GoHobo: A case-study on the power of brand and community

GoHobo Screenshot
The bold identity of GoHobo

Introduction

To many people - travel is another adventure. A means to an end.

The original concept was conveived as a collection of information in resources that would allow me and my family to travel more affordably. Having spent time abroad myself - straying from the traditional tourist path always presented the most exciting adventures.

I knew others were into this too. Once I left the beaten tourist path, I met a whole subsculture of these adventure-seekers. During the discovery phase, in my research, I witnessed many unanswered questions and requests for information and insight on this particular topic.

Challenge

The conventional travel model has become saturated with inauthentic, watered-down cookie-cutter experiences. Not mention inaccessible to many - due to the high cost - driven up largely due to monopolization.

Throughout my initial research (looking for my own next adventure, actually), I realized that while there were a number of individual communities supporting various means of alternative travel (house-sitting, AirBnb, ride-sharing), these communities were fractured and exclusive, with very little crossover. Very few of them were in the mainstream. AirBnb was starting to make a name for itself around this time, so the idea of alternative travel was beginning to become more familiar.

In short, the services exist, but for the most part, they exist largely in disconnected obscurity.

Solution

Concept

This venture started with many ideas. Originally I wanted to build a travel/adventure search-engine based on all of these services, but after connecting with many business owners in the niche - they didn't want to partner with a new company.

This brought me to the MVP - The Adventure Directory. The simplest way for me to provide a connected resource was simply to collect, vet, and display the resources for potential adventurers to use at their own whim. So that's what I did. I built out the directory, adding only the highest quality and most trustworthy services to the list.

Eventually, the list began to get pretty long, so I added a simple filter system to sort between methods of travel.

Each listing consisted of a logo, summary of service, and a link - complete with tracking - which I would eventually use to prove my value when I started to reach out to partners.

On top of the Adventure Directory, it was important to support the brand authority with high quality long-form content. I began writing about my own experiences with alternative travel in the Journal, while highlighting any tips or tricks I had learned along the way. The long-form content would provide additional value through authority, long-term organic traffic generation, and community building through user-generated content submissions.

The whole venture would be accompanied by a well-branded social media strategy. Organic social media marketing was the main short-term strategies for traffic.

Technology

The site itself was built using the static site generator, Jekyll. This platform allowed me to quickly edit and pump out content, without the overhead and potential technical debt of a framework or CMS. I wrote the content in Markdown, and built the components and designs out using good old HTML, CSS (with the help of SASS), and vanilla Javascript.

This technology allowed me to move quickly and have full control of the content, with the low-overhead of a static webpage: increasing overall security, speed and uptime.

The Brand

I wanted the brand to convey adventure, excitement, and imagination. The bright colour palette, along with the epic imagery and bold, vintage-style logo were designed to represent a history of adventure and the excitement of exploration.

I can't say if the brand itself was a success or failure, however I did receive a lot of positive feedback on the brand identity from peers and businesses.

Benefit

The Adventure Directory provided a quick and easy way for potential alternative travellers to connect with new services in the space, while the Journal provided a platform for community growth.

Several small businesses were able to reach a larger qualified audience through both the Adventure Directory and the Journal.

Result

Successes

About 6 months in, after experiencing modest growth in social media following, and consistent traffic via the Journal (organic SEO for the win!), I began to get requests for placement in the Adventure Directory. I was getting one or two emails per week from adventure-focused businesses asking to be added.

At first, I was excited and gladly added most of them without asking anything in return. Some even offered affiliate links which I gleefully added. I refused a few of these requests if I felt they didn't meet GoHobo's standards, but there were some very relevent submissions.

Due the high demand, I quickly realized the potential value in GoHobo. I realized I could ask for a content submission for the Journal every time a business asked to be added the Adventure Directory, and this would be an easy way to add overall value to the site.

At the same time, as the authority of GoHobo grew, I began receiving content submissions to the Journal as well. For each relevent post, I edited and optimized imagery, and added additional links and images to keep up the high content standards I had begun with.

Eventually I was contacted by a content marketing agency who began offering payment in return for published posts. I worked with them to develop standards and ensure the posts were on-top and adding value to the site. In return for a few hours of work editing and publishing, I was able to cover my server bills for the year.

Another success was the partnership with a few of the more mainstream brands - specifically Turo. This partnership was one of the more validating points throughout the venture.

Failures

Overall, the project was doomed to be shelved. I had no long-term monetary strategy, which in turn required more of my time to fuel growth. Even with a few sponsored posts a month, which was just enough to cover hosting costs, I was spending too much time between posting to social media and editing.

I even experimenting with some t-shirts and hoodies with vintage, GoHobo-inspired designs, but after 1 month of running targeted ads and social media campaigns, I sold a single hoodie.

Ideally, I would have developed a more sound monetary strategy which would have allowed me the funds to pay somone to edit and publish the articles and update the Adventure Directory - thus allowing me time to grow the concept to other avenues.

Eventually I burned out and shelved the project in April of 2018. I still get a number of emails and content submission requests every week, but I just don't have the time to manage them. Perhaps one day I will revive the project with a fresh monetary strategy.

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