What is The Essence of Hampton Roads?

Flag of Hampton RoadsMarketing within Hampton Roads is hard enough. But what if the task at hand is marketing Hampton Roads period? Or, to make things more complex, what if the task at hand is branding Hampton Roads? That’s the task that this year’s group of emerging community leaders in “LEAD Hampton Roads” has taken on as a class project. LEAD is a yearlong development program that is a part of the Hampton Roads Chamber, boasting more than 1,200 alumni in its ranks.

As an alum and a former board member, I’m pretty close to the LEAD mission. The group is very connected and passionate about building both a strong region and a strong leadership base for the region as it grows.

I was honored to sit on a panel with some esteemed friends and colleagues at a recent LEAD retreat to talk about the history and background of the market, the never-ending naming debate, and what it would look like to promote the “brand” of Hampton Roads. Each panel member brought a rich background of marketing inside, outside and aboutDelcino Miles, Mike Carosi, Joel RubinHampton Roads. I can tell you that in the hour-plus that we talked, we (see the sidebar for who “we” are) barely scratched the surface of what I feel is the real issue the group needs to grab hold of.

The group has to be clear about the objective of branding the region in the first place. There are two very-high-level targets and objectives: 1) those who live and work here, and 2) those we want to live and work here (for purposes of growing the region). If I were this year’s lead class, I would focus on point number 1 first.

I’ve written before of what a brand is and what it is not. It’s easy to get caught up in what it is not. A brand is not a name. It’s not a logo, or an image. It’s not a tagline or a spokesperson. It’s not the number of people that can recall the name. It’s not a product, it’s not a service. These are all elements of the brand. The brand is the embodiment of all of these elements (and more) and their ability to be linked together instantly and subconsciously in the mind of the consumer to conjure an impression. That brand impression is what creates a behavior, and marketing is all about creating behavior. More on that one in another post.

There is, already, a brand that is Hampton Roads. It defines where we live. It has attributes. It has features. It has strengths and weaknesses. It is compellingly different from other regions, cities, and areas of the country. For instance, the fact that our hometown is NOT identifiable with one specific major city (a la New Orleans or Charlotte or Cincinnati … all similarly sized markets) makes it unique. That lack of a central hub fosters geographic and lifestyle diversity different from any of those markets. There are brand impressions, created by the various symbols, cultures, geography, names, trades, communities and historical elements of the brand.

At the core of the brand: essence.

Brand essence. What does the brand stand for? How do the people who ARE the brand Project Achievability Testdefine it? What are the organic and emotional elements that make the brand unique and lasting? Why do people come here, live here, thrive here, STAY here? These are all impressions that exist and are deeply, justifiably rooted. When a marketer creates a brand strategy for an existing product, or in this case a region, he or she must define the core essence of the brand, starting with the legacy that already exists. From there you can imagineer a bold brand strategy that embodies new elements and begins to transition impressions over time.

Promoting the brand of Hampton Roads means both understanding the essence of what the brand is and creating a strategy for what we want it to be over time. That is a daunting task. There must be a lot of overlap. Consider the existing essence as a firmly planted pivot foot. If we know where it is planted, we can pivot 360 degrees, addressing all types of audiences and opportunities, without contradicting the true essence of the brand.

A brand core essence is very succinct, but it is not a tagline and it most likely will never appear in an ad. It guides both business development and marketing communication. It is simple, believable and defensible. Most importantly it is honest. All stakeholders need to understand it and believe in it.

What does a core essence look like for a market? Take a look at Las Vegas. I don’t know if the marketing team for the city has articulated a core essence, but to me it’s simple: “unbridled adult fun.” Vegas has always been about fun — the kind of fun you can’t have anywhere else. You can see why a slogan like “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” is so fitting. But that crazy experiment in the early 90’s to market it as a family destination? Clearly a pivot foot violation.

So my challenge to the class of 2016 is this: define the core essence of our region. Forget about the name. Forget about a tagline. Not important right now. Explore the work that Chris Bonney and the folks at Bonney & Company did in “Envision Hampton Roads” as a starting point. Help plant the pivot foot, and that alone will be a huge accomplishment. And call me if I can help.

How Are Your Customers Shopping For You?

I touched on something recently during a Hampton Roads AMA panel that really bears repeating, clarifying and driving home for anyone responsible for running a business.

The concept of a purchase funnel is obsolete. Consumers search for information and make decisions based on what they find. Managing what they find, how they perceive your product and how they engage with you is what content marketing is all about.

The goal of content marketing is to facilitate the purchase decision. Over and over again. Your content must be aligned and keep your customer constantly  engaged or your customer will disconnect.

Search for “Purchase Funnel” and you’ll find millions of images and explanations dating back to the dawn of time showing how people move from awareness of a product to purchase. Almost all of them bear a strong resembMarketing Funnellance to the one at right. The consumer or target enters at the top and moves vertically–and in one direction—through the funnel to purchase. Greatly oversimplified of course, but still representative of how marketers viewed the marketing and sales process. In a world where a brand has strong control over the words and the impressions delivered to an audience, the funnel is fairly accurate. Keep delivering messages that build on each other and move the consumer through the funnel. But technology, the availability of big, real-time data and the consumer’s ever-increasing thirst for on-demand product information has made this thinking completely obsolete.

The Audience Has Shifted

No longer can we consider an audience to be a static force that we can “impress.” Even though we still count exposures to a brand or message in terms of “impressions,” the content of that message, the perspective from which it is delivered and the consumer’s ever-increasing lack of desire to “be sold to” have greatly shifted where and how we reach the audience.

Technology is the great enabler here, providing on-demand access through hand-held devices faster and more powerful than the computer systems in spaceships that went to the moon. Social media platforms, blogs, and comparative shopping platforms bombard the consumer with information and opinion (valid or not), that consumers find ten times more believable than “advertising.” The structure and strategy of how well a site is optimized to be found by search engines, or links to the information sources mentioned earlier, now are important to a marketing strategy as the overall brand position. All of these areas of influence affect the consumer in various ways, at various times. None of it happens in a single direction, and none of it happens vertically.

What once was a funnel is now a convoluted path through an almost endless list of information sources.

Information about…

  • You
  • Your product
  • Your competition
  • What your customers think about your product
  • Even what people who’ve never TRIED your product think about it

I describe this experience, rather than a funnel, as a sphere. Consumers enter the sphere through any kind of external influence, advertising exposure, need, life event; anything that could first cause interest in a product or service. But here’s where the behavior shifts. Once inside the sphere, the consumer embarks on a totally unpredictable path of information absorption. Consumers continue to experience the brand, gather information and form opinions based on information they either seek or are exposed to.

Once inside the sphere, the job of content marketing is to keep them inside the sphere and facilitate purchase. The content marketing platforms you manage to keep them inside your sphere, before during and after the purchase, include:

  • BlogsMarketing Sphere
  • Social Media Posts
  • Social Media Advertising
  • Product Ratings
  • White Papers
  • Infographics
  • SEO
  • Paid Advertising
  • Website Engagement
  • SMS Texting
  • Word of Mouth
  • Earned Media
  • Customer Experience

All of these are touch points, and the consumer can experience any of them at any time within the sphere. It’s a three-dimensional journey that requires a consistent, rewarding and aligned experience in order to stay engaged.

If you don’t already do it, you should audit the content you manage as well as the content your current and prospective customers are exposed to. Do you provide information about your product and your product experience? Is the information comparative? Fresh? Relevant? Do you engage your customers, provide insight and seek feedback? Most importantly, do you have multiple paths to capture contact information, and even more paths to use that information to keep them moving within your sphere? Look for all of these principle action points and you will be well on your way to a sound content marketing strategy.

What’s a Sponsorship Worth in Hampton Roads?

Five Key Elements to Valuing a Sponsorship.ODU

Of course the big question here is, “What’s a sponsorship worth ANYWHERE?” One of the hardest things to do in marketing is place a tangible, measurable value on a high-profile sponsorship opportunity. Whether you’re talking a single event, seasonal series, fixed venue, even spokesperson or celebrity visit, the variables and intangibles make pricing and measuring return on sponsorship extremely squishy.

“The fact that there is not one standard measuring stick across our industry nationally is very frustrating,” says Chuck Gray, general manager of ODU Sports Properties. Gray works with sponsors at every level for ODU Athletics opportunities. “You can find three or four models” used in various places he added. “We look for ways to create value multiples, as much as 2-1, for the dollars invested in a sponsorship.”

Velvet Marshall is sales director for IMG in Hampton Roads, handling sponsorships for the nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Portsmouth and Beachevents at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. “Every package we Virginia Beach Ball 2put together is customized based on the sponsor’s budget and needs,” she says. According to Marshall, ”We always meet and exceed what is required by the city of Va. Beach for the Beachevents program. And while a good portion of revenue generated does go back into the program, we always maintain the quality of the acts we have regardless of sponsorship revenue.”

Fine. But when you’re faced with the decision of committing six-or maybe even seven-figure line items in your marketing budget to a major sponsorship as opposed to increasing your online or offline media weight, how do you decide? Sarah Marshall Elliott, director of marketing and brand strategy for Virginia Farm Bureau, says the company looks for several kAmphitheaterey elements, including audience compatibility and fit, statewide reach, strong digital/social media aspects, and category exclusivity.

“When the Farm Bureau Live sponsorship was created four years ago”, Elliott says, “the company’s marketing strategy was largely built around raising general awareness for the bran  d.” It was important to capture the loud promotional voice and leverage digital as well as traditional reach and frequency to bolster Farm Bureau name recognition. “Today,” she says, “we develop consumer-facing promotions which drive prospects into our local county offices for an insurance quote. We have also ramped up our digital marketing efforts via our sponsorships which provide real-time data.”

A Little Structure, Please.

As a corporate marketer and as a consultant I’ve had to find ways to help make sponsorship investment decisions. The challenge led me to develop a model of my own that has proven successful over time. One major caveat; the key steps below assume that you have already done your homework and determined that the audience you will be positioning your brand or product in front of is a good “fit” for your brand and overall strategy. Here are the five key elements of the model:

1) Discovery. Put boots on the ground. You’ve got to attend the venue, see the audience, see how they move and act.

2) Measured Media Analysis. Calculate the real value of the impressions based on a valuation for your market. In my model I’ve created a valuation based on several local-market, multi-media CPM figures. Add in frequency based on number of events, attendance at events, media coverage, insertions and reach of paid spots inserted in broadcast or exposed on websites. After that, add a quality score to each component of the package; for instance, a :30 TV spot or feature position on a home page is a much more valuable impression than a static sign in a concourse. The grand total of this analysis gives you a real-dollar value.

3) Qualitative Analysis. What is the emotional value to your company or brand? Rarely will the quantitative, real-dollar value reach the actual cost of the package. In every case you will have to assign a value or multiple to your analysis that attaches a value for associating your brand with the promoter, event or product. Expect the real-dollar value to equal at least 50-75% of the asking price for the package. The subjective value has to get you the rest of the way.

4) Negotiation. Once you know the value to your marketing plan, you’re ready to negotiate a fair value price. Two choices here: Present the venue, promoter, or agent with your price based on the package as it exists, or (usually more successful) negotiate for additional value in either reach or frequency elements.

5) Activation. This may be the most critical element, and it cannot be an afterthought. The whole purpose here is to promote your brand and engage with the audience. Plan for and budget to leverage your sponsorship. Invest in creative concepts to make your signage stand out. Plan to staff events and make personal connections through creative promotions. Brainstorm and identify unique ways to present your brand to make you stand out from the sea of other sponsors.

ODU’s Gray says he values inventory and packages based on three key elements; attendance, location and availability. Scarcity and demand of particular inventory will drive the price up, as with any other product. The key is to understand the value, budget for it appropriately, and activate in unique and engaging ways.

Seem like a lot of work? Well it is. You can do most of it in your head if you’re talking a $2,000 golf tournament sponsorship. But when you’re looking at a six-figure naming-rights or premier sponsorship that may span 3-5 years, you need to know what to expect.

Elliott councils others to carefully consider the term of the contract, as strategies can shift over time. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if more ‘mature’ companies, those who already have relatively high brand awareness, are looking for a more traditional return on their investment these days,” she adds. Velvet Marshall is faced with that kind of big hole right now, filling the name and title slot for the American Music Festival at the beach, vacated when Verizon Wireless decided to pull all of its event sponsorships.

Bottom line on sponsorship evaluations? When the money is big, there’s no such thing as a no-brainer. Find a way to engage the quantitative structure and measure it against your primary business objectives. It can be done.

CMO. The Best Job in Hampton Roads?

If you want a nice, stable job in marketing, run out and find yourself a position as chief marketing officer. The average tenure for folks in that position has nearly doubled since 2006, from 23.6 to 45 months, in a study released last year by executive search firm Spencer Stuart.

And if you’re lucky to find one in an industrial company, of which Hampton Roads has many, that average tenure shoots up to 111 months — a little over nine years! That’s double the average time a U.S. worker stays with his or her current employer, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On average, CMOs in the healthcare, automotive, restaurant and communications/media sectors have the shortest tenures, at 28 to 32 months.

The role of the CMO, and its importance to an organization, continues to shift with evolving technology. Marco Pescara, CMO of Toano-based Lumber Liquidators, agrees. “Technology and changing consumer interaction makes it essential that a CMO not simply understand who they serve — but how the customer is interacting,” he tells me.

CMO Tenure

From CMOsurvey.org

Pescara has been in his role at Lumber Liquidators for a little over two years, although he has been with the company for almost eight. He says the number of “personal touch points” continues to increase, and feels the CMO must guide the organization in understanding how customers are interacting through those touches.

Spencer Stuart’s Tom Seclow says, “More and more, these are meaty and more satisfying roles, which in some cases may include general management responsibilities. As they gain credibility among their C-suite peers and find more challenges in their current role, many CMOs are staying in their positions longer.”

Let’s talk career path. The data would indicate that, on average, you can look to rise to the position of CMO in an organization, as Pescara did. CMOsurvey.org reports that the average length of time that today’s CMOs have in any position with their current employer is 8.8 years.

The report indicates several things are driving the importance of the CMO role, among them the continuance of emerging technologies along with the need to develop more intricate analytics and ways to leverage huge amounts of customer data.

Eric Lackey, CMO of Hampton Roads–based JES Foundation Repair echoes that sentiment. Lackey, who has an agency background as a co-founder of Meridian Group, now has six years under his belt as head of marketing. Technology is such a driver of business leads and success that the company has developed a cloud-based business planning and tracking platform, “Biz Wiz” used by over 100 network partners nationwide. “It helps us be much more efficient in planning and in tracking results,” he says. Like many long-term career marketers, he finds a big challenge now to be continuing to learn and adapt online and digital advertising tools to his lead-generation needs. An in-house staff helps keep Lackey and JES on a solid growth curve.

The downside — the tracking study says that as the tenure increases, the number of CMO positions is decreasing. So, as I tell my middle school son: math rules, technology is king. Stay ahead of both if you want to compete for a secure job in one of these key hometown roles.

Read the Spencer Stuart article

Read the CMO Survey