Monday, August 31, 2015

The Surprising Market Potential For Going Mainstream

In this essay I’m going to touch on the proportion of the traveling public that prefers chain stores, which is, coincidentally, the same proportion drawn to mainstream attractions.

This proportion of travelers are the aim of communities that seem bent on surrendering differentiation and sense of place to generic development and mainstream facilities and events.

Surveys have shown repeatedly over the past 20 years that residents of Durham, North Carolina, where I live, identify a museum of local history as the community’s #1 cultural facility need.

In part, this may be due to Durham residents historically placing a higher value on authenticity of sense of place.  Studies show that on the continuum of authenticity, attractions such as history museums rank as among the most authentic.

But here, too, some developers, as they have across the country, often use their considerable clout with local government to push instead for mainstream facilities, which are rated in surveys of the general public as the least authentic on that spectrum.

A majority of communities long ago surrendered distinctiveness driven by a relentless envy to mimic other places and, in doing so, made them indistinguishable as just one of many.

As Seth Godin noted in a recent post entitled, The Average, “Progress is almost always a series of choices, an inexorable move toward mediocrity, or its opposite.”

Even among advocates for proposed local history museums such as Durham’s, it has not been uncommon to even hear some advocates dismissing more authentic aspects such as artifacts and collections while promoting digital alternatives.

Ironically this would, in the view of many, make museums, well, less authentic.

Museologists such as digital specialist Dr. Ross Parry view digital not as the end of older technologies such as display cases and labels, for instance, but as an extension.

In fact, Dr. Parry has contended for at least the last few years that museums are already “post digital,” meaning that this technology is now “normative” or mainstream.

It has become what University of Chicago cultural policy analyst Gwendolyn Rugg terms as “assimilated, embedded, naturalized.”

In fact, I am persuaded by an essay that was posted here in America about the same time as Dr. Parry’s declaration which eloquently makes the case that on the authenticity continuum, which is always relative, artifacts will always be more authentic.

Unfortunately, over the eight decades since a museum of local Durham history was first proposed, many priceless artifacts and even potential collections have vanished.

Communities face forces that likewise see development as the end of one thing and the beginning of another.  This is why they so easily dismiss nearly temporal place-based assets as they replace them with mainstream palaces.

It isn’t just a portion of developers and architects as well as chambers of commerce, destination marketers and officials which have become mainstream sycophants, but especially financial institutions and chains that hedge loans by insisting on cookie-cutter developments.

Ironically, when it comes to appealing to travelers as well as residents who are stayers vs. just boomers, these mainstreamers are forcing a majority of communities now into mediocrity and a future with very limited appeal.

So what do the numbers say about which is most precious and popular, authentic or mainstream, when it comes to positioning a community to generate visitor-centric economic and cultural development, which was my now-concluded career?

Is it really just “six of one or half dozen of the other” or do mainstreamers have the advantage they seem to think?

According to studies, about 1/5th of travelers actually prefer to frequent experiences at the less authentic end of the scale such as mainstream events, sports or performing arts.

This compares to 73% who prefer real or authentic experiences such as museums, historic sites and natural areas.

Visitors are also very clear when it comes to what is authentic. 

The data show that destinations and attractions considered real, authentic and genuine have “historical truth.”  These are places that are “original in origin or design,” places that are “natural” and “unique,” “non-commercial.”

Researchers have also found that authenticity is also not a moniker easily attained.  For example, fewer than half perceive the beach or science centers or aquariums to be authentic.

Interestingly, even 74% of those who experience casinos, which are considered the least authentic on the spectrum, preferred real and authentic to fantasy or mainstream experiences.

Another indicator of the relative popularity of communities that have surrendered sense of place and authenticity to emulate mainstream comes from retail studies.

They show that 29.5% of consumers prefer to buy from mainstream national or regional chain stores.

So it appears that surrendering sense of place and authenticity for mainstream means a community has actually narrowed its appeal to somewhere between just 21% and 29% of Americans.

Meanwhile, the few communities that still struggle valiantly to differentiate as well as protect and foster a distinctive sense of place, appeal to between 73% and 80% of Americans.

Developers, architects, financial institutions and politicians should take note. It pays to foster sense of place and authentic and real attributes. In other words, to list only a handful:

On balance, always favor the real and genuine over the mainstream;

Encourage architecture with respect for local settings, neighborhoods and indigenous districts rather than cookie-cutter designs or franchise/ego architecture;

Value an indigenous cultural ecosystem over events and facilities that may be so-called “world class” by mainstreamers, which are certain only to erode differentiation and homogenize sense of place;

Always favor scenic preservation, tree canopy and natural areas over impervious surface; and

Listen to residents who are “stayers” vs. “boomers” when it comes to safeguarding sense of place and community character.  Aim your appeal toward travelers and relocating or expanding businesses who value place based assets.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Future of Analytics

With history and law in my educational background, few people, including me, would have predicted back in 1981 that I would become one of the first in my career of community destination marketing to embrace analytics.

Although I took statistics, in essence history is a form of analytical thinking.  But back in 1972 when I earned a degree in that major it was less likely to involve data.

Law school certainly teaches critical thinking but not open-mindedness.

As NYU Stern researcher Dr. Jonathan Haidt, the author of The Righteous Mind, put it this week on the Diane Rehm Show:

“But as soon as we want to reach a conclusion, or as soon as we get emotional, we get angry and open-minded thinking shuts down and we become lawyers.”

Researchers know today that the natural talent for analytics that I began to tap into in the early 1980s is a competitive advantage that was central to the DMOs I led being able to quickly leapfrog more established competitors.

Unfortunately, other than various aspects, I was never really able to teach it to others on staff before I retired at the end of 2009, with the exception of my eventual successor.

Even so, she had an innate talent for analytics. You can teach skills but not talents, especially not nuance.

Rare even among those now formally trained in analytics is the ability or talent to see nuanced patterns and then apply them strategically to an objective.

Research conducted by MIT’s Sloan Management Review and SAS calculates that only 12% of organizations overall have this ability.

More than a third are “analytically challenged” and more than half are “analytic practitioners” that employ it primarily for operations, sometimes predictively, although that is not their focus.

So one-in-eight of these organizations are “analytic innovators” which are found to be seven times as likely to employ analytics predictively and six times more likely to deploy it prescriptively.

The Sloan/SAS report entitled The Talent Dividend well worth downloading, reading and applying.

Recently, while writing an essay about what organizations such I led will look like in the future, I noted that analytical ability will soon be required for every job in an organization, kind of like how keyboard skills became in the 1990s.

When I retired, still only 37% of organizations overall saw analytics as a competitive advantage.  This peaked at 67% in 2012 and is now a view held by six-in-ten organizations.

But I believe the true value of analytics going forward will always be strategic including innovation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How a Startup DMO Reached the Pinnacle of Advertising

No one involved ever expected it to endure - let alone be acclaimed -but as it occurred this month, I still get a call about it every year or so over the more than three decades since our little campaign launched.

When concepted in 1980 and launched in 1981, the campaign was intended to last only a few years at best.  Those were the days before testing was feasible and we were just glad it worked.

It remains the only campaign by a community destination marketing organization (DMO) to win a full-blown CLIO award in the overall travel category.

Clio is the preeminent international award competition for the creative business.

The campaign, originally designed to run only as a public service announcement when there were only three TV stations was also recognized as one of the hundred best TV commercial that year.

Advertising Age, a magazine for marketing and media cited it as “A Significant Milestone in the use of Television Technics for Marketing Success.

More than half a lifetime ago, I was only 32 years old at the time and in the first decade of what would be a four-decade career as a DMO exec.  It didn’t sink in until years later how rare what we had achieved actually was.

Friends at Seattle-based Alaska Airlines had won a CLIO award a year earlier and seeing our little campaign’s potential encouraged its submission.

Of course, “I Love New York” as a state tourism campaign had won a CLIO three or four years earlier as did Michigan tourism a few years later.

Two other community DMOs have reached the short list or received bronze or silver recognition in the years since.

DMOs are nonprofit organizations with the in-house skillsets of commercial advertising, marketing and public relations agencies.

But instead of being generalists about a lot of different products and services, DMOs are established to specialize, day in and day out, in the safeguarding and leveraging of the brand of a particular location.

They are a means to draw and optimize visitor centric economic and cultural development for the communities they serve.

Think of DMOs as an inch wide and a mile deep compared to agencies-for-hire which, by nature, must be a mile wide and an inch deep in order to be relevant to many different types of businesses.

Another DMO I subsequently led before retiring went on to garner more than 100 other awards for marketing and best practices.  Still, none quite reached the acclaim achieved by that little spot we produced for Anchorage, Alaska in 1981.

Here is the story of how Wild About Anchorage came to be,  To my wonder, it still resonates there more than three decades later based on online comments.

When I arrived in mid-1978 to complete a three-year-old DMO start up for Anchorage, two of the major obstacles we faced were internal.

Statewide Alaskans backhanded Anchorage with the compliment that that “the best thing about Anchorage was that it was 15 minutes from Alaska.”

Yet research was showing that the amenities offered by Anchorage were important to potential visitors.

At the same time, Anchorage residents were skeptical toward tourism because having divided the state into stereotypes traditional long-haul tourism interests had pegged Anchorage as the overnight between Mt. McKinley and Prince William Sound.

Yet surveys and inventories had shown that Anchorage offered virtually every Alaskan experience in a shorter, less logistical and expensive trip without diverting travelers interested in some of those traditional itineraries.

We needed a communications vehicle that would illuminate Anchorage’s personality and serve to give voice to community pride, while establishing a platform from which we could build awareness of the community’s role in tourism.

During 1979, we tinkered with some print tourism ads headlined Anchorage & Anchorage juxtapositioning two side by side images, one featuring something iconic about Alaska such as wildlife and the other featuring an Anchorage amenity such as great dining.

While we knew it was too “straight up” or serious for the PSAs we wanted to run locally which would also reach the majority of Alaskans, we felt we could build on that positioning.

We were working with a small boutique agency at the time in Seattle which until we could develop organizational capacity was the only entity willing to produce our annual visitors guide including selling the advertising.

One day while discussing the campaign we wanted to create, I mentioned a Chevron commercial that had been created by Kurtz And Friends as an example that might work.

We knew straight up imagery wouldn't be as effective because Alaskans were over exposed to incredible photography.  We also needed something that wouldn’t take the community too seriously.

Tom Bardeen, one of the principles in the boutique, was familiar with Bob Kurtz, who had earned fame doing the titles for The Pink Panther and offered to see if he was interested in producing an animated spot for us on behalf Anchorage.

He was, and either Tom or Bob or maybe both fell on the idea of a chorus line of animals to convey the message that Anchorage & Anchorage had only in an animation format.

The spot took off instantly with not only Anchorage residents but Alaskans as a whole.  Still a decade before the worldwide web would be viable, I guess you could say it went viral.

Within weeks we knew the moose in the center of the chorus line would work as the graphic symbol in our branding of Anchorage for external audiences as would the tagline Wild About Anchorage.

Linda Chase, an event organizer, agreed to do costumes for an actual chorus line we could take on the road at promotions as well as use at local events and during welcome ceremonies for conventions.

A contest in schools gave the moose a name – Seymour of Anchorage – get it?

Tennys Owens, a local art gallery owner, arranged for sales of the original celluloids and residents lined up around the block to buy and frame them. I still have one the board gave me when I moved on.

A statuette of Seymour was created to give to awardees at award dinners.

I left Alaska in late 1987, but Wild About Anchorage remained in use for another 20 years.  In 2007 the Anchorage DMO successfully launched a new brand signature and the tagline “Big Wild Life.”

In 2011, after the Anchorage Daily News pined for Wild About Anchorage in a column, Seymour the Moose, himself, penned an open letter assuring readers that he was still working as a mascot of sorts for the new slogan (smile.)

Coming up with a magical campaign such as this is always a bit serendipitous by nature.

Testing can measure a lot of things including potential popularity, but usually not deep and enduring engagement over more than three decades.

Nor do DMO marketers or should I say DMO governing boards have the patience to let a campaign play out like Anchorage obviously did.  About the time it seems everyone on the planet must be heard of it is when a campaign is just starting to penetrate.

Little did we know then that by the end of that decade traditional advertising overall would begin a three decade decline in effectiveness.

In today’s marketing environment where ads now have a negative return on investment and channel fragmentation makes a PSA campaign impractical, it wouldn’t be possible to do what we achieved in 1981.

I am humbled that people still embrace Wild About Anchorage as a legacy campaign.  We were very lucky and I was blessed to play a part as the producer.

Hats off to Tom Bardeen who wrote the lyrics and Dale Case (101 Dalmatians and Fatherhood) and Pam Cooke (Family Guy and Simpsons) who did the animation and especially Bob Kurtz who designed and directed Wild About Anchorage.

How a Startup DMO Reached the Pinnacle of Advertising

No one involved ever expected it to endure - let alone be acclaimed -but as it occurred this month, I still get a call about it every year or so over the more than three decades since our little campaign launched.

When concepted in 1980 and launched in 1981, the campaign was intended to last only a few years at best.  Those were the days before testing was feasible and we were just glad it worked.

It remains the only campaign by a community destination marketing organization (DMO) to win a full-blown CLIO award in the overall travel category.

Clio is the preeminent international award competition for the creative business.

The campaign, originally designed to run only as a public service announcement when there were only three TV stations was also recognized as one of the hundred best TV commercial that year.

Advertising Age, a magazine for marketing and media cited it as “A Significant Milestone in the use of Television Technics for Marketing Success.

More than half a lifetime ago, I was only 32 years old at the time and in the first decade of what would be a four-decade career as a DMO exec.  It didn’t sink in until years later how rare what we had achieved actually was.

Friends at Seattle-based Alaska Airlines had won a CLIO award a year earlier and seeing our little campaign’s potential encouraged its submission.

Of course, “I Love New York” as a state tourism campaign had won a CLIO three or four years earlier as did Michigan tourism a few years later.

Two other community DMOs have reached the short list or received bronze or silver recognition in the years since.

DMOs are nonprofit organizations with the in-house skillsets of commercial advertising, marketing and public relations agencies.

But instead of being generalists about a lot of different products and services, DMOs are established to specialize, day in and day out, in the safeguarding and leveraging of the brand of a particular location.

They are a means to draw and optimize visitor centric economic and cultural development for the communities they serve.

Think of DMOs as an inch wide and a mile deep compared to agencies-for-hire which, by nature, must be a mile wide and an inch deep in order to be relevant to many different types of businesses.

Another DMO I subsequently led before retiring went on to garner more than 100 other awards for marketing and best practices.  Still, none quite reached the acclaim achieved by that little spot we produced for Anchorage, Alaska in 1981.

Here is the story of how Wild About Anchorage came to be,  To my wonder, still resonates there more than three decades later based on online comments.

When I arrived in mid-1978 to complete a three-year-old DMO start up for Anchorage, two of the major obstacles we faced were internal.

Statewide Alaskans backhanded Anchorage with the compliment that that “the best thing about Anchorage was that it was 15 minutes from Alaska.”

Yet research was showing that the amenities offered by Anchorage were important to potential visitors.

At the same time, Anchorage residents were skeptical toward tourism because having divided the state into stereotypes traditional long-haul tourism interests had pegged Anchorage as the overnight between Mt. McKinley and Prince William Sound.

Yet surveys and inventories had shown that Anchorage offered virtually every Alaskan experience in a shorter, less logistical and expensive trip without diverting travelers interested in some of those traditional itineraries.

We needed a communications vehicle that would illuminate Anchorage’s personality and serve to give voice to community pride, while establishing a platform from which we could build awareness of the community’s role in tourism.

During 1979, we tinkered with some print tourism ads headlined Anchorage & Anchorage juxtapositioning two side by side images, one featuring something iconic about Alaska such as wildlife and the other featuring an Anchorage amenity such as great dining.

While we knew it was too “straight up” or serious for the PSAs we wanted to run locally which would also reach the majority of Alaskans, we felt we could build on that positioning.

We were working with a small boutique agency at the time in Seattle which until we could develop organizational capacity was the only entity willing to produce our annual visitors guide including selling the advertising.

One day while discussing the campaign we wanted to create, I mentioned a Chevron commercial that had been created by Kurtz And Friends as an example that might work.

We knew straight up imagery wouldn't be as effective because Alaskans were over exposed to incredible photography.  We also needed something that wouldn’t take the community too seriously.

Tom Bardeen, one of the principles in the boutique, was familiar with Bob Kurtz, who had earned fame doing the titles for The Pink Panther and offered to see if he was interested in producing an animated spot for us on behalf Anchorage.

He was, and either Tom or Bob or maybe both fell on the idea of a chorus line of animals to convey the message that Anchorage & Anchorage had only in an animation format.

The spot took off instantly with not only Anchorage residents but Alaskans as a whole.  Still a decade before the worldwide web would be viable, I guess you could say it went viral.

Within weeks we knew the moose in the center of the chorus line would work as the graphic symbol in our branding of Anchorage for external audiences as would the tagline Wild About Anchorage.

Linda Chase, an event organizer, agreed to do costumes for an actual chorus line we could take on the road at promotions as well as use at local events and during welcome ceremonies for conventions.

A contest in schools gave the moose a name – Seymour of Anchorage – get it?

Tennys Owens, a local art gallery owner, arranged for sales of the original celluloids and residents lined up around the block to buy and frame them. I still have one the board gave me when I moved on.

A statuette of Seymour was created to give to awardees at award dinners.

I left Alaska in late 1987, but Wild About Anchorage remained in use for another 20 years.  In 2007 the Anchorage DMO successfully launched a new brand signature and the tagline “Big Wild Life.”

In 2011, after the Anchorage Daily News pined for Wild About Anchorage in a column, Seymour the Moose, himself, penned an open letter assuring readers that he was still working as a mascot of sorts for the new slogan (smile.)

Coming up with a magical campaign such as this is always a bit serendipitous by nature.

Testing can measure a lot of things including potential popularity, but usually not deep and enduring engagement over more than three decades.

Nor do DMO marketers or should I say DMO governing boards have the patience to let a campaign play out like Anchorage obviously did.  About the time it seems everyone on the planet must be heard of it is when a campaign is just starting to penetrate.

Little did we know then that by the end of that decade traditional advertising overall would begin a three decade decline in effectiveness.

In today’s marketing environment where ads now have a negative return on investment and channel fragmentation makes a PSA campaign impractical, it wouldn’t be possible to do what we achieved in 1981.

I am humbled that people still embrace Wild About Anchorage as a legacy campaign.  We were very lucky and I was blessed to play a part as the producer.

Hats off to Tom Bardeen who wrote the lyrics and Dale Case (101 Dalmatians and Fatherhood) and Pam Cooke (Family Guy and Simpsons) who did the animation and especially Bob Kurtz who designed and directed Wild About Anchorage.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Durham Outranks State and Peer Cities for Small Business

Thumbtack conducts a survey of small businesses and uses the results to rank states and cities on a series of aspects.  North Carolina overall falls in the middle compared to other states with an overall friendliness rating of B-.

The biggest challenge faced by small businesses statewide is apparently access to credit.  Taxes fall #7 and regulations a distant #11, cited by only 1.7% of respondents.

In fact, small businesses gave NC a B- for environmental and a B for regulations.  Not bad compared to the overall rating of B- but surely news to regressives in the General Assembly.

But in results released today, Durham, NC, where I happen to live, is given an A- overall, highest among the state’s larger cities and towns.  The Bull City, where great things happen, earned As on six criteria including regulations and an A+ for tax code and training programs.

Durham also ranks 14th out of 95 cities rated nationwide.

An area for improvement is the ease of starting a business.  Small businesses gave Durham an A- for regulations and a B+ for environmental.

Durham’s overall rating is up from a B in 2012 while North Carolina’s has improved from a C+ to a B-.

A major take-away for North Carolina policy makers is focus on making credit easier to obtain and to not be distracted by the relative few small businesses concerned about regulations.

Another take-away is that some of the state’s larger cities, which some lawmakers seem determined to undermine wherever possible are doing a much better job for small businesses than the state as a whole.

Sentiment is gleaned annually from 18,000 truly small businesses, of which 90% have five or fewer employees.  These are the independent businesses that make up 20% of the workforce and lead the way in job creation.

Yet they are often overlooked because they don’t have time to attend meetings or hire lobbyists or testify at public hearings.  Nor are they any longer on the radar of business advocacy groups such as most chambers of commerce.

Much of that void has been filled by community destination marketing organization where they aren’t still trapped in a membership model and by Thumbtack, which in part provides a marketplace where businesses bid on consumers.