Wednesday, May 05, 2010

5 Guidelines To Understanding Community Image

Twenty one years ago, this month, I had accepted the job of jump-starting a community or destination marketing organization (DMO) for Durham NC and I was busy making arrangements to start on June 1st. A job I just retired from in December.

I came to the job with start up experience and having been CEO of the DMO’s in two other communities, Spokane, WA and Anchorage AK, each similar in size to Durham. But I didn’t have any special experience with community image.

Let me take that back. In Spokane, there were misperceptions of location to overcome and confusion with Seattle which is on Puget Sound in the west, while Spokane is in the far eastern part of Washington State in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.imagesCAYJOJDI

In Anchorage we had to overcome the usual issues with Alaska but also the misperception that you didn’t do Alaska without it being a two week odyssey and never in the winter.

But those are what I call passive image issues. When I came to Durham I ran head long into a very complex image issue although looking back I know that dealing with the issues in Spokane and Anchorage had given me preparation.

I’ll try to blog off and on about community image because a few of you across the country have asked me too and some close friends have intimated that this may be the one area where my experience could be most useful as a way to give back.

Let me begin with five guidelines to understanding community image (just a place to start) and then later I’ll blog in more detail about each:

  • There are two types of image, the community’s image among internal stakeholders or residents and the community’s image among external stakeholders beginning right at the community’s boundaries. It is critical to benchmark and address each one.

  • Image isn’t determined by what boosters or politicians or other messengers think it is. While their opinions and statements are important and you need a consistent message, image is about what general populations think about your community and it needs to be measured scientifically not anecdotally.

  • Image or identity is at the heart of your community’s brand just as branding is at the heart of community marketing. If you aren’t addressing both in a very substantive and consistent way, your competitors or detractors will.

  • Community image isn’t about reality nor is it just about a new suit of clothes, e.g. new buildings or stadiums etc. It isn’t just about momentary buzz or negative or positive news stories or even personal experience. Think gossip.

  • Community image has much more to do with earned media than advertising but it is not about a cover-up You begin by taking inventory of every touch point for your community’s identity no matter how basic, e.g. road signage, listings in databases, arrival greetings at airports, on trains and on motor coaches, overarching brand, images, weather reports, news datelines, hyphenated regional references, maps and GIS etc.

Thanks to those of you who have encouraged me to reveal what I learned during the incredible turn around of Durham’s image. If you’re thinking about community image you’ve made the first start.

I run into far too many DMO’s who appear either oblivious to community image or in denial about the true image of their community. But even if this isn’t as useful as you anticipate, it will be revealing for me to go back through everything my adopted hometown has taught me about this area of community marketing.

1 comment:

maura said...

Reyn - can you pls shoot me your email address?