competitor’s. At the same time, it eliminates keyword competition by preventing the individual shows from bidding against the CVB which would work against the collective goal.

As part of the co-op program, Madden experts conduct research and identify opportunities for the most actionable keywords to drive qualified traffic to each partner’s website. The partners each receive custom ad copy development for review, with actionable text using the researched list of search terms. The Madden team stays involved monitoring and optimizing each partner’s campaign for optimal results.

The benefit of working together

This program quickly sold out in the first year and now has an expanded match with a 30% increase (and still counting) in partner participation for 2023. Since its launch, Explore Branson and its live entertainment partners have seen the benefit of working together through this SEM Co-Op Program. Results from 2022 include:

  • 8.44% Overall Campaign Clickthrough rate (CTR)
  • 9.88 Million Total Impressions
  • 541K Total Clicks
  • Record year-over-year show attendance and ticket sales for key participating partners

The success seen in 2022 with the live entertainment industry led Explore Branson to expand the co-op program to attractions in the community.

The SEM Co-Op wasn’t the first time Explore Branson collaborated with Madden to offer cooperative sales opportunities to their partners. Madden worked with Explore Branson to create five co-op opportunities for partners that aligned with Branson/Lakes Area CVB’s overall destination marketing program. These co-op programs allowed users to be featured in both the Official Annual Vacation Guide and—enabling partners to highlight their organizations with Featured Listings, Native Ads, Banner Ads, eNewsletter ad units, and sponsored Calendar of Events.

Following the guide and digital advertising co-op programs, the program was extended to include written storytelling. This not only enhanced content on, but also allowed the partners to have new content on their own websites that was approved by the CVB and written by storytelling experts.

Whether through the SEM Co-Op or the guide and digital advertising program, Explore Branson and its partners’ efforts were strengthened by coming together and were able to get more for their financial investment, proving that old saying about accomplishing more together.

Evolve Traditional DMO Measurement with the KBO

By Matt Clement, Managing Partner

In 2020, when traveling all but stopped and the world went into a COVID-imposed lockdown, the destination marketing industry faced a stark reality: what is our value to our community if we can’t put “heads in beds”? 

The modern destination marketing organization (DMO) was already facing increased headwinds via a combination of growing sustainable tourism concerns, funding challenges, increased community apathy towards return on investment, and a relatively narrow scope of work—especially in destinations where leisure tourism or meetings and convention are not primary economic drivers. Underpinning all these headwinds is an antiquated system of measurement—and communication of results—that has put our industry behind the proverbial “eight ball.”

KPIs are not enough

The Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a revered and reviled word in equal measure. To some, it represents the best system of measurement we have in the DMO industry. For many others (especially those outside our industry), KPIs are generally useless vanity metrics used to prove value with little correlation to the business or economic outcomes desired by the communities we serve. Followers, reach, clicks, and impressions, these “vanity” metrics have been deemed as such because, to the casual observer, there is no apparent connection between gaining 10,000 followers on social media and meaningful business conversion. 

This lack of clear connection doesn’t suggest that building a following on Instagram is not a worthy endeavor, only that our measurement process thus far hasn’t been adequate in creating a meaningful correlation between DMO activity and the types of impacts (both traditional ”heads in beds” and broader socioeconomic and development goals) that will ensure the future of our industry for many years to come.  

A good friend and respected DMO leader, Visit Panama Beach CEO Dan Rowe, once told me that he hated, with a capital H, the term ”heads in beds” because, ultimately, he had no control over hotel conversion—he didn’t control the cash register and thus, couldn’t close the sale with a potential visitor. 

Rowe stated that his organization’s job was to create a pipeline of awareness and demand on which his destination partners (hotels, attractions, restaurants, and others) could transact. More than that, he also felt that his organization should be a community leader in economic development, sustainability initiatives, and social equality. But how should he proceed with measuring this? Enter the Key Business Objective (KBO).

What are KBOs?

The KBO is a measurement system rather than a singular indicator. Whereas KPIs are typically limited tor measuring marketing and sales efforts, KBOs allow for more freedom and the ability to measure grander strategic goals. If KPIs are a statement then KBOs are conversations. Consider the following two statements and decide which is more compelling to you:

1.) In 2022 Visit Smithville generated an ROI of $10 for every $1 spent, an increase of 20% YoY. 

2.) In 2022 Visit Smithville recorded an increase in tourism tax revenues of 10% YoY while influencing a decrease in the amount of trash collected on city streets by 20% YoY. The achievement of these goals are attributed to a 25% increase in visitation from focus markets, a half-day increase in the length of stay for regional visitors, and a successful marketing campaign asking visitors to respect our city.  

So, which is more compelling? Better yet, why would one statement be more effective than the other? The first statement is concise and presents the numbers directly. It’s the basic model many DMOs have used for annual business events and board meetings for years—a big splashy statement demonstrating the value of the organization and tourism for the destination. These statements are usually ineffective and forgettable. Why? Because generally speaking, our audiences are often psychologically numbed by the large numbers (50M impressions! 100,000 website visitors!, $100M in economic impact!) or outright disbelieving due to a lack of empirical proof or solid correlation to our efforts. To combat this, we’ve tied ourselves in knots, creating ROI formulas or relying on technological solutions (media attribution) that are useful but incomplete.

The Pyramid Principle   

The heart of any KBO is a data-driven system of conversation anchored by a concept called the ‘Pyramid Principle.’ 

The Pyramid Principle is a communication and measurement structure that starts with the conclusion, then proceeds logically through each supporting argument down to supporting details. Each level of the pyramid is, in essence, the summary of all the levels below it. The pyramid relies on inductive reasoning—using specific key arguments to form a general conclusion.  

This system allows not only for creating complex, multi-faceted goals but also for a powerful method of connecting objectives often seen as siloed away from one another (such as marketing vs. convention sales goals).  

At the top of our pyramid is where we’ll place our Key Business Objective. The KBO is expressed as a measurable statement: “Visit Smithville will seek an increase in tax collection by 5% YoY while retaining a resident sentiment score at or above the last surveyed level.”

Identifying your organization’s KBOs

There are many possible ways to develop KBOs, but generally, you want to consider these questions:

1.) Define your purpose

2.) Research and strategize

3.) Prioritize your KBOs

Once you’ve answered those questions (hopefully with key community leaders and stakeholders), it’s time to create the KBOs that will define your organization’s goals and help communicate its total value to the community. 

Define your purpose

What are we? Where do we want to be? What are the business outcomes most desired by our key stakeholders? Remember—marketing KPIs are NOT business or community outcomes and should not be included in your KBO. As you create your KBOs, think large and involve your stakeholders— KBOs should be important to more than just those inside your organization.

Research and strategize

Dive into the information and research you have on hand; what do you have, and will you need to measure your KBO adequately? What data types will form the key arguments and supporting details? If trash collection is a part of your KBO…where can you find that information? This is where you can determine whether a particular KBO can be adequately measured (and proven) through the entire Pyramid mentioned above.

Prioritize your KBOs

Sort all the possible KBOs into one of four buckets, organized by the most actionable and impactful to the opposite end of the spectrum.


These are KBOs that are actionable, impactful, and empirically measurable—think increasing overall visitor length of stay (or spend), increasing hotel ADR (which can be tackled from several directions), or even sustainability goals. Unicorns are what we’re after! These KBOs create the most synergy between what’s important to the community and your DMO’s charter.

Incremental Improvements 

These KBOs are highly actionable, but lacking actual business or community impact. Historically, these goals have been dominated by marketing KPIs (increasing website visitation or the number of ads clicked). Marketing KPIs are essential pieces of the puzzle, but lack the impact to be a legitimate organizational measurement. What is the purpose of increasing the number of website visitors? What does that effort tie into that impacts the community in an objectively measurable way?


These KBOs are neither actionable nor particularly impactful. These KBOs can require some harsh self-reflection to recognize. Is developing a light rail on Main Street cool? Sure, but will it be genuinely impactful (or reasonable)? Probably not, and thus, avoiding a potential “boondoggle” is best.

Pipe Dreams

These KBOs would have a huge impact but are either unmeasurable or nearly impossible to bring to fruition. A new Disney theme park in Waco, TX, would be amazing! But unlikely the best use of resources for the team at Visit Waco to pursue and, thus, not a great KBO.

Executing your KBOs

Once you identify KBOs, you’ll need to decide on the key arguments supporting the correlation between your organization’s activities and the achievement of the KBOs.

You’ll notice the bottom tier above are all the marketing KPIs we’re used to seeing. They haven’t been forgotten, just deprioritized to a supporting role vs. a leading one—which is where they should have been all along!  

Your marketing KPIs (or other tactical level measurements) should connect your organization’s efforts to specific, key arguments which collectively support the indicated achievement of a KBO. In other words, if a KBO is to increase tax revenues by 10%, and increasing visitation from Seattle would help achieve that goal (because your data says people from Seattle stay longer and spend more per trip), the key argument is measuring the increase in visitors from Seattle. At the same time, the supporting details spell out all the efforts your organization took to draw those visitors to the town.

This framework can replace ineffective declarative statements (we generated a trillion dollars in economic impact last year!) with a flexible, data-driven conversation that correlates truly impactful organizational goals with all your efforts.

Madden Media Announces Matt Stiker as Senior Vice President, Strategy

Madden Media is excited to announce Matt Stiker as its Senior Vice President, Strategy. Stiker brings a wealth of executive-level marketing communications experience to the agency, where his new role will focus on brand strategy and business development. 

“Matt’s combination of agency experience and tourism expertise will ensure Madden continues to grow and generate positive results for our clients,” said Dan Janes, CEO at Madden Media. “His perspective will bring invaluable insights to our agency as we serve communities across the country, and as we help lead them through the most challenging time our industry has faced.”

Prior to joining Madden, Stiker was the Senior Vice President, Travel for BVK, where he worked with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the Town of Ocean City, Maryland, Visit Estes Park Colorado and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, Florida. Additionally, his past professional experience includes working as the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for the San Francisco Travel Association and Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President of Sales with CityPASS. 

“I couldn’t be more excited to join the Madden Media team, who are fully committed to the travel industry,” said Stiker. “And I’m psyched to work with them and help grow and evolve their offerings for a group of incredible clients.”

Stiker’s professional experience also includes multiple agency-side roles leading destinations such as Travel Oregon, Washington State Tourism, and he’s also consulted with DMOs such as Visit Seattle, Visit California and Visit Portland, Maine. He is a graduate of the University of Maine where he earned a BA in Journalism/Advertising.

Dude, Where’s My Carvertise?: Modern OOH Advertising

By John Bridges, Media Director

With the increase of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft and the use of delivery services like DoorDash and GrubHub, there are more privately-owned cars staying on the road longer. This opportunity was not lost on services like Carvertise who have commissioned these drivers to wrap their cars in advertising messages. As these vehicles drive around populated areas, they have an impact as they stand out from the rest of traffic and are always eye-level for anyone on the street, driving around, or using the services.

Swarms aren’t just for Insects

Advertisers can have their fleet of wrapped vehicles drive around high-traffic or targeted areas. This can include things like sporting events, concerts, trade shows, or even holiday events. This is referred to as a “swarm” and allows advertisers to get maximum exposure in places they most desire for short periods of time. 

Turn Real-World Exposure into online engagement

Every car contracted with Carvertise has GPS trackers onboard, which collect device IDs of those in and around the vehicles. This technology lets advertisers serve ads directly to that exposed audience on their mobile devices through search, social, and in-app ads. This technology is not just limited to ads, but can also provide an insight to if exposed devices visited the advertised website. This analysis allows advertisers to see website lift and campaign effectiveness of an out-of-home campaign not possible in the past.

A Perfect Place for DMO’s

On average, Americans with higher incomes use rideshare services and rideshare services are found more often at ideal travel locations, like airports, hotels, train stations, and iconic tourist spots. This makes Carvertise a perfect solution for any DMO looking to make an impact in target markets to influence travel. 

On top of all that, the ability to provide targeted advertising, and provide the ability to track performance to ensure those ad dollars are being maximized, makes this out-of-home solution a no brainer. Additionally, services like Carvertise are not limited to leisure travel. Carvertise can help make a splash at trade shows like Connect Marketplace or ASAE and increase awareness for those much sought after meeting planners.

Madden Has Your Back

Madden has worked with many clients who have looked for a new, fresh, technology focused OOH solution and Carvertise has been there. Using Carvertise, Valley Forge CVB was able to achieve increased exposure in the Washington D.C market for three months during the summer of 2022. They utilized “Swarms” during target baseball games between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies, as well as the highly populated and common travel spot of the National Mall on 4th of July. This strategy provided a perfectly targeted audience for future travel in Pennsylvania and provided larger exposure for which Valley Forge CVB was looking.

Connect in the Real World

Users have digital advertising fatigue. Many studies show that few digital ads are remembered by users. DMOs must look to deploy holistic marketing tactics. This approach builds an integrated brand ecosystem — blending ads in the digital world with the real world — and increasing the chances their brand is remembered. Carvertise presents an opportunity for DMOs to connect with travelers in the real world and fill in that part of their brand ecosystem. 

Sparking DMO Partner Engagement

There’s no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and their partners. Sure, all partners (or members as they are sometimes referred to) benefit from local tourism, but often that’s where the similarities end. 

The businesses, organizations, and attractions that join with a DMO are large and small, owned by both giant corporations and individual families. Some have whole marketing teams, while others have the owner in what little time they have left after managing budgets, schedules, and inventories. With so many differences, it can be difficult to create a strategy that speaks to each of them and that generates engagement and participation across all levels. 

A little perspective goes a long way

An eye-catching infographic illustrating the impact of local tourism can sometimes be all it takes to get partners to participate. Research shows that people pay more attention to visuals, rather than hearing numbers or seeing plain text on a page, so seeing the direct economic benefit to the community can motivate some to step up and be more involved. But others may need a little more insight into how engaging with their DMO can directly affect their business. 

“We would tell our partners, it’s like a gym membership,” said Liza Gutshall, Madden Account Strategist and former DMO employee. “Just because you pay for that gym membership, doesn’t mean you’re going to lose weight or build muscle. You have to actually show up to the gym and put in the effort, to get the results you want. The same goes for a membership with your destination marketing organization. If you want to make the most of your member benefits, like marketing opportunities, you have to show up to meetings, share events, and communicate with your DMO. Just like that gym membership, the more effort you put into it, the better your results will be.”  

Pull back the curtain

An end-of-year meeting or report is great for highlighting all the work that’s been done throughout the past 365 days. But during the months in between, it’s easy to forget all the work that goes on behind the scenes at a DMO.

“The goal of our marketing efforts was to bring visitors to our area, so most of our campaigns were targeted outside of our local market, which meant that most of our partners never saw them,” said Megan Filak, a Marketing Communications Specialist at Madden with DMO experience. We created these great ads, but many of our partners never even knew what they looked like. Once we got better at sharing our out-of-market ads, we got such a positive response from our partners.” 

Allowing a look at the work as it’s happening is a great way to remind partners of what you’re doing for them. Here are a few “works in progress” that you can share:

  • Send a partner email announcing the launch of a new ad campaign. Share a peek at the ads and the markets in which they’ll be seen. 
  • Offer a first look at the visitors guide cover.
  • Offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a recent video shoot.
  • Share photos of your destination represented at a trade or travel show.

Reach out

It’s no secret that people respond better when there’s a personal connection. Building  relationships with your DMO’s partner businesses sounds simple on the surface, but becomes complicated when you multiply it by the number of partners and then add in your other responsibilities. But rather than focusing on the overwhelmingly big picture, start small to open up avenues for conversation with your partners:

Pay attention to partners on social media 

Make sure that the people or person behind your DMO’s social media (If it’s not you!) know who your partners are and are engaging with their content. While you’re scrolling your personal social media feed, watch for posts by partner businesses launching new products, announcing an event, or celebrating an achievement. Reach out with a quick email congratulating them, wishing them success, or just telling them you’re looking forward to their event. That quick note can be enough to help them feel seen.  

Let them know it’s more than just business 

Did your personal weekend plans involve dinner at a partner restaurant or did your kids have fun at a partner attraction? Tell that partner! Before diving into the work week, send a quick Monday morning email to your contact there letting them know what a great experience you or your family had and how glad you are that your destination can offer it to visitors.   

Schedule the communication 

There’s a saying that claims if you wait until you have time to start something, you’ll never start. Whether you utilize your CRM to schedule emails or block out time on your calendar, make intentional time for personal communication. You can also use National Travel and Tourism Week (May 7-13, 2023) as a (nearly) mid-year prompt for checking in with partners. Divide your partner list among your team if needed and make it a priority that every partner receives a personal phone call or a visit from someone with your DMO during that week to thank them for being part of your local tourism industry. 

Call in reinforcements

Let’s face it. Sometimes no amount of scheduling will allow you to make all the individual connections you’d like. That’s when it might be time to tag in some help. Invite a small number of partners who are already engaged and who hold a firm understanding of your organization’s mission to become tourism ambassadors. Assign them partners to check in with regularly and encourage them to share their tips for staying engaged. 

Reward your supporters

As you work to increase engagement, don’t take for granted the ones who actively participate and interact with your DMO. Share their latest news in a partner newsletter, spotlight them on social media, stop by the business with destination swag for your contact and their co-workers.

Keep trying

Your partners are many and each is unique and while it can make an engagement strategy tricky, it’s what makes your destination special. Finding effective ways to increase engagement is worth the time and energy it takes. Engaged partners understand your mission and see the value in the work you do. They will be more likely to support your efforts and to share their insights and concerns, which leads to better visitor experiences. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to increasing engagement, what matters is that you try and when you don’t get the response you hoped for, you try something different. By putting in the effort, you are opening the door to new opportunities, ideas, and connections.