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Celebrating Harriet Tubman's Legacy: A Culturally Conscious Marketing Triumph for Visit Cayuga


Harriet Tubman's enduring legacy as a civil rights icon and leader of the Underground Railroad left an indelible mark on Auburn, New York. The Cayuga County Office of Tourism, marking the bicentennial of Tubman's birth, collaborated with The Culturist Group to craft a destination messaging and creative strategy. This initiative aimed to honor Tubman's legacy, engage the community, attract investors, and invite visitors to experience the transformative energy embedded in her chosen home.


"Make It Count" has become the cornerstone of Cayuga County's integrated marketing communications efforts, defining its cultural relevance and moving into 2024 and beyond. The campaign's success reflects the power of creating culturally relevant opportunities, ensuring Auburn remains a beacon for those seeking transformative cultural experiences.


We have taken great care to respect and understand our role as stewards of Tubman’s legacy here in Cayuga County,” said Karen Kuhl, Executive Director, Cayuga County Office of Tourism. “In The Culturist Group, Cayuga County found a partner who is uniquely prepared and qualified to navigate community dialogue to assess how the interests and desires of these investors run parallel to the emotional and cultural values of Cayuga County’s multicultural audiences.”

Client Background:

The Cayuga County Office of Tourism sought to assert Auburn's unique position as Harriet Tubman's "Chosen Hometown" to competitively own the story in a region rich with emerging Underground Railroad narratives. The evolving Black experience in Auburn, championed by visionaries and community leaders, underscored the need for a culturally conscious marketing approach while ensuring the rest of the county’s tangible visitor assets are well positioned. 


Client Needs:

Understanding the importance of diverse voices, The Culturist Group engaged in community interactions, fostering transparency and exposing the strategic process to various civic, business, and non-profit elements in Auburn. The evolving Black experience and Tubman's living legacy became pivotal considerations.


Objectives and Goals:

The goal was clear: to responsibly research Tubman's living legacy in Auburn, New York, and understand how her legacy could be brought into the present day to inspire the community to rally around this unifying hometown figure to appeal to like-minded visitors. The campaign would need to ensure it responsibly flexed between promoting the assets of the town of Auburn, New York with the larger Cayuga County region to drive dispersal and relevance to the core message.   




Work Process:

The Culturist Group employed its "People, Culture, Message" approach, immersing in the destination and conducting focus group-style conversations with community leaders. Insights from these interactions informed the development of a creative brief, laying the foundation for three creative concepts presented to Cayuga County. 


Additional primary and secondary research guided The Culturist’s Group to develop the destination’s audience segmentation strategy, taking into consideration geographic, demographic, and multicultural segments by travel intent and interest.


Creative Framework:

A creative framework emerged, addressing the challenge of leveraging Tubman's legacy to inspire investment and visitation. The final approved creative concept, "Make It Count," seamlessly integrated actionable insights from our target consumer and local perspectives, defining the destination's personality, energy, and visual approach, and tying the destination’s brand with an audience who understands that “where you go matters” - a key tagline for the campaign. Guidelines for imagery, typeface, and artistic direction were crafted for consistency.




Visual Elements:

The creative concept strategically brought forward Harriet Tubman's image in a modern yet restrained manner. Script typeface and warm, organic visuals conveyed an earnest and authentic message, defining Auburn, New York, as a powerful place in Cayuga County. For the first time, our team created a full color version of Tubman approved by the Harriet Tubman Committee to help communicate her lasting legacy and bring her spirit into the now.


The focal point of the campaign is a :30 second video, display units and image and caption selects for social media deployment..




Paid Media Strategy: 

In partnership with Vetrano Digital Marketing, a proponent of responsible tourism through paid media strategies for destinations, the three-month deployment plan focused on delivering hyper-targeting audiences in Cayuga’s target geographic markets. Not just reaching users in target cities, but honing in on audiences in the predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods across these cities helped deliver the campaign message to targeted multicultural households. Contextual considerations were layered on specific interests and search activity on top of that, for example, consumers searching for “Black heritage tours” or similar experiences, including the outdoors, wine, and culture - all destination assets of Cayuga County. 



Campaign Results:

The "Make It Count" campaign surpassed expectations, with a 745% increase in website traffic, 44,000 conversions, and over 7.3M impressions. Its hyper-targeted approach led to 112% more sessions and 30% more impressions than forecasted. The campaign resonated with Black heritage seekers, effectively conveying Tubman's significance to the community today.


"The results demonstrate the power of creating culturally relevant opportunities for communities like Cayuga," said Danny Guerrero, CEO and Founder of The Culturist Group. The campaign's resonance with the target audience underscores its significance in promoting Black heritage and the unique offerings in Cayuga County.

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