What’s all the fuss about AimClear and Visit Duluth?

Like with parenting and other stuff I write about, I understand just enough about social media, search engine optimization and search engine analytics to be dangerous. But I think I might understand more than the marketing “gurus” at Visit Duluth.

Marty Weintraub is a nationally (internationally?) sought out speaker and consultant on every kind of web marketing that you can imagine – Social Media, Keyword Search, Ad Placement, and so on. He also, apparently, loves Duluth. So he did some research on how the community is being marketed online and produced a study for free to give us all some food for thought on how Visit Duluth is spending its (tax generated) budget and if it couldn’t be optimized to deliver better results in the digital age.

Did $10 Million In Destination Marketing Make Duluth Famous?

He came up with gems like this …

… Duluth’s automatically generated Facebook page is in the top of the results, 3 or 4 places above “Camp Bow Wow” in Duluth, Georgia. Really Duluth? Are you even trying to generate buzz for the Visit Duluth page on Facebook?

So what was Visit Duluth’s response to this well-intentioned free advice from a local business person who is an expert in the field? “We took a very serious look at the study they put out there,” [Visit Duluth] said. “But, actually (we) ended up finding a lot of flaws in it. A lot of problems with it.” source, Kevin Jacobsen, Northland’s News Center (but only because I can’t find an actual news release or rebuttal directly from Visit Duluth itself on their website.)

Instead of disputing the results with a knee jerk reaction, why not just admit that he might be on to something, that we could do some online marketing maybe a percentage or two of the $10M they are spending in print TV and whatever else right now. And above all THANK the guy for his free research and move on er, move forward.



about 13 years ago

Thanks for the thoughtful post. We were kind of surprised that the reaction was not, "Hey thanks a lot for contributing."  Data trumps opinions. Even if one does not like the questions our study asked, the data does answer the questions. 

VisitDuluth is flat out incorrect about the usage of search modifiers "-," "+," etc... We included Google's documentation of same in the study. VisitDuluth did not mention the Facebook data at all.  In private I heard that it's not fair to compare Duluth's reputation to better known places....ummm...that's exactly the point.


about 13 years ago

I think that the Weintraub study along with the other recommendations are making Visit Duluth a little nervous about their budget. Sensitivities aside, $10 million is not small change up here and it IS tax dollars. Let's encourage transparency and a willingness to do better.


about 13 years ago

Wowie ... That Marty is sooooo nice, giving his free advise to lil' ol Visit Duluth. Kinda makes me think why didn't he get hired by them in the past? Has he sent them his card? Seems like a dead sure thing. BTW, I heard that Marty doesn't use paper...props for him! Could make potty time difficult but hey to each his own!


about 13 years ago

We're paying $10M for what, again?


about 13 years ago

I have had my own AWFUL experience with Visit Duluth, when I wanted to give a Duluth author and his local publisher **national** exposure. They basically told me to fuck off. Terry Mattson told me he didn't give a damn who I worked for, I didn't suck up to him so no goodies for me.  I told a colleague at the national magazine I write for the long and sad story, and he said, next time that happens, you call New York and we'll take care of it. I told my colleague the day I call New York to get something done in Duluth, Minnesota is the day I quit my job. 

Terry Mattson is provincial and loves being "big fish in small pond." If Duluth is going to become the premier city in the Midwest like Mayor Ness envisions, Terry Mattson's got to be read the riot act or be told to pack his bags and move over, he's yesterday's news.


about 13 years ago

This is an extremely petty debate. 

Marty wanted attention and he got it (with a wink to ZMC Hotels and $10,000,000). That's what he does and that's the free market in action. 

The future of the Web has nothing to do with online marketing or SEO. It does, however, have a lot to do with quality content and Computer Science students (the antithesis of online marketers) not having a reason to leave for MSP. These are the people who build things like SaaS companies and mobile apps.

I'd be interested to know what percentage of tourist jobs provide a living wage. Maybe that can be studied. 

Let's start focusing on the forest rather than the trees.



about 13 years ago

This reminds me of the article they just did in the DNT. Duluth has direct flights to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami (I think), and Chicago, yet there isn't any marketing for Duluth in any of those cities... not even the airports. Why should those flights continue, if nobody knows we're here?


about 13 years ago

Because the aim is not to get people from there to come here. It's to get people from here to go there.

Vegas is a much more marketable destination in, well ... pretty much any season ... than the cold snowy North Shore.

Sure, we may love it here, but most people from Vegas ... not so much.

I do agree though. There should be more cross marketing that would benefit Duluth.

Iron Oregon

about 13 years ago

There was also a recent report that the rest of the country basically considers Minnesota boring. Proper marketing of the Duluth area could really alter that impression - I'm picturing videos of trail runners/bikers, skiers, windsurfers, etc. with a voiceover of "are you bored yet?"


about 13 years ago

Visit Duluth came off as lazy in the report about the lack of marketing in cities with direct access by air to Duluth. Plenty of ways to market oneself without spending buckets of money, it's called guerrilla marketing and takes time and energy and savvy -- as well as taking the time to develop relationships in those other cities. It's harder than simply buying advertising and spending gobs of money on marketing materials, but just as effective. Like I said previously, Terry Mattson prefers being big fish in small pond and really has myopia when considering the possibilities open to him and his staff if they would just make the efforts.


about 13 years ago

Even though #DLH is kinda snarky, I agree with his basic idea.  These things that people want - like software companies and good Mexican food - well hey - are we nitwits?  How can we go about getting these things?  DEDA loves to help restaurants so the Mexican problem is solved.
But the other thing is harder.

How about 10 million per year to help fledgling companies formed by UMD grads get going?  How about courses at the low tech center about the new phone apps and how to use them?  I recently heard at a screen writers conference that Apple's Final Cut Pro X is being ditched everywhere by editors because it is aimed at telephone video - not movies for theaters.  So Apple hardly ever makes a misstep - they must know something.  We will probably all be downloading films to our phones in a few years and plugging our phones into our home theaters.

So you youngsters - let's get going with this.

Write to the mayor and the council - tell them you changed your mind.  You don't care about any more real estate - you want business stimulation.


about 13 years ago

There are a couple of salient points here. SEO, and really any web metrics for that matter, are useful in generating part of a picture, largely in the area of trend analysis. As stated in the KBJR story, the "quantifiable" metrics derived from these efforts have to be taken in a greater context and alone cannot give an accurate indication of the more important qualitative aspects of web content and web-based perceptions, in this case about Duluth. 

Frankly, this is an area where PDD shines! While there may be some web metrics which indicate PDD gets X number of page views, that says nothing about the context that PDD creates and the vibrancy that it supports in our area. When you boil it all down, as Tangier 57 says, it is people!. 

While important, especially for clients, SEO has been oversold. Search engines rely on the fact that people use them to find authentic answers to authentic questions. Google will do whatever is required to insure that results of searches respond to this truth. It's how they make money selling the real estate around the results. It's their bread and butter. 

Waving hands and crafting cyphers will always only go so far in insuring eyes on a link. People who pay money for websites, made by online marketers, want to justify the budget for online marketing, they retreat into a single analysis metric like "hits" or search engine ranking ... web traffic and SEO are "quantifiable" evidence. Truth is, it's hard to assess qualitative results objectively, it always has been. 

I do appreciate Marty's attempts to create discussion and place Duluth on the map in the tech sector. Frankly, I see this as the current greatest opportunity for economic development in our region. Growing tech/creative jobs here is a win-win. Tech workers appreciate the QOL we have. While search-engine placement is important, getting undies in a bunch about Duluth's digital footprint, or lack thereof, is a bit overboard. Let's focus and communicate about our substance. They will come.


about 13 years ago

It seems that Visit Duluth is nervous to have its' records scrutinized.  That make me want it to be done even more.  If you use public $ the trade off is oversight.  Unless you are a bank.

I think they have done some great things in the past few years, but taking credit for Grandma's Marathon(s) is a little shifty.  What did we get for $10M?  Terry Mattson does not want to tell us.

Nick L

about 13 years ago

Is it any wonder Visit Duluth is skeptical?  Mr. Weintraub wrote "We did this research and created this post to create a dialog..."   

Meaningful change starts with dialogue, not public dialog.  It doesn't matter if the organization is public or private.  

There's no report of aimClear first contacting Visit Duluth.  Step one was publicly posting an unsolicited study.  Maybe the best way to get aimClear's business is by publicly announcing its deficiencies and your suggested improvements.  Most people prefer you at least start with "Hello."


about 13 years ago

Those are good points, Nick.  Whatever happened, however it started we obviously we had a somewhat public falling out in this town.  My goal would be to trim away some of the drama and get back to the facts and "move forward" as I said.


about 13 years ago

Visit Duluth:  Creators of a coupon book made intentionally difficult to locate because (they say) it is expensive to produce.

Visit Duluth:  Its own website links to a Fresh Duluth video (remember that?), or actually, it links to the website that used to house that video, now a placeholder website.

Visit Duluth:  Funneled extra tourism dollars to Spirit Mountain for advertising when "Terry Mattson's wife is executive director of Spirit Mountain."

Read more of that blog, one of the best blogs in Duluth history, to discover that VisitDuluth members think that the tourism tax is "voluntary" on their part, rather than a subsidy for the tourism industry. (It is a subsidy for the tourism industry; I no longer imagine, as I once did, that it has much positive economic impact beyond the tourism industry.)

Visit Duluth:  I'd like to see its budget.  That's all that needs to be said.  I'd like to see its budget.


about 13 years ago

I really, really think Visit Duluth needs more oversight. I too would love to see its budget. After my own unpleasant experience with Terry Mattson, I am convinced a lot of their success is accidental, and they take credit for things they had nothing to do with.


about 13 years ago

Why not just re-run some of the videos here! Already paid for, retro (meaning dead) talent. These will absolutely appeal to the neo-post-modern sensibilities of the point-n-click generation.

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