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.

So Now What Do You Name Your Business Hampton Roads???

The latest salvo in the “Name Your Region” battle has been fired, and it’s game on. By constantly referring to our hometown region as “Coastal Virginia” during his recent State-of-The-City address, VirgiCoastal Virginia Signnia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms re-invigorated the name change initiative.

It wasn’t hard to spot; in fact I mentioned it to people as I walked out of the VB Convention Center following his speech. The only time we heard the words “Hampton Roads” was in reference to another bridge tunnel across “the Hampton Roads.” A good reference to the history of the name can be found here. The Pilot and Virginia Business were quick to pick up on the topic, and coverage spread across the state.

“Coastal Virginia” is a tourism-driven name. It’s born out of a desire to find something more easily identifiable to people outside of our region. To me, tourism does seem the right driver, considering the three economic pillars of our region: tourism, defense spending and the ports. I don’t believe either “Defense District” or “Port Place” are going to be very well received (I made those up.) The name change gained real steam when the Southeastern Tourism Alliance changed its name to The Coastal Virginia Tourism Alliance.

Rather than debate the name, let’s focus on the impact of changing the name at all. If you’re a marketer in Hampton Roads, and you’ve tooled your company or business to reflect the place where we live, the impact can be huge. Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Alliance, Naval Museum, Convention Center, United Way — the list is almost endless. And if you’re starting a new company, what name do you bet on?

David Mele, publisher of The Virginian Pilot, including responsibility for all of their specialty and online properties, acknowledges that his enterprise is heavily invested in the name Hampton Roads. “We actually raised the question from our editorial side when the name Coastal Virginia first surfaced and have had a lot of people weigh in,” he said.

Asked what it would take to truly consider changing the names of websites or sections of the paper, Mele said, “The region is heavily invested in the name ‘Hampton Roads.’ The prevailing thought right now seems to be that we should put more marketing support behind the current name before we consider a change. If we found that it was really the right thing to do,” he added, “if it truly improved our (market) competitiveness, we would get on board.”

But the degree to which local businesses are invested in the name is huge. From small businesses like Hampton Roads Termite and Pest Control, founded in Chesapeake in 1986, or Hampton Roads Harley Davidson, operating under that name on the Peninsula since the ’70s, to Hampton Road Transit, whose name symbolizes the creation of a truly regional transit authority, the impact would be huge.

My prediction is that the true coastline will embrace Coastal Virginia, which makes sense. The farther to the left you go on the map, the more it makes sense to stay the course. And if you’re starting or renaming your business today? “I’d stick with Hampton Roads,” Mele suggests. I agree. But I did just purchase a new URL: MarketingCoastalVirginia.com.Hampton Roads

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

A Company’s Vision: Can it Pass The Elevator Test?

Is your vision for your company clear and concise enough that you can hold any employee responsible for explaining it in sixty seconds?  If not, you may not be doing your job.

Your organization craves clarity.  The individuals that operate your company on a daily basis crave personal relevance; understanding how what each does helps accomplish the company vision. 

The most effective test for clarity and simplicity is to be able to answer the question in the time it takes to ride from one floor to another in the elevator (or walk across the lunch room, or out to the parking lot).  Let’s use a minute and a half as a bench mark.

The elevator test question should be broad and its answer should be very focused.

Companies have developed acronyms and key words to help make the answer relevant and memorable.  But of course the most important component of the answer is that the response be genuine.

Though I don’t know him, I would venture to guess that when Gary Kelly, President and CEO of Southwest Airlines, heads across the tarmac with one of his baggage handlers, the answer to “what is this company all about?” would be firmly grounded in “the highest quality of customer service” (as stated in the company’s mission statement) and all of the relative decisions that are made based purely on that.  The vision is lived in a genuine way every day.

Bfq4A20CIAEKXsu2With the recent experience that I had flying across the country during one of the snowiest winters on record (my bag stayed an extra week in Chicago) I’d have to say that the people of Southwest still live this experience. Daily phone calls, even if they were, “we haven’t found it yet, but we’re still looking,” the final delivery of my bag—sans name tag or baggage ticket–and now, three unsolicited “Luv Ya” vouchers for $150 tell me that the mission is clear and genuine, both to the people and to the organization.

So how do you know if the answer you get is genuine and accurate?  Sure you can create a rhyme or a jingle.  You can print wallet cards and ask employees to commit them to memory.  But I would suggest you look for three elements in the response you receive:

1. An understanding of what makes you different from your competitors. Make business decisions based on protecting differentiation

2. Ask who butters our bread?  Know who the key customers are and how to take care of them

3. A look in the eye.  Confidence in the clarity of the answer and a belief in the cause.  If you don’t sense confidence, there is much work to be done

Of course the concept of the elevator test is nothing new.  But the due diligence of developing it, executing it and working to perfect it is something that is often left behind.  It’s an important part of a leader’s job, and one that will pay huge dividends throughout the organization.