Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.
Teras Cassidy has always sought solace in podcasts. When his pair of travel agencies took a huge hit during the 2008-09 recession, he filled his downtime with 40K Radio, an online station for fans of tabletop miniature gaming.
In 2010, when he starting putting together and selling vacations to comic conventions and famous battlefields as Geek Nation Tours, he chatted on podcasts to get the word out.
So it's not entirely shocking that the Hinton, Alta., entrepreneur in March bought Freebooter's Network, the fandom-focused podcast site, to help expand his company's footprint. "It has a huge reach, with potentially 200,000 listeners," Mr. Cassidy says, adding that he divested himself of his travel agencies two years ago to focus exclusively on Geek Nation Tours.
He has had no problem selling "Zombie Apocalypse Training 101," for instance, a nine-day trip featuring survival training, a visit to filming sites from The Walking Dead and a tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Georgia. Customers come from Canada, the United States and as far away as Japan and Australia.
Other offerings include a 50th anniversary of Star Trek tour featuring drop-ins by famous actors, a Mexican gaming holiday and a Doctor Who tour in Scotland.
Each excursion averages 20 to 25 participants and costs $2,000 to $5,000 per person, and up to $13,000 for "elite" tours, such as a space-themed trip that will include a visit to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, interactions with astronauts and visits to Star Trek filming locations.
But while Mr. Cassidy's podcast network may be a one-stop shop for everything nerdy, it's a little too niche to be the sole source of marketing for Geek Nation Tours. Especially if Mr. Cassidy wants to expand beyond a small one-man outfit with two contract guides – one in the United States and one in Britain – and 10 to 12 tours a year.
"I'm blessed with tons of support in the geek community from clients and people who really like what I'm doing," Mr. Cassidy says. But tapping into the vast communities of superfans out there continues to be a nagging challenge.
"We've dabbled in advertising on large comic book websites like Comic Book Resources and Comic Book News," he says. "But they were super expensive, and I think that was a mistake … the reach is so big."
Mr. Cassidy says his "next big dive" will likely into advertising on Google and social media; he's just not sure where to begin.
The Challenge: How can Geek Nation Tours expand its reach to nerds everywhere?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Brynn Winegard, marketing expert and principal at business consultancy Winegard & Company, Toronto
What I'd advocate is a concerted digital strategy that includes social, mobile and digital medias. Start by choosing a couple of platforms that you know your niche market is active on. I'd start with Google Adwords and a social platform, such as Facebook or Twitter. If you have to choose one, it should be marketing with Google – it's user-friendly and it allows for tailored, targeted advertising through display ads. It also offers metrics about the focal audience and which marketing is working better than others. Further, if Geek Nation Tours has a limited budget, the Google Analytics tools allow for mostly DIY marketing.
Start an e-mail digital marketing campaign through MailChimp or Constant Contact. That will help you keep in touch with former patrons and "loyalists" alike – your highest potential customers are usually the ones you've served before.
Kevin Smith, program co-ordinator of tourism management at Humber College's School of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism, Toronto
The trend in the industry is definitely toward that niche stuff. Most travellers are not looking to just sit around, they want to follow their interests.
What's cool is that travel is so compelling, it's easy to market to people – all you have to do is show beautiful photos of people in exotic places. It really lends itself to social media, which is free. Geek Nation Tours needs to become a leader by creating free PR based on amazing content on their website. The goal should be developing content that your audience would be interested in – articles like "the geekiest places," etc.
Steve Woodall, co-founder of Tour Guys, which offers tours on subjects such as bacon or craft beer in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa
I got my start in high school when I was approached by someone who said, "Hey, if you want to organize a spring break tour for you and your friends, for every 20 people you bring you'll get a free trip." People love the concept of travelling for free.
Mr. Cassidy should build something like that into his model. If he finds one guy who is a huge Comicon fan or toy collector or gamer, they probably know five or 10 or 20 other people just like them. So why not get them to do the sales for you? Let them organize the group and Mr. Cassidy can equip them with everything they need to book. Add the "travel for free" element to quickly increase the volume.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
Dive into marketing with Google
Use AdWords, setting a daily maximum spending budget and tracking returns to see what sticks.
Create unique content
Build a blog and enlist non-podcast listeners to subscribe to a Geek Nation Tours newsletter.
Set up a referral program
Boost word-of-mouth marketing by talking to influencers and offering deals for building their own groups.