It would seem that the official community-destination marketing arm (DMO) for Durham, North Carolina has it made. By a margin of 13 to 1, its residents have a positive image of their community. By more than 18 to 1 they are proud of their community, both of which are many times higher than national benchmarks.
Perceptions among internal stakeholders are pivotal to any attempt to leverage a community’s inherent brand into visitor-centric economic and cultural development because they make or break credibility. But residents are only one of three perceptual challenges facing DMOs.
The second is with prospective visitors and Durham performs well there as well. At nearly 80%, Durham has the highest positive image among North Carolinians of any of the major cities, a position it has held since the late 1990s when measurement began.
For instance, compared to nearby Raleigh, North Carolina, the state capital, Durham’s negative image among North Carolinians is 87% lower and its positive image is 27% higher. At home, within its own county, Durham’s negative image among residents is 34% lower than Raleigh’s is among Wake County residents.
Durham also has the highest average image in the state among similar-size or larger communities. Equally important, at 10.3%, it is within 2 points of having the lowest negative rating statewide and it comes within a point of having of having the highest positive to negative ratio.
Durham also has an incredible 11 to 1 positive to negative ratio nationwide as a potential visitor destination, all of which is to say that Durham is in a good position in the minds of external audiences.
So where does its stand with the third perceptual challenge many DMOs may face?
When someone visits Durham, North Carolina, they are twice as likely to encounter a non-resident who works here as they are a resident of Durham working in the facilities and establishments they frequent or the activities in which they participate.
For instance, nearly as many Wake County residents work in Durham as do Durham residents, and studies show they are two and half times more likely to be negative toward Durham. This means visitors are several times more likely to encounter someone who is negative about Durham, even though, these people may “walk and talk” like a Durham resident.
Most communities have a much smaller share of non-residents or they dominate centric regions. Raleigh residents working in Durham are three times the proportion of Durham residents working in Wake County or in just Raleigh proper.
Raleigh residents may have a lower image of their community but studies show they are more centric. So if a Durham visitor asks a question of a worker, who happens to live in Raleigh, the answer given becomes less about where they work and more about them and where they live.
Even though they have a much higher image of and pride in their community, Durham residents in general are less centric. Any assessment of this third audience by a DMO must take into account not only workforce patterns such as people who work but do not live in a community but also the tendencies of those non-resident populations.
Keep in mind that Durham is the core city of a four-county metro area which taken together with the much more spread out and larger Raleigh-Cary metro to the east is often referred to as a poly-centric region known as the Research Triangle.
Not only is there no dominant “center” to the region but only 3% of the visitors to any of these communities are likely to take in more than one on the same trip. The condition known as cognitive distance friction, means that to visitors, a mile during a trip seems more like twenty back home.
Even if non-residents working in a community are not negative about it, their lack of knowledge can be interpreted by visitors as negative. This is especially true, as mystery shopper observations and analysis reveal, when having little local knowledge of a destination community, they are prone to refer visitors to where they live instead, away from the destination the visitors are are visiting.
The result is not only inconvenience and confusion for the visitor but a tremendous loss of visitor spending to the host community from this visit and possibly return visits as well as a dilution of the destination’s brand and credibility.
Community-destination marketing is about informing and changing perceptions and for most communities it involves much more than simply the perceptions of visitors.