Thursday, May 23, 2013

Moving from Yelling to Touch Points

I smile whenever I recall how timid a few people in Durham, North Carolina became in the early 1990s.

This was before the Internet became commercially viable and more than a decade before sustainable social media emerged so the overarching strategy seized upon by Durham’s newly-formed community-destination marketing organization (DMO) made a few people uncomfortable.

The organization set out to defend and proactively shape the community’s brand at every touch point, an experiment that seemed foreign at the time but it worked.

White papers such as one just published shed light on why.

This squeemy reaction by a few Durham stakeholders was primarily due to condescending protests from friends in Raleigh and Chapel Hill or the news media there when these sources were “touched-up” regarding even more condescending Durham put-downs.

Lacking technologies prominent today, back then the Durham DMO could only work from clippings and other news attributions and quotes, as well as information relayed from “water-cooler” conversations.

Setting the record straight drew attention but much more often the strategy was to answer questions and concerns.  Social without media, but the strategy was also deployed prophylactically.

By the end of the 1990s this strategy had turned Durham’s image around among external pockets of nearby communities who for decades has been virulently infecting potential visitors, newcomers and relocating businesses and executives, deflecting them away from Durham.

Ironically as one did recently, unbeknownst to Durham leaders, a few we had to “touch-up” come now with hat-in-hand to Durham for favors.

The touch points the DMO addressed in this controversial approach were not just to challenge the sources of misimpressions but to respond to the questions raised in response by potential visitors, newcomers and relocating executives as well as neighbors of the these negativists who had not yet been turned.

What so many businesses and organizations and communities still don’t grasp today is that the strategy the Durham DMO stumbled upon in the early 1990s is now imperative to any marketing effort.

Somewhat easier to deploy today, it should be mainstream for any community serious about tapping into one of the most pervasive customer cohorts, the digitally connected consumer.

What are far too many communities and businesses still doing today?  In the words of John Battelle, the chairman and CEO of Federated Media Publishing, they “yell a lot.”

Instead of seeking conversations at every touch point, they buy a lot of costly  but inefficient and “interruptive advertising” - a form of yelling - to get someone’s attention.

This is the mistake the so-called “business-inspired” proposal to reshape economic development in North Carolina makes (page 246 of link.)  It not only dilutes tourism development by requiring it to market other forms as well but weds it in part to outdated elements such as advertising.

Leveraging marketing efforts makes sense but the proposal fails to grasp the difference between demand-side economic development such as tourism and supply-side efforts such as business recruitment.

Fortunately for the nation’s ears, this mandated “yelling” comes with no extra funds.  Unfortunately for North Carolinians, it will come at the expense of visitation and jobs in one of it largest economic sectors. North Carolina’s brand and marketing is not a one size fits all.

Inundated now by 10,000 advertising messages a day, the average consumer has tuned out advertising and all of this “yelling” is futile, turning off a ratio of consumers many times greater than to the few to which it may appeal.

Even brands, which are meant to be a distillation of an individual community’s personality (same with businesses and organizations,) are now touch points, according to a white paper released this month by

According to Jez Frampton, CEO of Interbrand, in marketing it is no longer community or business-to-consumer (B2C,) “it’s now B & C.”  For anyone who has actually been through the many months it takes to distill a brand or personality, it really isn’t “owned by a community or business.

According to branding experts such as Bill Baker, who helped thousands of Durham residents through the process to distill one for Durham, North Carolina, a true brand or personality exists in the intersection of perceptions among external and internal stakeholders.

In a connected world, Frampton sees brands as an “interface between businesses (and communities) and human beings.”   According to the white paper, “a brand is what consumers say about it.”

This was the source of Durham’s brand tagline, “where great things happen,” which isn’t a tourism or economic development brand but one that is overarching and will evolve over time as well as support hundreds of different sub-brands suspended under that umbrella.

The white paper reworks four of the most stereotypical pillars of marketing.  It also illustrates why the various elements of branding are meant to form a blend of touch points that must be nurtured by constant vigilance and responsiveness to customers.

Community-destination marketing organizations (DMOs) should read carefully the part about Samsung monitoring and responding to questions raised on retailer sites rather than expecting the retailers to answer on their behalf or to eventually relay them.

The challenge for DMOs, or CVBs as they are often called, is that while they shape how a community is marketed, they have no say in how that brand is delivered by the thousands of individual restaurants, stores, hotels, galleries, theaters and stadiums.

Nor do DMOs control how the community performs in the spaces between these transactions and interactions so critical to unique sense of place such as along roadsides and other areas.

As retailers permit Samsung to do, businesses and government agencies would be well advised to let the DMO for their community monitor online questions and concerns posed to them and respond directly to those about the overall destination as well as redirect them and monitor responses by others.

What Altimeter Group analyst and blogger Brian Solis calls Generation C (c is for connected) has rapidly grown intolerant of lag time.

Repeated research shows that it is the community to which these visitors are first drawn.  If communities are to function at a high level as destinations with Generation C for visitor-centric economic and cultural development, these stakeholder industries must stop behaving as silos and involve the DMO at every touch point.

In the near future, it will become de rigueur for individual businesses, organizations, events and facilities in a community to provide this transparency between the individual visitor and the DMO.

It will soon become impossible to thrive as a destination unless internal stakeholders extend this transparency from the very first point at which interest in visiting has been stimulated.

This is in that early, nearly subconscious twilight prior to what Google calls the Zero Moment of Truth, through to the Ultimate Moment of Truth which is when during post-visitation, visitors share and summarize their overall experience with other and are also when they may be most open to suggestions of a repeat visit.

The visitor experience with a community must go beyond a series of Solis calls transactions.  This is not much different than what what was so controversial in Durham back in the day.  But now in a digitally connected universe, it is essential.

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