Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Differentiating a Community’s Marketing

I mentioned in yesterday’s essay that part of a start up community marketing organization’s (DMO’s) work should be finding ways to differentiate both the community and the way it conducts marketing.

To this end, in Durham, twenty-five years ago we tried to do as much as possible different from the status quo at the time including:

A magazine size far more comprehensive visitors guide, thorough pre-qualification of leads prior to distribution, in-house graphics for consistency and nimbleness, metrics on everything, earned media over paid advertising, technology, and research to mine data to drive decision and strategy making.

And because we had a much smaller budget, this included reliance on extensive content marketing including the weaving of data into narratives that, in turn, were widely distributed to inform and activate core prospects by differentiating Durham from more established competitors.

Seth Godwin, the foremost wizard of the school of differentiation marketing, wrote recently while pointing out the mistakes Broadway promoters make:

“Just about every organization doesn’t have enough cash to run enough ads to do what ads are best at…so that means…find an arena where you can reach fewer people, more often.”

A t-shirt available in Durham’s organic Ninth Street District reads, “Durham – It’s Not for Everyone.”

Nothing is, so the goal even back then, and even more so now that ubiquity has pushed the effectiveness of advertising into negative territory, is how to identify and communicate directly to the “tribe” for whom it is.

Being different means adapting to change and perpetually recalibrating without losing authenticity.

But it isn’t necessarily about being original as much as what Where Good Ideas Come From author, Steven Johnson, calls the reshuffling, repurposing, and reimaging of things that have worked into a different context.

Many of the differences we deployed in that Durham DMO start up were only meant to give us what I used to call a “20-minute head start,” but I am always amazed to find many that are only now becoming mainstream.

A trend beginning in the mid-1990s and full-blown today is that buyers using “self-education,” are able to go deeper and deeper into the purchasing process before revealing themselves as documented in a benchmark study by Demand Metric.

This is why “content marketing,” a competitive advantage used by community destination marking innovators/early-adopters 25 to 30 years ago, is now clearly mainstream.

It is an efficient, cost-effective and unobtrusive way to draw interest, engage, and inform a purchase decision by members of the external audience for which a community is likely to be most appealing.

Three out of four buyers now wait to reveal themselves until at least midway through the journey when options have already been narrowed.

Nearly 1-in-4 wait until very late in the purchase decision.

As it has been since at least the late 1990s when marketing to leisure travelers, now even site selection decisions by meeting planners, known as business to business marketing, are as much 90% and no less than 66% concluded before any personal contact is made.

This means that people involved in “sales” can no longer be a silo within marketing.  Integrated marketing is now the imperative because the trend of going deeper into the purchasing journey is a trend that will only accelerate.

Content has long ago replaced advertising, (a form of yelling) public relations, (earned media is publicity) and now direct sales, as the most effective way to influence decision-making early in the process.

Long gone are the days when content was something you staged after inquiry or after interest gained while prospecting, when today two-thirds would be ineffective.

Unfortunately for extroverts needing an energy-fix, it is now content first, second and third, with personal contact—if needed at all—is on the tail end.

Marketing software company Marketo, in its “Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing,” helps map out content strategy to create awareness and deepen understanding and knowledge in early stages before sorting out preference and finally inspiring engagement.

Think of marketing not as a fish net but as selective self-study program that tells the story that matches your community’s “worldview” appealing to those visitors including newcomers and relocating executives who share it.

To paraphrase Godwin’s advice to Broadway promoters, shift to building relationships between and among the core audience, expressing your community’s inherit appeal to its tribe, rather than finding audience for your appeal.

Using content as an overarching strategy to integrate marketing and differentiate communities as visitor destinations relies more on re-thinking, re-organizing and re-allocating existing resources.

This will also mean that not only must every piece of marketing be as deep and comprehensive and useful as possible but they must all be integrated, mutually supportive and objective.

Nearly 6-in-10 marketing organizations devote 15% or less to content marketing, many trying only to stick their toe in the water (oh yeah, that too) or attempting to straddle strategies while appeasing old-schoolers.

Transition to content marketing should be easier for destination marketing organizations than generalist marketers because they should already be an “inch wide and a mile deep” vs. a “mile wide and an inch deep.”

This observation was first made to me nearly 40 years ago by a young F. Richard “Dick” Geist, the then-creative director for Wessels and Associates when it was based in Spokane, just as I was getting my feet wet as a DMO exec there.

But when integrated, content-driven marketing also means previously siloed non-sales marketers in DMOs need today to become intimate with and effective at each stage of the purchasing journey.

They must to learn to rely less on schmoozing and become more savvy as marketers overall, especially the utilization of analytics.

Analysis by Demand Metrics concludes that interactive content is perceived as more interesting and better at generating attention.  It also produces better engagement and is perceived to be better quality.

A predictor of internal or external stakeholders who will respond “who cares” is whether or not they are among the 6-in-10 who think of marketing as an expense compared to the third who see it as a revenue center.

The quickest way to predict which mindset someone has is their resistance to analytics.  Nearly 9-in-10 of those who see marketing as a revenue center aggressively use analytics for decision and strategy-making.

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