Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An Inch Wide and A Mile Deep

Early in my career that spanned three community destination marketing organization (DMO) start ups, I received some sage advice from an ad agency exec and friend.

Even though these kinds of organizations and DMOs employ the same skill sets, thinking I might cut some corners while getting up to speed, I initially tried to use outside agencies for services such as graphics, PR and advertising.

It was never as effective as when, after a time, I was able to bring those services in house.  Each time I would recall my friend’s advice.

He told me while the skill sets are mutual, a DMO uses them to “drill down a mile deep but only an inch wide” while agencies “drill down only an inch but a mile wide.”  This is necessary in order to be able to service a variety of clients which, unlike DMOs, do not have marketing as their primary product.

For this same reason, people schooled in agency work never seemed as productive when I hired them from time to time, thinking we’d leapfrog the learning curve.  I’m sure for the same reason, few schooled initially in DMOs work out in agencies.

From my observations, agency folks I hired to work in the DMOs I ran didn’t work out as I hoped because:

  • They often became bored with the singular focus,
  • They had a hard time multi-tasking vs. multi-clienting,
  • They struggled to transfer what they knew, and/or
  • They could be tactical but not always strategic.

I am sure the same has been true in reverse.

Thinking strategically with the ability to execute should be an inherent part of destination marketing, which is by definition, umbrella-like in nature.  In agencies, strategy is more often a specialty or handled on the client side, or dealt with less holistically.

A study published in Harvard Business Review this month cites strategic thinking and execution falls behind only leadership as the executive skill most sought by search consultants.

This is why the failure to be strategic is the single most common underlying factor when destination marketing underperforms for a community.  Where it is found lacking, it stretches from not only the CEO, but through the governing board and local officials.

It is also why so many individual businesses in the tourism sector fail to fully leverage their community’s destination marketing.  A DMOs work is strategic, while the primary beneficiary businesses and organizations are tactical by nature.

As Mike Martino, a good friend and one of the best hoteliers with whom I ever worked, once told a gathering of his peers, “Our job is to worry about today, our DMO’s job is to worry about tomorrow.”

Failure to grasp these roles on either side often leads to snarky commentary, less frequently heard today, but usually over which entity gets credit for a booking.  In reality, it is both.  The DMO draws the attention to the community, individual businesses then harvest their share.

In fact, research continues to show that even with so-called B2B (business to business) transactions such as decisions by meeting planners about where and at what location to hold an event, 60% of those purchase decisions are made before ever having human contact.

Even within DMOs, where the challenge has always been keeping group sales and marketing from “siloing,” new research shows these functional areas of marketing must strategically work hand in hand, just at different points of the decision funnel or cycle.

It has been nearly 15 years now since the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto signaled that marketing was no longer about yelling louder and louder, but it is about a conversation.  That may have also marked the end of advertising which began to tip negative 15 years earlier.

It marked the emergence of what we now group as “content marketing” which had been gaining steam for a decade before that, at least with me and the organizations I led.  Another way to think of content marketing is when DMO’s become publishers.

But as often noted, content marketing for a DMO is about providing substance and value not volume, about drilling down past the superficial or the obvious to leverage tangential connections.

Failing to stay on top of this is where even the most content marketing savvy DMO can lose that franchise in a heartbeat.  It is also why it must be embedded as a core strategy, not farmed out or given to those who won’t bother to dig down.

This is also why, here again, DMOs do content marketing in-house, as do more than half of all organization marketers overall.  This is as true of B2B as it is B2C (business to consumer.)

As Tom Martin writes in his book entitled, The Invisible Sale, a cornerstone of content is understanding that it is an ecosystem.  Many tactics can be leveraged over and over for additional content, months after larger pieces have been published.

Far too many DMOs suffer a kind of attention deficit and rush off to the next piece without also fully leveraging content.  Worse, when later creating new pieces, they forget to even go back and reference others.

This is another reason, as Martin notes, to “hire explorers not experts.”

Content marketing is as prevalent now for both types of consumer but 9-in-10 marketers overall now use an average of 12 tactics for B2C and 5 to 6 for B2B.  But DMOs should take note that B2B consumers such as meeting planners are even more sensitive to fluff.

Eric Siu who blog about start ups and interviews entrepreneurs at Growth Everywhere notes four big misconceptions that undermine contention marketing efforts, especially that which is targeted to B2B.  He is is so right when he notes that a big problem is the failure to leverage it.

“Once and done” is due to “list checking” rather than seeking to leverage organizational archives to enrich and deepen content.  Another mistake is failing to follow up and deepen content as new information becomes available.

Marketing is no longer about “more, more, more” as it was when advertising was effective but about depth and value and conversation at every touch point.

If you’ve gotten this far, you are probably not among the 42% of marketers who fail to measure marketing ROI at all according to a Duke University study.

But measurement of content marketing is moving beyond traditional ROI to the deeper value at points along what Robert Rose  calls the “consumer engagement curve” in his white paper “Built to Change: New Models for Management of Consumer Engagement.

This may have been running through the mind of Apple CEO Tim Cook recently as he responded to pressure from a right-wing special interest group holding stock, to not pursue any environmental initiatives that didn’t improve the company’s bottom line.

Cook rebuffed the notion by insisting that the measurement made good sense and that Apple does “a log of things for reasons besides profit motive.”

As a comparison, he noted “That’s who we are as a company.  When we think about human rights, I don’t think about ROI….I don’t think about helping our environment from an ROI point of view…If you want me to make things, make decisions that have a clear ROI, then you get out of the stock.”

That was a genius bit of strategic thinking and content marketing and shows Cook’s understanding of where his customers engage.  Other stockholders applauded too and voted the proposal down.

It isn’t always about ROI, and marketing is definitely no longer just about “banging the drum louder and louder,” although many slow to catch on will probably help keep desecration marketing via billboards on life support.

ROI has never been an issue there anyway.

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