A business professor-friend of mind recently asked me to write about the long-term outlook for community destination marketing organizations, my four-decade career that ended at the dawn of 2010.
It will be a fun exercise. Even though these organizations overall have continued to evolve over the last five years, the answer to his query can be found in the past, which is the primary source of all strategic insight.
When I reference this as “looking back to see forward,” I am not talking about the regressive propensity by some of my former DMO peers to react to changes in the tourism ecosystem by futilely trying to put humpty dumpty back together.
It is true, as some pundits predict, that “some” DMOs are already becoming irrelevant but not just because of technological advances.
Communities that have surrendered authenticity and sense of place while opting instead for mainstream mega-events and facilities are already obsolete.
Rather than differentiate, this approach homogenizes identity and character so that sooner rather than later there will be little need for a DMOs in these communities.
Those DMOs in communities that that still have and safeguard a unique sense place woven from distinctive cultural, built and natural place-based assets are and will still be highly relevant far into the future.
But to paraphrase futurist and analyst Brian Solis, in the future the marketing these community destination marketing organizations deploy will have little resemblance to marketing as it has been.
This isn’t and won’t just be about “keeping your knees bent” or better yet balancing for absorption as in the “bump method, aka, mogul skiing” to use metaphors from downhill skiing.
Interestingly, in the book forward to Share This Too, where Solis made that statement about “The future of marketing [having] little to do with marketing,” he uses a comparison of the difference between surfing and skateboarding with snowboarding.
Describing that while they may look familiar, with the first two you lean back and use your back foot as a rudder. But with snowboarding, you lean forward.
Change, even when it seems evolutionary requires not only “perseverance” but an “open mind” to doing things differently.
That said, marketing as most DMOs practice it began to rapidly change three decades ago, more than a decade before the Internet was made available commercially and nearly two decades before it was employed by even the most forward thinking DMOs.
While much of what a typical DMO does today will continue to be replaced in the future by technology, you can see what those that will still be relevant will be up to instead by looking at what all but the most strategic DMOs have long been neglecting.
Here is my take on eight (in no particular order) community destination marketing foci there that will always be a need for “boots on the ground” to optimize visitor-centric economic and cultural development even as more traditional elements of marketing continue to be commoditized by new technologies.
Serving as the vigilant conscience and guardian for the distinctive sense of place of a particular destination community – Perpetually justifying the unique value proposition: what’s special, what’s different.
Defending community reputation as a means of lowering barriers to visitation e.g. proactive fact-checking, ensuring accuracy even if troubling, protecting image, challenging negative stereotypes, drilling down to distill and celebrate inherent brand values, traits, positioning.
Conducting intensive and never-ending front line training about the community to optimize visitor satisfaction and circulation as well as training local stakeholders to optimize economic value added by “buying local.”
Leading the process for distilling strategic insight into what McKinsey’s Hugh Courtney identifies as the four levels of uncertainty including the “clear enough” near-term, “alternative futures” or scenarios a little further out, “a range of potential futures” in the distance and finally, patterns of evolution.
Most so-called strategic thinking stops at level one – the obvious.
Creating and curating content/context communications including perpetually freshened graphic imagery that draws attention by providing valuable knowledge and insight as well as appealing to only those visitors for whom the community can deliver on its brand.
Maintaining and providing databases that update GPS data as well as making certain that all stakeholder businesses and organizations have “claimed their online real estate.” Monitoring search engine optimization for the destination and all stakeholders.
Mining and harvesting data and analytics, including primary research, to inform the leverage of private development capital, calculating location specific economic impact and providing and interpreting destination-specific metrics for all stakeholders.
Analyzing, shaping and articulating the visitor experience as well as advising stakeholders on how it can be improved. Deeply aggregating, trafficking and providing event data to optimize exposure and limit dislocation as well as cannibalization of underwriting and volunteers.
There are others but no more advertising. Sales will be more like data mining, performed by data analysis rather than glad-handing. All media attention will be earned. Official community websites will be comprehensive and capable of being harvested by intermediaries.
Staffs will be larger because these marketing foci of the future are more labor intensive and require quick reactions. Skills sets that will be prized are analytics, design and backbone.
In my experience only one DMO in a thousand has made even a token shift to a few of these areas that will be the foci of community marketing going forwards.
If you hear a consultant (or DMO exec for that matter) claim his or her clients already do these things, grab your wallet and run. They are full of, well you know.
Those DMOs that are not trapped in Jurassic Marketing by poor and often regressive or lethargic leadership are usually slowed by “fax thinking.”
By this I mean the tendency to always try to keep “plates spinning” long after they have become obsolete.
Or in the words of Brian Solis, “stuffing promise into familiarity.”