Wednesday, February 27, 2013

All Marketing Should Be Localized

I mostly agreed with an excellent essay posted last fall by NPR’s Scott Simon on the seemingly sudden overuse of the word “curate.”

However, even in its original Latin or Middle English, curate has always been a term broader than is used in museums and the perfect description for the essence of community-destination marketing organizations (DMO), first established in the late 1800s at the dawn of the Progressive Era and more recently my profession during a now-concluded 40-year career.

Content curation is also what I do each day in retirement as I research and write the essays posted on this blog.  The only reason lists me among the top 10% of profiles viewed by its 200 million members is that readers there seek to know who is behind the content I curate.

For any community DMO though, only the tip of the proverbial iceberg is curating information to aid decisions by visitors including leisure and business travelers, group planners, newcomers and relocating executives.

Maybe even more central is curating market intelligence to assist businesses, and not just local businesses or those relocating or expanding. This need is only growing more and more intense.Interactive Global Cities of the Future

At the close of 1989 as I was leading the jumpstart of the DMO for Durham, North Carolina, only one billion of the earth’s consumers lived in cities or surrounding metropolitan areas, such as the one for which Durham is core.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, within the next twelve years that number will reach four billion, with two billion alone in emerging market metros which will inject $25 trillion into the global economy.

It is no wonder that community-destination marketing is exploding globally.

A survey among members of the worldwide Chief Marketing Officer Council (CMO) shows that 59% believe that localized marketing is “essential to business growth and profitability.”  For 33% the biggest challenge is lack of localized content and for 31% the deficit is access to in-market intelligence.

The study also found that 6 out of 10 these global marketers are over-reliant on “hearsay data,” often gleaned from water-cooler gossip during visits by advance development teams during initial investigations of a market.

Savvy marketers know to turn to a local community’s DMOs for localized market information and content.  Savvy DMOs know that for their community to succeed they will also need to assertively power this information through the obfuscation that is created by huge, obsolete, so-called “designated market areas DMA.”

These relics are perpetuated by some television and radio stations as well as by many newspapers and magazines in hopes that it will continue to grossly exaggerate the amount they can charge for advertising.

The DMA in which Durham is lumped sprawls across as many as 23 counties and parts of three states including up to a third of North Carolina, hardly a common market from a consumer viewpoint.

In reality, while these massive media designations may be good for ad sales, they blind businesses by obscuring the existence of organically distinct community business climates/markets.  Unwittingly gross DMA-level data clouds any true understanding of true consumer markets such as Durham, while providing fodder for anyone wishing to undermine it.

DMAs this vast also result in short-handed newsrooms which are then drawn disproportionately to easy-to-cover topics such as crime. Far too stretched to cover topics evenly from community to community or to add context that would mitigate over-generalized alarm, they fuel stereotypes.

This imbalance along with lack of context, in turn fuels exaggerated water-cooler conversations, which then results in what consumer research experts such as Dr. John Lynch are quoted as terming “focalization.”

This is a condition where for many listening to water-cooler pontifications, the brain’s “intake valve” virtually shuts down to other aspects about a community, particular in places such as Durham where 3 out of 5 workers are non-residents.

As Durham’s DMO commenced operation, it took a few years of analysis by communications and media experts, followed up by scientific research to document not only the existence and nature of what was undermining perceptions of Durham, but to lock on to greatly amplified content curation as the strategy to turn this condition around.

Although the effort must be perpetual, the remarkable turn-around in Durham’s image was spearheaded by its DMO largely between the years 1993 and 2000 as documented by annual tracking surveys. 

What made this comprehensive and often-grassrooted effort even more remarkable is that it occurred over a period when the Internet emerged in popular use, not only making non-curated information ubiquitous, but also “fire-hosing” the intensity and proliferation of misinformation.

Anyone dating the turnaround as more recent may be confusing Durham’s overall image with that of just the downtown area.  However, it is probably not coincidental that the rehabilitation of downtown’s reputation commenced in earnest only after the tide had been turned on restoration of Durham’s overall image.

Regardless, the role of content curation was strategically central to both.  Many experts including NYU professor, researcher and author Clay Shirky and most recently best-selling author Daniel Pink have dissected the ingredients of good content curation.

Shirky often notes that content curation is more than just aggregation or information seeking, it is about “synchronizing a community,” something for which Durham’s DMO is now recognized as a best practice.

Pink builds on the “seek-make sense-share” model evolved by blogger Beth Kanter based on inspiration from Harold Jarche who writes about workplace innovation.

As you can see, content curation can have different layers.  I remember a friend of mine who would often call me for research data, then tweak the numbers slightly and use them unattributed in news quotes and with local officials.  My friend was breaking a cardinal rule of curation which is crediting sources while benefiting from another, the act of sharing through redistribution.

Curating content involves gathering, qualifying, and distilling information, and often this includes conducting original research studies.  It also requires making sense of the information and putting it in context, followed by developing tools by which it can be shared and distributed and redistributed.

On behalf of a city, town or county, it is something for which community-destination marketing organizations are uniquely qualified by both purpose and focus.

However, content curation should never include the purging of troubling information but instead the integration of it within the fuller picture.  It is also a perversion to masquerade content curation as a means to merely perpetuate unsubstantiated and anecdotal opinions or observations.

Search engine optimization is part of sharing and distributing curated content but as Shirky notes, making sense of it is a distinctly human endeavor.  It also involves vigilance and relentless follow up with the sources of misinformation with requests for correction and offers to substitute it with valid resources.

Local businesses and chains with local operations or franchises are learning just as the CMO study confirms that consumers, even when they are visitors, focus locally.  Seven years ago, studies began documenting that 70% of U.S. households used the Internet when shopping locally for products and services.

This is intensifying even more as 4 in 10 have migrated to mobile platforms to conduct those searches.  The search engine Bing finds that 70% of mobile searches are followed up by action within an hour.

The search result that rises above the din is curated content provided by a community’s official destination marketing organization.

1 comment:

nita gregory hill said...

Right on as usual, Reyn. Good stuff.