Wednesday, December 29, 2010

15 Places To Safeguard and Rectify Your Community’s Identity

Below are 15 areas your community and its community/destination marketing organization should be checking to protect your community’s identity and brand.  Unless rectified or modified, no amount of promotion and awareness will trump permitting these distortions to persist.

Pioneered with great success by Durham and DCVB and a cadre of resident Durham Image Watchers over the past two decades, unfortunately you still won’t likely find them yet in any primer for community/destination marketing.  They involve some “heavy lifting” and they aren’t as much fun as “just placing some ads” or “booking” some business. But they are as much or more important.

Think of it this way.  A little courage, determination and resilience can substitute for millions of dollars in promotion and advertising.  Think of it another way.  No amount of promotion and advertising can overcome the damage inattention to these areas can create.

Your community’s identity is at the core of its brand and its overarching brand is at the core of any successful marketing.

The following 15 areas are examples of what experts mean by protecting your community’s brand at every “touch point” but first you and your community’s officials must feel empowered to make rectification, even if just at the margins.

When successful, protecting your community’s identity in areas like these below will have the same effect as millions and millions of dollars of promotion.  Ignoring them means most of what you do to promote your community is as ineffective as “spitting into the wind.”


Check the postmark across the upper right corner on mail you receive from within your region.  Unless you’ve been diligent, the postal service has stopped postmarking the actual community of origin and is stamping all mail with the name of the city in which it happens to have its regional center.

In Durham’s case we found that “Raleigh, NC” was being stamped on all of our bids and proposals and documents giving that competitor a distinct advantage.  Working with the Chambers and CVBs in the region, DCVB was able to get the postmark changed to read “Research Triangle Region, NC.


Airports and airlines have a nasty habit of truncating references.  For example, even though Raleigh-Durham International Airport is co-owned by Durham and Raleigh and their respective counties and located midway between and closest to the town of Morrisville, NC, gate postings and especially crew announcements shorten it to just “Raleigh” even though a minority of passengers were departing or arriving with that specific community or metro area as an origin or destination.

Equally distorting, airlines often list only airports under the heading “cities” which virtually makes the nearly all of the actual cities and towns served seem invisible.  Even though they rely on these destinations to generate their use, airports and airlines are among the most stubborn and inconsiderate, and yes arrogant, when it comes to respecting the identity of individual communities.

As representatives of your community, you have a right and an obligation to ask that your community’s identity be treated accurately and with respect.


The national weather station for Durham is at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, located midway between and serving as the official weather reading for both Durham and Raleigh.  However, just because the “office” where the NWS administrators for central North Carolina physically sit is located on the campus of NCSU in Raleigh, the readings are often disseminated with only a “Raleigh” dateline and picked up and publicized around the nation and the world as simply “Raleigh” vs. Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Maybe where the administrators sit is important for mail delivery and their families.  It is the location and identity of the station that should matter but if you’re community is being rendered invisible, you’ll need to be assertive with NOAA.  Even if the information is being disseminated accurately you’ll need to make sure it isn’t being short-handed by local television and radio stations and national weather reports who are famous for truncating.


Even if they are located right downtown, as Arts Institute and Smith Group are in Durham, in a list of city locations, they may list your community as these two companies do, by the name of the airport.  That means for Durham for instance that in a list of city locations such as Ann Arbor, Madison, Washington DC, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles etc. Durham is listed either as Raleigh or by the airport name “Raleigh-Durham.”

Some companies like the prestigious K & L Gates law firm with offices in both the city of Raleigh and the city of Durham will stubbornly list one but substitute a nearby business park for the other, e.g. offices in Fort Worth, Beijing, Raleigh, Dallas, Frankfurt but when it comes to the location in the City of Durham, it lists only a prestigious business park located here.  When you dig further, the office lists Morrisville as a location and only on emails of the partners is the actual Durham location revealed.


Keep in mind that the United States Postal Service feels no obligation to make your street address for receiving mail the same as your physical location.  You might think that zip codes would make it possible for USPS to make physical locations and street mail delivery addresses coincide but instead, for internal convenience they will arbitrarily undermine the identity of your community by assigning your residents a mailing address with another community superimposed.

USPS isn’t required to be logical or accurate about physical locations or they would have heeded two decades of pleading from the National League of Municipalities but with persistence and some courage by your city and county managers the regional officials can be persuaded to change inaccurate designations.

Watch out for real estate associations though who appear willing to hoodwink the public if it means selling a house.  Correcting mail addresses to also match school districts and vehicle registration locations is well worth the effort.


Some companies like Time Warner Cable are so self-absorbed with how they name their offices that they assign their location as your location.  Time Warner for this part of North Carolina is based in Morrisville but prefers to call it the Raleigh office.

When confirming my subscription recently using my zip code, instead of identifying my location as Durham, Time Warner identified me as living in Raleigh.  This is the result of a company forgetting that the way it elects to internally identify the location of its offices is immaterial to the actual location of its customers and your community.  You have a right and your community’s officials and community/destination marketing executives have an obligation to have these companies correct misidentification.


Ironically, publications, recordings and other navigation tools meant to serve private, commercial and military pilots with “airport” information misleadingly truncate references to the name of only one particular city.

This means that the entire class C airspace around Raleigh-Durham International Airport, while actually located in neither community is labeled as “Raleigh” on maps and websites and on recordings for for pilots about weather and distance and other navigation aids even though the vast majority of pilots and passengers are not heading to Raleigh and they will see two metro areas not one  when flying VFR.

Aeronautical maps are published by each state and that is a good place to start rectification.  Work with the FAA to making sure recordings are not being truncated and use the actual airport name or call letters.  If you don’t what goes in the pilots ear comes right out of his mouth during inflight announcements.


Monitor closely how your community and community-based assets including businesses are represented in map databases.   Often they will misrepresent neighborhoods, voter districts and crossroads as separate communities because they are infected by old databases that weren’t coded properly.

Make sure scrubbed databases for your community are submitted to the suppliers of navigation systems and Internet maps  Make sure your community’s latest GIS data has been updated in your state’s GIS database.  Constantly monitor how the businesses in your community are represented on the web.

Often chains, especially hotels, purchase third party data that in the case of Durham, for instance, can easily substitute “Raleigh” businesses as the closest available to Durham locations.  It is your community and community/destination marketing organization’s responsibility to monitor and correct this misinformation.

You can start by reminding the yellow page providers that “local” should truly mean “local” and that “nearby” is a far less confusing heading for businesses that just want to appear they are located in your community.


Carefully audit signs to, from and within your community to be sure it is listed wherever appropriate and hasn’t become invisible.    In Durham we found major Interstate signs failed to mention Durham at all, other signs read Durham when one was already here and the signage should have just used “Downtown.”  Others directed people in Durham to “Downtown” but they were sending people to the Downtown in an entirely different community.  Some listed business parks as though they were cities and towns without ever noting they were located in Durham.


Keep in mind that nearly 80% of newcomers and relocating executives shop your community first as a mystery “leisure or business” visitor and your community’s destination marketing organization must be vigilant that your community hasn’t become invisible or subordinated as a mere “neighborhood” for another community in real estate and home developer websites and literature.

These businesses are notorious for using inapplicable and inaccurate “centric” models, poor databases or deliberate attempts to misdirect newcomers and relocating executives.  Go on these sites, search by your community’s name to be sure developments and homes are clearly identified, search by the names of other communities to be sure your community’s identity hasn’t be subordinated.


The city name at the beginning of a news story was originally intended to convey where the story occurred.  Not using a dateline was meant to indicate the story happened in the city where the news outlet is located.  Then a reporter lied about being at a particular location so the Associated Press created havoc for readers and undermining community identities by having the dateline signify where the reporter is sitting when the story is filed.

Bloomberg takes the much less confusing and damaging approach of just putting a notation at the very bottom of the story indicating where the reporter was sitting at the time the story is filed.  AP though gives its offices around the country the flexibility of how they use datelines where they create confusion.

In places like Durham, the AP often datelines stories occurring here as “Raleigh” creating confusion for readers and creating the misimpression Durham is in Raleigh.  The Raleigh newspaper, hoping to establish hegemony often refers to stories in other communities with no dateline, inferring the story occurred in Raleigh or referring to the subject as “local” and then feeds the misinformation up through the AP’s office which just happens to be based in Raleigh, creating mass misinformation about Durham and Durham based assets like Duke, RTP etc.

You and your community can insist that AP accurately dateline your community and if they are stubborn and refuse or give you attitude, you can demand that the location of any individual, business or organization be identified in the story at the very first mention.  Hopefully, if enough places complain, AP will adopt more stringent, reader and community-friendly standards.


To optimize the amount charged to advertisers, Nielsen divides the broadcast television work up into huge lumps of counties, as though in Durham’s case consumers will truck across 22 other counties and hundreds of cities and towns and parts of three states to buy something in the so-called Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville) DMS.

TV and ratio stations though are notorious for truncating these "listening and viewing” areas down into the name of one city, much to the annoyance of the vast majority who don’t live there.  They forget they have created a fiction and often give weather or traffic advisories without noting the locations are in different cities and towns.  To keep your community from becoming invisible, insist that the stations be specific about locations and distinguish them from the full name of the “DMA.)

While those making the analyses rarely make the mistake, editors and reporters often play fast and loose with the terms “city” and “metropolitan statistical area (MSA) when publicizing rankings.  Cities are very specific and distinct places.  MSAs are census-created designations of many cities, towns and counties centered around a dominant city.  Rankings are conducted for both cities and MSAs.  Permitting the terms to be confused can subvert a communities identity.


Consultants and brokers who help retail businesses find locations are notorious for misusing outdated models that mistakenly assume all areas are centered around one dominant center.  Far more prevalent today are polycentric areas with no dominant city at the center.

Durham with DCVB at the lead has had to battle through the “Raleigh” bias created by consultants applying very outdated “centric” models to a “polycentric” region or mall contracts in that city that forbid another store to open at a location in Durham.  Very strange behavior for an industry that first helped identify the cognitive distance friction.  Left without intervention, by communities,  this “centric” thinking also robs regions of multiple store locations and an improved quality of life.


Companies that contract with relocating or expanding businesses to help their executives relocate are notorious for inaccuracies.  Often instead of using the location to which the business is relocating or expanding, these business arbitrarily select nearby cities for relocation.  Typically this is when they use software designed only to recognize areas centered around one city, failing entirely to serve communities in polycentric regions where there is no dominate city.

Left unaddressed, this means your community is not only invisible to executives relocating to work there but you also lost residential tax base, donations to charities and non-profits and corporate leadership and involvement.  Your region will also inherit long commutes and un-necessary traffic and road construction.

Only by insisting that these companies use accurate models centered on the location to which the business is relocating will you fully reap the benefits including any reinvestment on incentives granted.


Fewer and fewer cities have headquarters offices and/or CEOs with a connection to community, even banks.   As noted in this Brookings Institution report, because CEOs have so little connection with local communities anymore, they are much less involved, more more prone to talk regional or statewide because it is more simple and even more likely to dismiss or misuse local community identities.  This tendency is even more pronounced if you or your community fail to speak up. 


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