Friday, July 31, 2009

Short Term Loss – Long Term Gain

I took a cool motorcycle ride Sunday that included South Lowell Road and Johnson Mill Road and parts of Mason, St. Mary’s and Guess Roads in Northern Durham. Winding country roads, farms, barns, meadows, tree canopy, old growth forests and more.

Durham lost a third of its developable land area in the 1970’s. Already the state’s 17th smallest land area, Durham surrendered development and tax revenues so Falls Lake could be created at the confluence of three rivers here, Eno, Little and Falls.

The lake was created by the Federal Government to quench the thirst of people downstream from Durham in Wake County and towns like Raleigh. They have three times the land area of Durham but development there was very constricted by lack of water.

It is often kidded that Durham should have negotiated an itsy bitsy percentage of the massive assessed valuation enabled downstream. But in the end Durham gets a much larger and more significant benefit. Watershed preserves North Durham in low density development and horse farms and laced by scenic byways, three rivers, large recreation areas and parks and several lakes and reservoirs.

And in the future, this part of Durham will be preserved as an oasis of open space and a memory of rural North Carolina as intense development changes the character of counties surrounding it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Different Organizations – Different Missions

I’m still surprised to come across business people who don’t grasp the differences between organizations like DCVB, Durham Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Durham Inc. Of course, what you don't understand, you can't leverage and these organizations have stakeholders in common.

Some might be confused because in some very small towns, there is often just one organization that tries to do everything until the size of the community along with the intensity and complexity of the roles nearly always dictate separate organizations. While each of these organizations is invloved in a type of community or economic development, these organizations are inherently different--both in makeup and mission—so a clear division of effort just makes good sense.

Of course, none of the organizations probably do as good a job as they think they do in differentiating for stakeholders. There may be a sensitivity that if we do, some may dismiss it as a turf issue instead of clarification of the division of effort.

And frankly, we have to remind ourselves on occasions. Organizations can be allies without being identical, attached at the hip or overlapping. I think we’ve accomplished that here in Durham.

DCVB, the Chamber and DDI are all in some way Durham messengers, along with 16 other organizations. While that doesn’t mean they do the same thing, it does mean it is important they speak in a consistent and compelling voice about Durham.

  • DCVB is a tourism development authority set up by the General Assembly and local government to serve as the community’s marketing agency. Its primary role is promoting what is called “demand-side” visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

    DCVB doesn’t attract businesses to relocate, although 70-80% personally experience Durham as a visitor first. DCVB focuses on drawing the customers that make businesses and organizations sustainable while letting the marketplace do the rest. DCVB must represent the entire community so it is not membership based. Its governing body is publicly appointed to broadly represent the community and its structure is a public authority similar to an Airport Authority.

  • The Chamber is a private advocacy organization working on behalf its dues-paying members specifically and the business community in general.

    It makes sure businesses, small and large, have a seat at any table on issues affecting commercial activity and commerce. It also contracts to help the County’s recruitment of new and expanding businesses or what is called “supply-side” economic development. It is membership based with a privately appointed, membership-elected Board and structured as a 501 (c) (6) nonprofit organization.

  • DDI is also a private, advocacy organization formed to help spur continued downtown revitalization. It is membership based with a privately appointed board, and shares in common with the Chamber a 501 (c) (6) nonprofit status.

    The City and County provide funding to DDI in part to advocate back to them improvements that will move downtown forward. It also serves as a liaison for private developers to generate supply side economic development in the central business district.

Businesses large and small should support all three organizations and understand they each play a key but different role and that they make every attempt to coordinate and leverage respective strengths and missions. What they share in common is the Durham brand and helping Durham grow while retaining the qualities and place based assets that make it distinctive.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Paying By the Pound

David Wilkening reports an idea under consideration that just might help curb what medical professionals refer to as a growing obesity problem. People would estimate their weight when they buy an airline ticket and then weigh in at the airport and pay their fare based on weight, similar to the way freight is priced. Farfetched? Maybe not so much. It may be the only way “around” [so to speak] the problem of people taking up more than one seat per ticket. Now if only they could figure a way to charge more for screaming babies, people who talk loud on their cell phones…

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Animals Benefitting from People Drugs

My English Bulldog #1, Toady, has dementia and takes medication they give Alzheimer patients.

I’ve witnessed Alzheimer’s up front. My Step Father had it for 10 years before passing.

The treatment has done wonders for Toady who is very old by Bulldog standards and has already had 9 lives.

Before the treatment, and still now when the drug wears off, she’s cranky, has a lost look in her eyes, fearful and doesn’t have a clue who I am or what I’m asking her to do.

When she has the drug, she has a sparkle in her eye, she’s attentive and affectionate. This is the second time Toady’s been rescued by a drug first designed for people. She has to take one that was developed for asthmatics.

I think of Toad when I hear people discuss non-harmful animal testing. Lots of opinions on both sides of that discussion but you can see how in Toad's opinion, the benefits go both ways.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tank Art

At DCVB, we have a custom of honoring anniversaries each month at a staff meeting we call Remarkabulls. Knowing Harley-Davidson’s penchant for custom art on fuel tanks, the staff recognized my 20th anniversary at DCVB by mocking up a tank for H-D featuring the overarching Durham brand signature.

Looks perfect to me.

Who’s counting, but this anniversary marked 36 years in destination marketing for me; two at BYU in the then office of tours and conferences, 5 in Spokane, 9 + in Anchorage and 20 in Durham.

In a little under 6 months when I retire, I’ll write a book, jump start a think tank, write some family histories, get deeper into genealogy, take my English Bull Dogs for walks (one anyway,) dial up my photography and ride the heck out that motorcycle.

But I know I’ll greatly miss the challenges of destination marketing and just going to work at DCVB every morning trying to play a small part in promoting and defending the Durham brand. Actually, for those who know me, I’ll never stop fighting for Durham.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Stop The Whining About Communication Overload!

Why do some people constantly whine about the amount of communication they receive? It isn’t just about email or computers. The same people complained about hard copy inboxes, snail mail, appointments and telephone traffic long before email and voice mail, etc. They even also complained about copy machines creating more to read.

Maybe they just like to complain, or maybe the complaints are meant to convey how hard they are working, or perhaps they need to drop out.

Whatever it is, insisting on being spoon fed rather than reading, demanding face time or telephone time for things that are now rapidly and effectively exchange via email or IM or text messaging….well it’s just gumming up the works for vast majority of people who appear to see communication as something that can move much more quickly and should.

There are ways to live without any communication…that’s called being a hermit.

Yes the world is going faster and faster. And we’re blessed with tools to help manage that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Organic Connection Between DMO's and Film Production

As is customary in many communities, DCVB is responsible for the Durham Film Office. But it became clear during a recent conversation with some vendors listed in the DCVB Directory of Durham Film Services, that many may not realize the organic connection between destination marketing and film development.

Here are just a handful of reasons why this connection creates synergy:
  • DMO’s like DCVB maintain comprehensive image libraries of their community so it is just a small additional step to post these and other potential film locations in a searchable database for use by location scouts.

  • DMO’s like DCVB have the obligation to generate and update comprehensive inventories of business services of all types and to be a liaison to get them in front of customers. Services for film productions are no different.

  • The bottom line for bringing feature films, commercials shoots, documentaries, etc., to a community is the same reasons for bringing visitors, group tours, sports events, meetings and conventions: to fuel the business climate and generate taxable spending.

  • Part of leveraging the benefit of a film is promoting locations to visitors with interest in films.

  • The services provided to a film company are much the same as they are for meetings, events and groups, mainly helping them to identify sites and services, providing media and community alerts, and serving as a liaison with local government to help facilitate permits.

  • Computing and tracking economic impact and measuring performance against benchmarks is as important to film promotion as it is to every other aspect of visitor marketing.

  • Branding or developing community image is an important part of film promotion and obviously the expertise of the community’s marketing agency so a DMO is again a natural.

There are other connections but suffice it to say, there’s no more qualified and related organization to spearhead film promotion for a community.

Monday, July 13, 2009

United Breaks Guitars - A Lesson in Viral Communications

There’s always more to the story but one thing’s for sure. Take complaints seriously. They are a gift to organizations that advocate continuous and never ending improvement. And left unattended, with Web 2.0 complaints can go viral rapidly.

When two blogger friends, first Chris Elliott and then Bill Geist first brought to my attention the great video/song “United Breaks Guitars”by Dave Carroll it had already reached 500,000 views and this morning it is zooming past 2.6 million.

United responded after 50,000 views and made an offer which Dave suggested they give to charity. Then Dave posted a video revealing that United Airlines had been in contact with an offer. He’s doing a follow up song and video.

Research showing that negative information is 2.5 times more powerful than positive may be a bit dated now than viral communication like this are proving it could very well be many times that.

Complaints are a gift. An opportunity to improve. At least four different people and maybe more could have assertively resolved this issue on the spot, regardless of policy, by adamantly and passionately advocating for the customer.

So much more than scratching this itch. United is wise when they asked Carroll if they could use the video in training. But the company may want to look deeply into the corporate culture that blocked the process.

This link takes you to more detail on what went wrong.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Population Growth Without Losing The Community’s Soul!

Durham, North Carolina, both the city and county by that name, have grown by 100, 000 people since the early 1980’s when today’s quickening Downtown revitalization was first ignited by the redevelopment of two historic, brick tobacco warehouses into the anchor for a dining, shopping, office district called Brightleaf.

That’s a doubling in population for the City of Durham, the 16th fastest growing community in the nation last year according to the census and the fastest growing major community in North Carolina during the 1990’s.

To put that in perspective, though, the single city-county has grown by 130% since Research Triangle Park was carved out of Durham pinelands 50 years ago, just four miles from Downtown Durham. What makes this significant is that Durham, while the fourth largest city in North Carolina, is shoehorned into the 17th smallest land area of any county in the state.

This has shaped sensitivity to raw growth several decades before communities which only recently became aware. Instead of the “horse race” often characterized in news stories given insufficient time to provide prospective or to weight growth figures to developable land, Durham activists and increasingly officials and planners have focused instead on steady growth…growth that is sustainable…growth that but preserves quality and unique sense of place, growth that has socio-economic diversity and tolerance.

It’s interesting to note that that’s exactly the type of community being sought by the creative class or knowledge workers. Being big is obviously very important to many communities, each seeking to emulate the other until they become cookie cutter replicas. But for creative class communities like Durham, the challenge isn’t how big, but how to grow without destroying the soul of the community.

Durham is a welcoming and caring community by nature and individuals and families who are drawn here, for the most part, want to retain the community’s character and place-based assets, a challenge that grows more complicated each year.

Tourism development has become an obvious answer. The community has rapidly emerged since promotion began 20 years ago into a destination that now draws more than 6 million day and overnight visitors for purposes other than work or school.

Fortunately the great restaurants, shopping, museums, theaters, conference facilities, sports events, and festivals for which Durham is increasingly known are also key to resident quality of life and the community's soul.

Partners in Circulation

A big part of DCVB's or any destination marketing organization's role begins after the job of creating interest and drawing the traveler to Durham is complete.

Equally, if not more important, is to encourage visitors once they are here to circulate through the community and see and do as much as possible. That’s not just because doing so optimizes spending and tax yield. Encouraging circulation is what sustains and grows the destination and has the potential to convert visitors into evangelists.

In part, to help achieve this in a normal economy, DCVB annually produces and distributes half a million pieces of literature, distributing much of it bi-weekly via 150 outlets. Many of the outlets are now securing kiosks, wall maps and displays designed and produced at cost by DCVB and reflecting the overarching Durham brand signature.

Three recently enlisted distribution partners illustrate this is not only good for the community but critical to delivering on Durham’s brand promise:
  • Duke Pediatric ICU is putting table top displays of official Durham literature throughout its waiting rooms.

    Jennie Pothoven had spotted the DCVB community materials on display at the Children’s Health Center but realized that most parents and family coming to ICU don’t go through the Center. She noted, “Many of our families have children in our unit for months at a time and the opportunity to get out of the hospital and take a break is very important.”

  • NCDOT is working with DCVB to make sure a feature-coded wall map of Durham including insets for Downtown districts is mounted in the new Durham Train Station in a beautifully renovated, historic tobacco factory. DCVB will also manage information displays to be sure arriving passengers have official and comprehensive community information.

  • Durham Area Transit Authority is installing a 3-sided free-standing kiosk in the new Durham Transportation Center for passengers of Triangle Transit Authority arriving from other cities and towns throughout the region, DATA local transit passengers and Greyhound/Trailways passengers from other cities.
Destination marketing is a partnership and DCVB is indebted to stakeholders like these to ensure every visit to Durham is as productive and successful as possible.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Community Image Is:

  • More about curb appeal than mansions,
  • More about the intangible than the tangible,
  • More about water cooler myths than logic,
  • More about stigmas than rationale,
  • More about defiance and information than big, slick ad campaigns.

Bricks and mortar have a place in community image, but before and after surveys reveal the impact is fleeting but for the immediate areas or creates silo impact around that particular location. This is because community image is about stigmas more than reality. A new coat of paint is powerless to change stigmas.

Defiance and good 'ole information work best to root out stigmas, especially in the case of Durham where they are limited to surrounding communities. But defiance is not for the faint of heart and information for many is just too intangible and should we say "inexpensive?”

So let’s face it, there seem to be many more people who can get their heads around something tangible than there are people willing to get at the deeper roots of a stigma and rehabilitating community image requires both.

But tangible doesn't have to be bricks and mortar, nor does is it limited to expensive developments. There are two very tangible and relatively simple and inexpensive things Durham or any community can do to have a significant and lasting impact on community image.

  • A Community-wide, coherent, simplified road and pedestrian signage plan, better known as wayfinding. Notice I didn’t say fragmented and piecemeal.
  • Curb appeal. Image has always been more about curb appeal than mansions and cathedrals. Notice I didn’t say slick or generic.

If you want to see the impact of community-wide wayfinding, soon the first one in North Carolina will be visible in and around Asheville and all of Buncombe County.

It is a shorter trip to see the impact of curb appeal. Just pay attention to the drive up between I-40 and RDU International Airport the next time you take a trip or pick up or drop someone off.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Rick Bean

It is both inspiring and more than a bit humbling to see someone like Rick Bean so quickly and significantly embrace and deploy Durham’s overarching brand. Not just because he is head of a major employer in our community or that he is a relative newcomer to Durham or even that he publishes the hometown newspaper.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the easiest way for me to describe an “overarching” community brand is that it captures the distinctive character and personality of an entire community with a unifying framework and a consistent and compelling voice.

I’m impressed because Rick took his time getting to know Durham before jumping in…but jump in he did recently when he announced and launched a year-long series of weekly full page displays themed around the overarching Durham brand launched about 2 ½ years ago after being distilled through a rigorous community-wide process that took nearly that same time span.

Of course, he isn’t the first to embrace the overarching community brand, nor is this the first time the paper has embraced it. It has even percolated in stories and editorials which is a good sign it is organic and resonates with Durhamites.

In fact, as the research predicted, it has already been embraced by nearly 400 organizations and businesses and as of a year ago had already achieved nearly 80% awareness and 97% favorability among residents.

After his year of observation, Rick decided to illustrate the community brand because he readily witnessed its resonance and…he’s an astute businessman.

What Rick is doing will demonstrate to even the most hesitant among us, that organizations can embrace this consistent and compelling way or articulating Durham without surrendering one ounce of corporate identity or individuality.

He could have just used the paper’s corporate identity to signal the campaign but he insisted on putting DCVB’s logo at the bottom, next to his own. DCVB is Durham’s marketing agency and obviously that means aggressively deploying the brand. But he is also astutely putting the signatures of two key advocacy groups along side, Downtown Durham Inc. and the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

Rick is proof that you only have to be in Durham a short time to see how well Durham’s brand reflects the community’s personality and character.

Durham truly is where great things happen!