Friday, March 15, 2013

“Corrections” – Addressing Both Sides of the Coin

I think of community marketing is a “coin” with two sides.  Unfortunately for their communities, many community-destination marketing arms (DMOs) completely ignore one side of the coin.  They prefer to focus only on pushing out an endless number of positive messages.

The side that a vast majority of DMOs miss the boat is what we used to call “corrections” during my now-concluded 40-year career.

Little known is that this strategy was key to the image turn-around among external audiences for Durham North Carolina, generated largely between 1993 and 2000, following the launch of its DMO.

“Corrections” were controversial at the time, not only because so few had the stomach to perform one but because some felt it would backfire.  Having always represented “underdog” communities during my career, I somehow always knew this aspect was crucial as far back as the 1970s.

More and more research since then has revealed that not only does this strategy work, as we learned back then empirically, but it is an essential element of marketing.

Thanks to the proliferation of social media, “corrections” are now essential not only to stem stereotypes and misinformation that occasionally may infect news reports, but as a means to mitigate the corrosive effects of some epitaph-laden “reader comments” posted to stories.

For far too many still, marketing is appealing as a profession because they perceive it as a haven for extroverts with little need to deal with critical thinking or unpleasant issues.  Not only are these individuals in for a surprise but too often, given positions of leadership, they seem to throttle down the effectiveness of some marketing organizations, including many DMOs.

These myopic marketers only see and address one side of the coin and as such, potentially add to the problems and issues marketing is best able to address.

Take just the isolated element of advertising for instance.  It makes no sense to utilize a medium that turns off many more prospects than for which it will appeal, such as outdoor billboards, but some DMOs still do.  It is easier to throw positive messages out there as opposed to tackling troublesome issues head on.

A DMO that only sprinkles positive messages into the perceptual landscape fails in its role as the primary guardians of a community’s brand or personality.  Thus these “one-siders” also fail to reap a community’s full potential from visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

Most people who are dissatisfied with their community’s DMO performance realize it should be addressing both sides of the coin, while if it already does, there always seems to be a few who still seek to restrict it instead to only Pollyanna pursuits.

In most cases “corrections” involve correcting facts and providing perspective but the Internet and the proliferation of “reader comments” that are then picked up and re-posted, has made this task even more crucial.

This activity is now called “reputation management” and a book was even written about it a few years ago entitled Wild West 2.0.

Even the largest marketing budgets can ever hope to outrun the need for corrections.  In fact, unaddressed, they make the impact of positive promotion moot.

A study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin recently published the results of experiments conducted in 2012 to measure the influence of “uncivil comments” by readers and found they “not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

In the U.S., 60% now list the Internet as the source they consult for information about scientific issues, far more than any other source.  For many the scientific data is undermined by epitaphs in unsubstantiated reader comments, especially if left unaddressed.

A few months before I retired, I discovered the then-two-year-old publication that was christened as Pacific Standard (PS) last year.  It rapidly become one of my favorites as a source of balanced information on a wide variety of topics.  It is well worth a subscription.

A few weeks ago, an article in PS appeared by Dr. Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver.  His article brought to my attention the results of a new study by researchers at Berkley and Michigan that should be a must read for members of the General Assembly in North Carolina, where I live.

Provided slim majorities only by the swing-votes from Independents, Republicans who now control both the legislature and the governor’s office here are under the misimpression they were granted a mandate to create havoc or as they oxymoronically call it, given that most call themselves conservatives, a revolution.

The study documents how politicians can become so detached from the opinions of the constituents they represent.  It explains how legislators here came to surrender billions of dollars worth of trees to out-of-state billboard companies even though it was over-whelmingly opposed by constituents regardless of political affiliation.

It also explains how local officials where I live can ignore urban reforestation and support for better aesthetics even though these have deep support among residents.

DMOs are no less vulnerable, especially if they track only the viewpoints of strategic partners or local officials and fail to track the opinions of residents in general, who are their most important stakeholders.

Dr. Masket ends his piece in PS with this quote of a quote:

“Ronald Reagan once said, ‘The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant: It’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.’ He was right, but it ain’t just liberals.”

The same is true of marketers who fail to address both sides of the coin.

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