This Is How You Harbor

Building a brand with a unique sense of place for National Harbor.

Framing the Challenge:

National Harbor, the Mid-Atlantic’s new micro-city on the Potomac River just south of DC, faced stiff competition from every direction. Popular local hangouts and other waterfront shopping, dining and entertainment destinations like Tysons Corner Center and Old Town Alexandria competed for local visitors. Cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore competed for day-trippers. And the District of Columbia itself competed directly with National Harbor’s largest property, the Gaylord, for lucrative meetings and conventions.

With the new MGM casino coming in late 2016, National Harbor will have a significant jewel in its crown that none of these other destinations can offer. But along with that comes the danger that the MGM brand could overshadow National Harbor.

For all these reasons, we needed to quickly establish National Harbor as a place that’s more than just the sum of its parts, and make it seem special and worth choosing over the alternatives because of the unique role it can play in people’s lives.

Uncovering Insights:

Research identified two mindset-based target audiences that are most inclined to connect with what National Harbor has to offer. Our targets are extroverted people who visit places like this to get away from the stresses of everyday life and create new experiences with others. They like to be social, both digitally and in real life. National Harbor is right for them because it’s an easy, entertaining place that encourages spontaneity and interaction. It’s somewhat off-the-beaten-path, making it feel distinct from the rest of DC, VA and MD and giving visitors a sense of leaving the rest of the area behind when they arrive.

Building Opportunity:

Instead of a campaign we created a rallying cry, “This is how you harbor,” that allows every visitor to imagine, create and and capture their National Harbor experience — and then share it with the world.

By going beyond the “table stakes” attributes of the destination we were able to leverage what is unique and conducive to socializing — visual icons like the Capital Wheel, unique activities like paddle boarding and sunset lawn games, and showcase events like the World Peeps Eating Championship.

The media strategy relies heavily on digital and social, reaching both local visitors and those from feeder markets, along with travel trade. Custom landing pages allow each audience segment to find events and activities curated just for them.

Tracking Success:

Since the launch of the campaign, digital display campaigns have seen a 33% increase in CTR versus the previous creative and the social media posts have seen a 77% increase in clicks and a 50% increase in engagement. This increase in traffic to their website has fed our search and retargeting campaigns that are keeping National Harbor top of mind with potential visitors.