Bennington invests $50K in digital marketing

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BENNINGTON — The town has launched a comprehensive website, vermontbeginshere.com, the first effort in a multi-component marketing campaign for the town that focuses on tourist attractions and events.

The revitalized website launched Aug. 30, said Shannon Barsotti, Bennington's community development director.

The Vermont Begins Here effort was the result of collaborative thinking of business and community leaders, under the direction of the former community and economic development director, Michael Harrington, according to a media release.

Eventually, the effort may include more traditional media, potentially radio, "but you definitely need to start with digital," Barsotti said.

The Vermont Begins Here campaign is funded by a $50,000 marketing budget, part of the Community Development Office.

"It's basically going to be a reserve fund," Barsotti said of the money. "It's not just for one year."

The impetus for the focus on tourism marketing came from a recent survey conducted by the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, where business owners consistently said they felt the area needs more destination marketing, she said.

An informal marketing committee of local business owners has also invested their own funds in marketing Bennington, she said.

"There's really a recognition that the town also should be investing in marketing Bennington," she said.

That marketing committee, which grew out of the Better Bennington Corporation and the Grow Bennington initiative, includes Lynn Green of the Four Chimneys Inn, Sheela Harden of Bennington Potters, Eric Peterson of the Oldcastle Theatre Company and Maru Leon of the Mt. Anthony Country Club, Barsotti said.

Eight Oh Two Marketing, a Bennington-based digital marketing firm, designed the new website, and provided many services in kind, she said. The marketing committee also donated their time, she said.

"We were really able to hit the ground running when we met with Eight Oh Two," she said.

Support staff at the Community Development Office will maintain the site, and Eight Oh Two will be involved in back-end marketing optimization, she said.

The town already owned the URL for the website, as the Vermont Begins Here effort started a few years ago, through funding through the United States Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Office, Barsotti said. That effort was used for photography, and videos with an economic development focus, she said.

As the town already had something to start with, it just needed to be revived, she said.

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"We already had the brand of Vermont Begins Here," she said. "The change now — it's a shift to be really more of a visitor site for tourists."

The effort is focusing on the New England market — people who would take day trips to Bennington, Barsotti said.

She said she anticipates they'll advertise in the Albany area and the in the Berkshires.

"And the main message is really that there's a lot to do in Bennington," she said. "There's a reason to make it your weekend destination. So our kind of main points are outdoor recreation, arts and culture, including historical sites, which are a huge draw for Bennington, and then our downtown."

Barsotti said she particularly loves the site's focus on photography, as consumers are extremely visual.

The site also has lists of things to do, including shopping, hotels and restaurants. The site focuses primarily on Bennington.

"To me, it's the most comprehensive directory of all that Bennington has to offer," she said.

She said the feedback she's gotten so far on the site has been very positive, with praise for "the color, the photography and the variety of listings."

She said interested people can also provide feedback on the site by emailing visit@vermontbeginshere.com.

Right now, the main focus of Vermont Begins Here is on the website, she said.

"It's just launched, and it's still dynamic," she said. "There are still things being added, and there's a lot more content that can be added."

Moving forward, they'll be focusing on building up the site's email list, she said.

Even though the site is focused on tourists, Barsotti said they would like locals to utilize it.

Barsotti is a 14-year resident of the area.

"And I learned about Bennington, just being part of this," she said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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