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Regional Marketing & the Railroad Corridor
October 24, 2011 - Ernest Hohmeyer
Over 50 businesses, community and regional marketing organizations as well as local government officials, met last Wednesday night as part of a regional marketing round-table.
If one were positive, you could say that the attendance showed an interest in working together as a region. Participants ranged from Malone to Plattsburgh.
If one were negative, it might be suggested, that this was evidence of the overlapping maze of marketing organizations.
While I believe it may be worthwhile to consider streamlining our marketing approach, the Round-table was also a reminder that “marketing” is a very large term. It means very different things to many different people.
What’s in a Name?
For example, marketing does not mean advertising. Further, as was pointed out by Steve Erman, President of the Adirondack North Country Association, marketing is different than image building. Finally, as noted by Ron Ofner, Director of the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council, “branding,” is more than just a name. Branding, he discussed, is really about the experience.
In other words, “Adirondacks” is a name that many people recognize. In fact, as the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism found out, Adirondacks is more recognizable than Lake Placid.
But a name by itself means nothing.
In tourism, it becomes associated with a type of experience. Our experience is about the outdoors, nature, the arts, activities and events, among others. The name then, becomes associated with a certain type of experience. That experience is not just about our mountains; our brand is also affected by cleanliness and customer service.
All of us are involved in marketing in some capacity. Whether we are a store owner, an artist or a waiter, we are “branding” our region. I was reminded by the conversation during the round-table, that we are all a part of building an image and a brand that is part of making the Adirondack experience.
Just think of the old days of marketing. You simply told folks about your product or your service and you waited for a response. In a way, it was very two-dimensional. What David Meerman Scott in his book “The New Rules of Marketing & PR calls “one-way messages” or “one-way interruption marketing.” They relied on “getting prospects to stop what they are doing and pay attention to a message.” Further, he writes, “messages in advertising are product-focused one-way spin.” “The Web,” he concludes, “is different. Instead of one-way interruption, web marketing is about delivering useful content at just precise moment that a buyer needs it.”
To me, it means that marketing has become very three-dimensional. If you include cyberspace, perhaps fourth dimensional and there is increasing discussion about appealing to a person’s energy or promoting a communities energy.
Regardless, marketing has become much more interactive and is really the fuel that fires the new marketing rage: social media. It is about content now and telling a story. It includes refreshing that story and following up.
It is also about traditional marketing terms related to delivering a good value and customer service. And no matter how complicated it gets, it is still marketing 101: understanding what you are about, what your niche is and who your target customer is.
At a time when we have an unprecedented opportunity to reach out – to the entire world – are we becoming more closed-circuited? We spend more and more time internally on our own website, e-mails and Facebook friends. Have we become so used to talking about ourselves that we have forgotten that marketing is all about understanding what our customers want to hear? That we “like” their needs and not ours?
Is a Word Always the Same?
Many of us use the word “rustic” to brand our experience. Like marketing, this is a very broad term. Rustic could mean a wonderful camping experience or a cabin in the woods with minimal amenities. Rustic can also mean beautiful and high-end Adirondack architecture found in the great camp style. Depending on who your target customer is, “rustic” can mean very different things and can connote very different images. If your customer identifies “rustic” with the “Little House on the Prairie,” and you offer full amenities, you may scare them away if rustic is not explained correctly.
What is the Experience?
What our experience is also relates to the debate between rails or trails. There is a difference between providing a mechanism to create a viable rail line or trail and successfully marketing it. Just because you extend the railroad or create a trail may not mean that “build it and they will come.”
Either way it will take a marketing effort to develop an experience that these different customers will be looking for. A railroad enthusiast may be a different target customer profile than a snowmobiler. Attracting snowmobilers may be a very different strategy than luring x-country skiers that maybe different yet from cyclists. To complicate matters further, what a family with young kids may be looking for may be a very different experience than what a group of adults may be looking for.
No matter which way you lean on this issue, do we have the capability of providing a great experience to these various target markets along the entire 118 mile corridor? Do we have sufficient amenities such as lodging facilities, restaurants, shops and other activities that fulfill the experience these groups are looking for?
To simply say, if we agree on a direction, these facilities will be built, may be insufficient. Not all of these target markets are created equally. They do not spend the same and what they look for in an experience can be quite different. Understanding the profile of these groups will be key to developing appropriate types of amenities. Everything from having a facility to store bicycles safely, to understanding disposable income, needs and interests of these different groups will be important in developing appropriate business plans and gaining financing.
In a nutshell, we need to consider the types of experiences these groups are looking for. A marketing plan needs to be a vital component of whatever direction we go in. If it is a bicycle trail, do we need to pave it because that is the experience cyclists expect and do we have the appropriate amenities along the corridor they are looking for? If the railroad were ever to travel the entire corridor, do we have the appropriate experiences along the way these folks expect?
In some cases is even offering basic amenities a question?
A Corridor Commission?
Should there be a comprehensive approach that looks beyond simply rail or trail? Before we make up our minds on this issue should we look at the whole corridor in terms of not only will it take in terms of rails or trails, but what is the business development and marketing strategy?
Is it worthwhile to consider a corridor commission that is made up of all parties to the debate and that develops not just a portion of the track but the entire 118 miles? Should we develop one effort that looks at all options?
Either way, I hope that whatever option is chosen, that we approach this with a full effort from infrastructure to amenities to marketing.
It’s all about the experience after-all.
With all of this, it may ultimately depend on understanding: who are the customers anyways?
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