Thursday, September 05, 2013

More Powerful Than Just Storytelling

No occupation has lost a greater proportion of jobs than advertising and public relations, a decline of 56% in just the past 10 years alone.  An exception is the swelling number of jobs in community destination marketing (DMOs,) a visitor-centric form of economic development.

This isn’t due to the great recession or technology.  Studies have measured the decline over nearly four decades now.  The effectiveness of advertising also plummeted 56% in the last decade of my career alone.  The return on advertising is now just 1/10th of what it costs.

The decline is self-inflicted because the industry has tolerated obsolete and desecrating bottom-feeders such as roadside billboards while over-advertising to the tune of 10,000 ads per person per day.  Lacking credibility because ads are self-proclaimed, consumers have simply tuned out.

Community DMOs are thriving because while they involve skill sets in all areas of marketing, many have eschewed advertising in favor of other types of marketing.  A DMO’s job is to tell a community’s story but to be truly successful they must be good at “storydoing,” a term coined by Ty Montague, co-founder of C: Connect and author of the new book True Story.

Montague’s research shows that if a DMO can use the core story of their community as an organizing principle they will spend far fewer dollars on paid media or advertising and be far more effective.  An example would be what what the DMO in Durham, North Carolina did when it was formed in 1989.

It organized around the core principal of being “the heart, soul, and energy of Durham as a destination…the defender of Durham’s image and brand and guardian of its unique sense of place.”

This energized a phenomenal grass-roots community-wide energy that was “storydoing” vs. just storytelling.  This unifying core principal enabled Durham’s DMO to leapfrog more established and better funded communities.

It also enabled the Durham DMO to achieve a level of endearment among community stakeholders many times higher than the benchmark.

Too often, even given a core principal, organizations fall into activity traps and lose focus over time.  That is why equally important was the way the Durham DMO handled CEO succession at the dawn of its third decade.

According to Montague, blogging recently on Harvard Business Review, the key factor in identifying a successor is that person’s ability to understand and perpetuate the organization’s—and in a DMO’s case—the community’s story.

It helped that Durham’s DMO was one of the few with a well-defined “best practice” succession plan and process, but the action, e.g. the selection of a new leader, was based on her grasp of the central story.

Communities lose the power of their story when during DMO succession they become infatuated with high-powered resumes rather than whether or not candidates have a grasp of their community’s story, their core brand and personality.

It is an ego trip for some communities to see what resumes they can attract, but all too often these will be people who move from community to community, far more committed to their profession than any one community and far too prone to generic “plug and play” destination marketing approaches.

It is harder with a community’s DMO than a private company because its internal stakeholders include each and every resident.  It is easier if the DMO has taken time to identify and organize around the story including values and traits important to those stakeholders.

But the key will be selecting leadership in tune with that core, organizing principle at the heart of storydoing for a community.  This may be why good succession plans often call for recruiting and growing potential CEOs years in advance.

Take time to read the six attributes of storydoing organizations.  If you represent a community DMO or are interested in that career path, think of them in terms of both the community as a whole and the DMO organization at the heart and sole of its brand.

In essence, good marketing today is about what you do, not what you say.

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