Monday, April 11, 2011

When Community Marketing May Be A Waste!

I’ve learned there are two simple ways to tell if your community is truly being “marketed” or just “sold” (sales being just one element of marketing.)

  1. Marketing is the process of identifying and fulfilling the needs of customers for which your community is well suited.  Sales, unless driven by overall marketing, is more like arm-twisting as in “I have this stuff and I want you to buy it.”
  2. Without a true grasp of what makes a community distinct, any attempt to improve on it for or market it to either internal or external audiences is just so much “puff” and more likely to homogenize it.trash-can1

I hate to say it, but in today’s complex communications environment, marketing, including the sales element, is a waste of money unless a community has a full grasp of its distinct and temporal personality first.

It is also a waste of money to market a community armed with only a superficial list of its physical attributes, museums, theaters, ballparks and other mainstream “cathedrals.”

And it definitely is a waste of money to be armed with only a logo and a tagline, the most superficial and non-essential elements of a brand.

Beware of charlatans claiming otherwise.  They offer a quick, no-pain fix or an off-the-shelf solution.

A community’s “personality” or brand exists much deeper down with the shared traits, values and “cultural scaffolding” that has given it character and authenticity for decades and centuries.

It is this cultural scaffolding of intrinsic or temporal values and traits specific to each community that make it genuine and give it distinct character and authenticity.

We probably had it easier when heading the community marketing for Durham, even though we were able identify an “overarching brand” encompassing but not just limited to one for tourism.  Sure, we had to overcome objections by the one or two well meaning individuals who always want to “declare” or “issue” a community’s brand like it was as simple as picking team colors.

I’ve known a few seem that superficial but others just fear what peeling back the layers of a community’s cultural scaffolding will or will not reveal, warts and all.

But Durham still has a “there-there” to use a term coined by the writer and poet Gertrude Stein in lament about the loss of such in her hometown.  I learned by plumbing down with the help of scores of inclusively balanced focused groups and then refined with generalizable  scientific polling, to where we were able to recover a full and detailed awareness of the cultural scaffolding underlying Durham’s unique personality.

Unfortunately for many communities, they face not only the minor obstacles Durham did but much deeper ones after spending so many years trying to be “just like other places” and/or failing to safeguard and appreciate what was distinct or retain any sense of character or coherence from what Dr. Scott Russell Sanders terms:

“the forces of development. Uniform highway design, strip
malls, cookie-cutter suburbs, manufactured housing, garish franchise architecture, and box stores surrounded by deserts of blacktop have made our settlements less and less distinct from one another.

The mass media contribute to this homogenizing of America
by smearing across the land a single, sleazy imagery whose overriding goal is to grab our attention and sell it to sponsors, and whose underlying goal may be to mold our minds into thinking as the owners of the media wish us to think.

Chains of radio stations play the same music and recite the same headlines; chains of newspapers print the same articles; chains of bookstores feature the same books; cable and satellite networks beam
the same programs from Florida to Alaska.

Over the airwaves, on billboards and t-shirts,through computers and phones, the usual products are peddled coast to coast. As a result of these trends, we spend more and more of our lives in built environments or in virtual environments that are monotonous, ephemeral, rootless, and ugly.”

If a community and/or its community/destination marketing organization are truly serious about getting to the bottom of its unique personality, “run, don’t walk” to check out the resources on DMO Pro.

Start with a through read of the tiny book “how to” book,” Destination Branding for Small Cities by Bill Baker (understanding that what works in the smallest of destinations will work in the largest) supplemented by Destination BrandScience by Duane Knapp.

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