Wednesday, November 27, 2013

5 + 1 Insights For Young Community Marketers

While I am not a consultant and it has been four years since I’ve had any involvement in community destination marketing, I still receive questions from time to time from young people who think they might be interested in a career in visitor-centric cultural and economic development.

Below are a handful of the things I pass along:

Build work experience during college.

It doesn’t matter if it is with a destination marketing organization or even visitor-related.  Find something fast-paced and learn everything you can about data-driven decision making, critical thinking, technology and project management/process.

A recent study of employers shows that they rank internships and working during college as top attributes when evaluating recent college graduates, more than 40% higher than they rank college major or volunteer experience.

They also rank working during college more than 50% higher than they rank extracurricular activities and more than 60% higher than they rank college reputation or grade point average.

Get used to not being in control.

Different than marketing other kinds of services and products, when you are marketing a community, not only do you  have no control of any of the facilities, features or events, you don’t have control of the “manufacturing” process either.

In community destination marketing you spend as much time persuading local officials and visitor-related facilities, features and events to understand marketing as you do marketing to visitors.

The community’s brand (distinct personality) you will be sworn to protect and promote is influenced as much by the process of getting through the maze of highways, airports and means of transit needed to get to you as it is things like how easy it is to get around and the community’s overall appearance.

These are things no amount of quaintness or marketing alone can overcome.

Keep in mind that marketing is not as simple as fishing.

It is about helping people make the decision best for them, not just about proselytizing.  For every marketing action, there is also a downside.  Advertising is like “yelling at people” which if not very carefully used, is enough to turn people off.

For example, use a medium such as outdoor billboards and you turn off 7 people for every 1 who finds them useful.  Even Super Bowl ads, where the ads are touted mostly as entertainment, turn off 5 viewers for every 1 who finds them appealing.

Marketing is finding the sweet spot where the tactics you use have credibility and a high turn on to turn off ratio, such as earned media, sometimes still known as publicity.

Even there, the downside potential must be weighed whenever there is a temptation toward hyperbole to which the reality cannot measure up.

Good marketing is more than “me, me, me.”

A good product without good marketing is like “winking in the dark.”  You know you’re doing it but no one else will.  But marketing is also about understanding limitations.

Even the goal of “economic value-added,” which is at the core of community destination marketing, is subject to trade-offs.  A recent study of 2014 travel trends revealed that 88% of Americans will sacrifice other spending in order to take a trip including:

  • 54% will cut nights out and related entertainment
  • 48% will cut down on eating out
  • 42% will cut down on clothes shopping
  • 29% will cut down on buying gifts
  • 23% will cut down on home improvements
  • 18% will reduce charitable giving

Community destination marketing is a “pull” approach but marketers must recognize the “push” effect of tourism on residents making these reductions to travel elsewhere.

Even within a destination, areas such as arts and culture or sports can easily cannibalize another.  For instance, for more than a decade the proportion of the population attending popular concerts has hovered around 22%, including 5% of travelers.

Of this, 52.6% are attending rock concerts, 31.9% are attending country music concerts and 15.4% are attending R&B or Rap or Hip-Hop concerts.  All of the marketing horsepower in the world can move the needle a percentage point or two, but it will be at the expense of leisure dollars going to festivals and other cultural features.

The development of more facilities and programming has not been shown to change the mix of discretionary spending, only tradeoffs within a category.  The same holds true of spectator sports.

A destination is made up of many different silos, each desperately seeking a bigger share of the pie, but a community marketer must be sensitive to balance and what’s best for overall appeal.

Sometimes, the decision not to visit has nothing to do with competition from other communities.

At its essence, community destination marketing is about lowering barriers to a visit to your community by telling its story and then proving a platform for hotels, restaurants, stores and entertainment events to harvest their share using their own marketing.

But sometimes the barriers are more about what’s going on in people’s lives than it is about which destination to choose.  A recent vacation deprivation study revealed that 10% of Americans find they can never relax on vacation (I was always amazed at the number of people who called in sick after a vacation because they were exhausted.)

More than a third cancel or postpone trips due to something that came up at work, 24% find it a hassle to coordinate family schedules, but 44% either prefer to take cash instead or bank the days (most places no longer permit accrual because it shows as a liability on the books) ostensibly to cash them out later on, e.g. retirement.

If these young folks are still interested, then I get into what may be the biggest litmus test of all, ethical behavior.  By this I don’t mean just transparency, which is shown to have little effect on ethical behavior.  I mean the ability to do what is right in the face of powerful special interests or pressure from the news media.

The ability to treat others (including competitors and potential customers) as you would like them to treat you.

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