Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mixed Messages on Research

I got a nice compliment from someone the other day at KPMG, a global firm doing feasibility work among other things. “You guys have the most incredible website and research about your visitors that I’ve ever seen,” she volunteered. Now that’s praise indeed.

But here at home, I often get statements from a vocal few that “you do too much research; just place some ads.” That’s a blast from the past. Remember the old “ready, fire, aim” approach to marketing. Ugh! Actually for many CVB’s, we’re still in the old days. ;-)

The comment is even more anachronistic, though, in Durham, the home of Research Triangle Park, Duke University, North Carolina Central University and Duke University Health System, all strongly research-driven.

My theory on why someone would be pejorative about research in this day and age is that (1) very few organizations in a community do marketing, let alone understand the value-added benefit of good market research and (2) they feel trapped or threatened by a research-driven formula because it thwarts marketing by “who’s asking” or “special interests,” or “politics,” which is a combination of the first two.

Market research is worth every penny. A study done recently by a university indicated that, on average, 10% of a marketing budget is market research. That varied greatly by type of business or organization. In destination marketing, the best practice is nearing 4%, and that is rapidly increasing, as people understand just how much more effective research can make other marketing tactics and strategies.

Another reason people may be pejorative about market research is they don’t realize that it's one of the few DCVB marketing activities that is truly visible at the local level. Locals probably don’t see all of the advertising or direct sales or publicity etc., because that is targeted to external audiences. But to empower local stakeholders, including all visitor-related organizations, to embrace the community’s brand, DCVB distributes as much research as possible, so it can be used to inform decisions beyond our efforts to market the community.

Actually, thanks go to the foresight of the State Legislature, which inserted market research as a component of promotion and marketing in DCVB’s charter legislation, and just as much to the people who founded DCVB and believed that a CVB in the home of RTP, Duke, DUHS and NCCU, should definitely be “information-driven” in its decision-making.

And thanks to Dave Palmer, then with Alaska Airlines, and Tim Skoog with Northwest Airlines, who during my time in Anchorage, helped us pioneer an in-flight visitor survey and to Dave Dittman, who schooled me in opinion research. I’m sure there was a time when I was caught in the paradigm of “let's just place some ads.”

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