Friday, July 25, 2008


There are two sure-fire signals a new community brand signature isn’t going to work. And they both involve residents or local stakeholders more than external audiences.

One is when the universal “peanut gallery” reaction (e.g., my baby sister can draw one better than that) fuels on itself rather than subsides. The other is when no one says anything at all, e.g., it just doesn’t resonate…it isn’t memorable.

With all of the scientific research tools available, it still comes down to that one word…resonate. If after deployment, it doesn’t resonate with stakeholders who live and breathe a community and deliver on the brand day in and day out, you’re in big trouble but have lots of company.

It is natural that brand signatures have to grow on you. It’s change, and folks typically don’t jump up and down in excitement about change, except in the current election. But if in a short time a brand signature doesn’t start to grow on people, it’s DOA.

But a real sign things are going in the right direction is 1) when organizations and individuals in your community want to link to it or use it and 2) when community leaders and news editors begin to cite it.

Most people make the mistake of believing a brand is the art work. Actually a signature is just a highly distilled way to remind people of the brand or bring it to their attention.

Saying the signature is the same as a brand is like saying your new hair cut defines your personality. Nope, at least not for long.

Durham gets a lot of credit for 1) attempting not only to distill a brand but an infinitely more complex overarching brand, one that will give all messengers a common voice and 2) introducing a lot of science into the process at least into destination community brands.

But we’re also very, very fortunate that less than two years since deployment that community leaders are regularly using it in conversation and speeches, more than 300 businesses, organizations and individuals are showcasing it, surveys confirm it already has recognition and acceptance by 80% of residents and finally, it made its way onto the editorial pages, the toughest group of all.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Supply and demand has never been as simple as it was in those micro/macro economics classes in college. It is true that for the most part supply follows demand.

But there are instances where small shifts in demand follow changes in supply. I don’t mean the inscrutable world of oil prices right now where the principles of supply and demand and price seem disconnected.

I’m also not referring to the overly simplistic “build it and they will come” crowd responsible for so much overbuilding and churn.

I’m talking more about what I learned years ago when airlines were regulated. People in my position worked with airlines and community leaders to secure new routes between city pairs from the Federal Government. I learned something then from an airline executive that I assume is true.

When a new carrier is added to a city pair, even though the existing carrier may be flying that route at far less than capacity, there will be a small increase in the number of people flying the route, regardless of fare changes.

Still, it’s a little puzzling that additional people would jump on a plane at the same fare, just because more seats were available. Some of it brand related, e.g. airline preferences. Some related to more exposure to the fact the route existed at all which includes destination marketing, etc.

Now friend and fellow blogger Bill Geist reports on a PKF analysis that predicts that if the 10% announced reduction in airline seats becomes a reality, it will also cause a 3.9% decrease in hotel occupancies. I haven’t read the report but I can imagine it is due to more sell outs, the hassles that come with a full flight, higher fares as seats because scarce and a shift of leisure travelers in particular to other forms of transportation.

As Bill notes, we’re in for a bumpy ride when it will seem as it does with the price of oil, that no one is piloting the plane.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


We’re spoiled in Durham. Sure we have to work extra hard to overcome the underlying current of negativity driven by some negative word of mouth artists in nearby communities and counties.

But my theory is a lot of that negativity is sheer envy with a little intolerance mixed in, and a dash of ignorance. Durham has arguably more going for it than any place in this State and for its size nationwide.

Look at the accolades for proof…community as a whole, healthcare facilities and practitioners, universities, research parks, musicians, hotels, dancers, museums, restaurants, historic preservation…the list is overwhelming.

Leveraging them as part of telling the Durham story is an obvious “must.” But there needs to be more. We need to find ways to help these things continue to thrive and reach new levels of excellence.

Some of them can’t relocate but some can. We can’t take any of them for granted, let alone assume excellence is guaranteed. Gems like ADF can disappear in a heartbeat, as can Full Frame Documentary Film Festival to name just two. Putting on a festival like these is a full time job for scores of people. Durham needs to make it easier for them to secure sponsorship.

The payoff when told as part of the Durham story is publicity like this article in the New York Times, one of several during the season.

Pure gold!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Big 2-0

In five months the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau will turn 20. The governing board commenced January 17, 1989 when the late H.C. Cranford called the meeting to order and then began to search to find me as Chief Executive. This anniversary will particularly be meaningful and fun to celebrate.

Durham commenced destination marketing an average of 20 to 30 years later than its competition. But several strategies have helped us close some of the gaps in what they call “share of mind.”

One was aggressively deploying technology. Another was deploying research driven decisions and a wide range of performance measures right from the get-go. And maybe most important, adopting the credo of “continuing and never-ending improvement” and innovation.

We’re hard on ourselves at DCVB and that’s part of the culture…but I can tell you we’ll come up for air and do some celebrating when DCVB turns 20.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I was told recently by an influential person that anyone who has moved to Durham or other communities in the Triangle after I did nearly 20 years ago doesn’t care about cities, just the region. I think they were trying to hurt my feelings:)

Seriously, one of the crucial elements of community marketing is to keep track of how residents characterize where they live because one of the first principles of marketing is don’t market a brand you can’t deliver. That’s why we encourage people to reserve the term Raleigh-Durham as the name of the jointly owned airport. When it comes to destination communities, there simply is “no such place.”

In the mid ‘90’s, DCVB picked up a question that a newspaper and television station first asked in the early ‘90’s on a survey and had polling professionals repeated it periodically.

Even though 40% of Durham’s population is new to the community since 1990, people continue to have very close ties to the community’s identity. In the scientific poll taken this past May/June, nearly 80% characterize where they live by the city or county of Durham and only just a little over 20% use the region or Triangle as one big area. The percentage has hardly varied and other survey questions have confirmed over the years that even people who think of the region, don’t define it as one big area but as a series of distinct communities.

It isn’t just Durham either. The percentage of people in Orange County preferring a specific city or town or county to characterize where they live is 77% and in Wake County 76%. This doesn’t mean of course that people aren’t proud of the Triangle or the State or the Southeastern United States or the US of A. It just means that when it comes to where people live, communities are communities and they are still very relevant.

None of this fazes those who hope by sheer repetition to argue otherwise though. I think they are caught in the trap of arguing that communities must be irrelevant in order for the region to be relevant, kind of either/or thinking. But those of us in destination community marketing must base decisions on sound research vs. force of will.

Friday, July 18, 2008


As with anything political, this is bound to get a little convoluted over the next few months.

Durham won approval yesterday from the General Assembly to hold a voter referendum on a 1% levy on prepared food. DCVB did some heavy lifting on this over a 17 year period so there has been oodles of discussion and consensus. So why did we take so long after Raleigh/Wake County, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, Dare, Fayetteville/Cumberland and even the little town of Hillsborough assessed this levy?

One, Durham took a good deal more time to discuss and evaluate the “uses.” We didn’t just go after the tax because others have it. We first became aware of the power of this tax during a failed attempt in Wake County to lure the Durham Bulls to relocate in Raleigh.

Why does the state advocacy group for restaurants and hotels adamantly oppose Durham’s and yet helped facilitate Raleigh and Charlotte’s which are not nearly as well used to the benefit of these businesses? Hard to say but there was a political “sea change” and the group has been stuck in a “no” position across the board for many years.

We kept them apprised as Durham’s hospitality sector actually helped shape support for and the uses for the 1% levy here. I serve on Statewide tourism panels and they were all kept apprised during the evolution of Durham’s proposal. They are probably admiring of how thoughtful it is but political forces there are stuck on “no” and Durham had to move on to a more progressive, win/win approach.

Instead of finding a tax and dreaming up uses, Durham, and particularly DCVB, has been long concerned about Durham’s sense of place. Our cultural landscape is eroding because the donation model no longer works and it isn’t fair to place all of the burden just on property taxpayers. Our community’s curb appeal has eroded as budget cuts found it easy to lop off cleanup efforts.
We have a booming visitor sector, particularly in culinary arts , an award winning Durham Careers In Hospitality program in the public schools and a great full degree program at NCCU. But we need culinary labs at places like NCCU and Durham Tech and a lot of workforce training to remain viable as a visitor destination.

We need a way to fund cultural, recreational and civic facilities and programs that doesn’t rely solely on property taxes. The 1% prepared food levy will be spread over all tax payers who consume prepared food and 40% will be generated by visitors and non-resident commuters. This is much fairer to Durham taxpayers.

And finally, we needed to broaden the burden of self-funding visitor promotion to include day trippers rather than continuing to rely only on a third of the room occupancy tax which places the burden on just 60 businesses and 20% of our visitors to fuel tourism growth for 3,000 businesses and organizations.

Durham has a remarkable story to tell and DCVB needs to have the resources competitors do in order to get the community on a list for consideration and overcome a hurdle most other destinations don’t have, overcoming an underlying current of negativity in nearby communities.

So linked are the uses in a more concise way but I thought it was important for you to get a little bit of the background.

More to come I’m sure.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I just turned 60, but I’m far too young to remember first-hand when Orson Wells broadcast a fictional account of an invasion from outer space, so real that it caused panic in the streets. Unfortunately, the news reports and analysts covering things like the price of oil, the housing crisis, etc., are causing a similar upheaval.

The dramatic radio landing of aliens took place in a New Jersey park. Today there is a very “real’ monument to the invasion in the park noted in the drama. It was all based on an H.G. Wells novel, as was the film version three years ago.

News reporters and editors don’t appear to grasp how much public confidence plays into the financial markets. How careless reporting can stampede people. Or how self-fulfilling news reporting can be when obsessed with what Dr. Barry Glassner documented as the “Culture of Fear.” Market and consumer confidence, like self-confidence can be very fragile.

I’m sure the folks doing the reporting have 401K’s and children to put through school. But I sense, if not outright glee, then a stubborn tête-à-tête each morning as reporters dance with experts in a kind of “yes it is,“ “no it isn’t” dialogue with no big picture perspective, driving apprehension with every new tidbit.

But the risk here isn’t failure to understand or lack of awareness or access to information….the risk to all of us is when the news media doesn’t merely report the news but begins to seem vested in trying to “be right” or “sustain” a story, then our shallowed “freedom of the press” comes with a terrible financial risk to all of us.

So if you’re a reporter or editor pumping the price of gas story…or the mortgage loan crisis…or the health of the financial sector…keep in mind the speculation generated might just be creating the story…so we have stories fueling more stories…far beyond what the facts support. Are we truly benefitting…will we be better off?

The news media is going through some major transformations right now. And one of them is by a growing number of responsible journalists who take responsibility for the sheer weight and intensity created not by “bigger” or more important stories…but by the sheer weight and intensity of so many enterprises covering the news.

Friday, July 11, 2008


For 17 years, Durham has worked to shape consensus around a proposal for a prepared food tax. Often DCVB did the heavy lifting but now the Mayor and Commissioner Reckhow, along with the City Council and Board of County Commissioners are taking the lead.

Four counties and 1 town have the tax, several with the assent of the NC Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Durham arguably has the most thoughtful proposal…one that benefits residents, visitors and the businesses collecting the tax.

Durham’s is also different because it requires a voter referendum.

It has proceeded half way through the General Assembly. But there is a full court press to get the Senate to block it.

Getting authority to get voter approval to levy this tax will go a long way toward shoring up Durham’s unique sense of place and cultural landscape.

Please email these Senators today, over the weekend or at the very latest Monday, asking them to give Durham this opportunity that has been given to similar communities like Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville and the Outer Banks, even Hillsborough.

Below are the uses for which this tax is targeted:

Beautification, Cleanup and Appearance (5%)
- Create better curb appeal, increase property values
- Way finding signs to make it easier to get around, find dining districts
- Make all of Durham as attractive as the RTP part of Durham
- Litter pick up, especially around quick service clusters

DCVB Community Marketing (10%)
- Draw visitors, promote dining to grow the revenues
- Encourage visitors to circulate more after arrival
- Address Durham image issues
- Promote the Durham brand and identity

Workforce Development (5%)
- Improve Customer Service
- Improve Durham Careers In Hospitality programs in Durham Public Schools
- Encourage training labs at NCCU and Durham Tech
- Promote the culinary arts as a career

Civic, Cultural and Recreational Projects (80%)
- Fund construction and upkeep of museums, theaters, sports facilities, parks, greenways
- Sustain Durham’s cultural landscape
- Protect and foster place based assets, “built,” “natural” and “heritage”

Monday, July 07, 2008

You Can’t Buy This…

Even though 4 out of 10 residents are new to Durham since 1990, community pride remains as strong as ever. A new, scientific poll in May and June by Catevo reveals that more that 80% of residents are proud or very proud of Durham with fully 1 in 3, very proud, a nearly 9 to 1 ratio over those at the other end of the spectrum.

The community pride is specific to Durham. By nearly 80%, Durham residents prefer to characterize where they live by the city or county with 22% using the general area or region.

It really isn’t possible to buy this allegiance but it also means branding the community can be a little tricky. Fortunately, the overarching brand appears to resonate. In less than two years, 79% of Durham residents have seen or heard, Durham Where Great Things Happen, the signature for the community’s overarching brand. Only 13% have not seen or heard the signature with 3.8% adamant. More than 97% of those aware of the signature believe it makes them feel more positive.