Friday, May 15, 2009

Strong DPAC Brand Should Trump Naming Rights!

Everyone expected the new Durham Performing Arts Center to be a hit but a big surprise is how fast the name and brand has resonated far and wide, including the acronym DPAC (pronounced DeePACK.)

I believe I may have started it in some early emails by just using DPAC, the same way Durham residents and visitors far and near refer to DBAP for the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Getting a new name and brand signature to catch on this fast is like striking gold. And the community needs to weigh very carefully whether selling off the naming rights is now worth losing a brand and name that has achieved this much share of mind, this fast.

Brands are extremely valuable.

While the motives and methods are certainly suspect of a Raleigh developer who single handedly hoodwinked the War Department after WWII into believing Durham was fine with flip flopping the name of the jointly owned airport to be Raleigh-Durham from what had been Durham-Raleigh (still the only airport in the US today with city names out of alphabetical order), he definitely understood the power of branding.

He may have even understood that people truncate hyphenated references to the detriment of the second community in the airport name and even if he didn’t realize airports would one day blur the distinction of airports and communities, he understood that Raleigh by inference would benefit greatly.

The record shows that Durham fumed for a bit but as it often does, in the spirit of “regional cooperation” (which can, as in this case, be a one way street), let it go both to preserve unity in the family of communities but I suspect given Durham’s unpretentious nature, also to keep the entire area from looking “stupid” in the eyes of the Federal government.

But it is clear Durham underestimated the huge long–term consequences including the detriment this continues to be to Durham brand identity. Oh, do I hear someone from Raleigh condescendingly claiming Durham is whining again while dismissing some pretty gauche self behavior?

Last night a group of investors – most of whom lived in Raleigh and Wake County, met another big-name chef relocating to Durham. It was interesting to watch how many times he was asked where he was planning to live, to which he replied, “Durham,” each time a bit more emphatically than the last. I’m sure the guy thought these people were crazy. Why wouldn’t you assume that someone moving a business to Durham would want to live in Durham?

By the end of the night he was explaining that he had done all the research, could have moved anyplace in the country to open up his business and had selected Durham. Then he added that he looked at other nearby communities but Durham had everything he wanted...diversity, good schools, excellent quality of life, vibrant downtown, etc.

We’re gradually learning as a community about the importance of branding and newcomers like this remind us that it is far better to be emphatic in the face of embarrassingly awkward and dismissive comments like these that all too often undermine Durham and mislead newcomers as a “coded signal” about where to live.

So while selling the naming rights to the new theater isn’t illogical, we need to think long and hard about a seemingly organic brand like DPAC before we sell it for any price. Brands like this are very difficult to achieve…let's consider very carefully the value of losing a very organic and quickly embraced…DPAC identity and brand…or we’ll regret it for years.

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