Thursday, September 18, 2008


A friend interrupted me recently to say that “her daughter works in New York and Durham has such a horrible image, she may never move back here to live.”

Anecdotal horror stories like that drive a person like me nuts, especially when they don’t understand why that is a horrible way to inform marketing strategies. It led us years ago to ask, exactly how many associates have a negative image of Durham or is it just a virulent few? How did they come by those impressions? How representative are they of the population as a whole?

I’m told that when DCVB initiated periodic national surveys in 1995 to benchmark Durham’s image, it was the first to do so. I don’t know about that. Seems a very obvious approach to me. Why jump around based on what may be a very few opinions when you can easily just ask a generalizable part of the entire nation.

According to the most recent survey done last week by Opinion Research Corporation, Durham has an increasingly strong image nationwide:

  • Nationwide, by a margin of 9 to 1, adults have a positive image of Durham overall. Just 3% are negative, which is only one point higher than communities in North Carolina with the best image overall and half that of most others.

  • Nearly half of those who are aware of Durham are positive about Durham, including 15% who are very positive.

  • Since polling and marketing began, awareness of Durham has been increased by 25%, negatives reduced by 2/3rds and the positive to negative ratio has tripled.

  • At a ratio of 16 to 1, Durham’s image nationwide is highest as a place with many cultural, educational and entertainment features, up nearly 8 fold since 1995.

  • At 14 to 1, Durham’s image as a place with new business and growth potential is second highest, up almost 5 times.

There is still plenty of work to do, though. Awareness still needs to be created for about 4 out of 10 while insulating them from confusing things like 1) misattribution of Durham assets to other communities like Raleigh, 2) inferences that Durham is a suburb of Raleigh caused by misuse or misunderstanding of the airport name and 3) the undercurrent of negativity fueled by 10-12% of adults living in nearby communities.

Oh, and most of all, Durham faces the same persistent stereotypes of the South (think of the movie Deliverance) that are faced by nearly all communities in this diverse and varied part of the country.

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