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.

TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Roads

Is your ad strategy on course?

If you’re a business in Hampton Roads weighing your advertising options, traditional TV (broadcast and cable) continues to provide huge reach and impact. But how people consume various media, and more importantly how their video viewing habits are shifting, is essential for you to know to effectively plan where your advertising dollars should be spent.

Microsoft Word - proofed_TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Ro

Nielsen numbers show that US consumers still watch over four hours of traditional (Nielsen calls it “live”) TV every day. But that number has dropped from four hours and 29 minutes per day in 2013 to four hours and 11 minutes over the past two years. The pace is precipitous and consistent. The amount of DVR viewing has held pretty steady, but the amount of time spent on smartphones has nearly doubled.

Three very important points to keep in mind here:

  1. The shift to online/streaming viewing is generationally driven. A recent report from ABC showed that 28% of TV watched during prime time by 18-34-year-olds is online streaming or video on demand, compared to 11% for those age 25-54. Microsoft Word - proofed_TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Ro
  2. This shift will accelerate. Smartphones are already in the hands of 80% of US consumers, but the lion’s share of mobile online TV is viewed by only 20% of those folks. This is not an “80-20” rule that will stand. As network apps and “TV anywhere” gain awareness, that number will experience a hockey-stick effect. Add to that the fact that nearly 60% of households now have an Internet-connected TV, and the opportunities to stream video skyrocket.
  3. These are no longer individually unique media consumption behaviors. People don’t consume one medium at a time. Look around in a restaurant, airport, doctor’s office—or your own family room. Who is looking up, and who is looking down at their mobile device? Nielsen reports that 84% of smartphone and tablet owners use those devices while they’re watching TV. YOU NEED TO BE IN BOTH PLACES.

The graphs here are published data from Nielsen’s “Total Audience Report.” It’s a great deep dive to understand what’s going on in the world of media consumption. But to help understand what’s happening, and what will happen with TV viewership locally, I reached out to some local media experts for insight.

The bulk of ad spending for local broadcasters and cable still ties to traditional TV advertising: :05-:60 spots inserted into linear broadcast (that includes cable) programs. And, of course, the stakeholders feel that will continue. “Local newscasts (including weather, traffic and high school/college sports) remain some of the highest-viewed programming on local broadcast televisions in any market.” Says Doug Davis, president and CEO of WAVY. “Newscasts provide a daily, engaged viewer for local advertisers…a viewer who is watching the news…not DVRing it.”

Kari Jacobs, WVEC president and GM, agrees. “I believe TV viewing will remain strong largely due to locally produced news, live sports and big events (e.g., the Oscars). It will be interesting to see which (streaming) delivery methods (Netflix, Roku, etc.) will excel.”

But Gordon Borrell, CEO and president of Borrell and Associates and nationally recognized expert on local market media trends, is a bit more pragmatic. “The fact is, people are watching more ‘video’ than ever, but it’s the old model—broadcast TV—that’s in trouble. I wouldn’t recommend that a TV advertiser necessarily cut back TV. Rather, I think an advertiser needs to determine the appropriate mix of media available today that is needed to support whatever promotion they have at the moment.”

Local broadcasters, as well as Cox, have long offered digital advertising packages and online content to help you diversify your media mix and reach their viewers online. “We certainly recognize the impact digital has on traditional viewing patterns,” Jacobs adds, “and our digital options for content and advertising options reflect this change and will continue to evolve.”

But with the shift to streaming and on-demand viewing through Internet-connected devices, advertisers are clamoring for a way to measure their text boxvideo advertising investment that makes sense online and offline. That shift is underway. Sharon Fanto, vice-president of Cox Media, explains. “Most [advertisers] want to measure how they reach consumers with a metric of impressions rather than simply gross rating points (GRPs). Those impressions are found on multiple screens across multiple devices, which makes sense since consumers are spending more time with video on multiple devices. Our focus has to continue to be making it easier for our clients to reach consumers wherever they are, on whatever device they are using.”

This shift in planning and measurement from GRPs to impressions, cost-per-impression, and ultimately cost-per-conversion (sale) tied to your impressions are what ultimately open the door for effective cross-platform planning. Hopefully, all media reps, planners and buyers are headed in this direction because digital advertising options will drive it.

An impressions-based video strategy can level the playing field in comparing costs for reaching TV viewers in a mass broadcast audience vs. an individually targeted and streamed insertion online. Add to that the efficiency that real-time bidding (the ability to set budget limits on how much you are willing to pay for each individual impression) online can bring, and you have the ability to make your video advertising achieve results that you could never afford in a broadcast-only world.

Your online-to-broadcast mix percentage will vary based on your objectives as well. In Borrell’s words, “TV is the number one medium for branding. No one can touch it.” But if your goal is to drive online engagement, having at least a companion digital video strategy is vital. The Virginia Dental Association, in a statewide campaign that has been running for the past three years, has been able to increase traffic to a targeted page from 200 page views a month to over 500 A DAY by integrating a targeted digital video campaign. That’s how effective it can be.

Bottom lines:

1. If you are a local advertiser whose ad strategy is heavily leveraged in TV, and you are not already consistently and diligently deploying a SIGNIFICANT online video component to your strategy, you are behind the times.

2. If you’re are a local business that has not been able to afford TV advertising because of budget or geographic scope, you could be losing ground to competitors who have learned to geographically and demographically target video messages online to your prospects and customers.

Video advertising is king. It carries more emotion and credibility than any other medium. Consumers will find it wherever they go. More and more, they are going online with devices in hand. Your media mix needs to recognize that.

Back to My Marketing Roots

Joe GenieMarketers go through a lot of stages and phases. Consumer Behavior changes. Technology changes. The economy, the competition, the demographics; they all impact the work we do, and what we focus on. But I’ve found, as I’ve added a new challenge to my marketing bucket list, that the fundamentals never change, and it’s important to get back to your marketing roots.

You see, along with my work with ad agency Seventh Point, I’ve added another business challenge–that of a local franchise owner. It’s one of the reasons this blog has seen a bit of a hiatus. In my search, I wanted to find a business that IS NOT technology driven, IS in-demand and will be for the foreseeable future. A stable business model that I can build through MARKETING. I’ve found that business and brought the first “Window Genie” franchise to Hampton Roads. You can learn more about the company by clicking on that link, but the focus here today is those fundamentals of consumer marketing that this whole initiative has reinvigorated in me. The five key pillars that are key to any business owner operating a small business in a competitive market place…which is 99.7% of all employer firms in the US, according to the SBA.

The same way a pro athlete practices the physical fundamentals of his or her sport on a daily basis, it’s important to stay grounded in these marketing fundamentals, evaluate your business and your plans against them and make course adjustments to stay on track.

My five key pillars of Business Marketing Success

Build a Memorable Brand5 Pillars

I love this oversimplified definition of brand: “The variance between your product and generic.” Everything that follows will contribute to your brand and what consumers perceive about you, but the important word here is memorable. In a hyper competitive world your brand look and feel needs to be something that sticks in the psyche of your target consumer. Working with (purchasing) a franchise operation can give you a huge leg up, and it was one of the key elements I searched for.

The brand look and feel has to differentiate your company, stimulate Top of Mind Awareness and inspire confidence in your company. It also has to be consistent in look and customer experience in order to build presence and over time.

Promote and Deliver Recognizable Value

Businesses can’t survive if everyone is the low-cost provider. Consumers don’t demand the lowest price, they demand the best value and perceived value is a huge variable from one consumer to the next. Marketing price, whether a retail product or a transactional service like cable TV or even window cleaning does not have to be the lowest price, but it does have to be competitively positioned and attractive enough to drive lead traffic.

Finding one key price point and driving it home can establish value, aid in recall, drive leads and protect your margins, all at the same time. Want a couple of examples? Watch for Stihl’s seasonal price point advertising. That same entry-grade blower is $149 every time. Looks like a sale, but it never is. Weber grills, same thing. Window World windows, home of the original $189 window. Price point advertising at an established value for a memorable brand does not have to put you in a race to the bottom.

Execute Persistent, Targeted Paid and Owned Promotion          

Diversity of promotion is the key here. Identify your target consumer, but now more than ever you have to reach them through as many channels as possible.

  • Be where they are in a communication form they are comfortable with. Social media and content marketing, the types of information you can own (and earn) present a level of authenticity and engagement that fosters referrals.
  • Targeted disruptive channels, digital, direct mail, print, outdoor, etc. build awareness and drive leads.
  • Build your online presence so that you are easily found and well positioned.
  • Event, guerilla and sponsorship marketing create association and personality in the environments where your customer lives.

Develop a balance in all of these areas, track and be persistent. Advertising shouldn’t be looked at as something that just drives short-term leads. It is the road map that builds long-term business.

Focus on Customer Loyalty

Inevitably, a start-up business has to spend a disproportionate amount of time dumping new customers and leads into the top of the bucket. But nurturing customers and relationships is something that has to be done from the onset. It is critical to building loyalty and no matter what your product or service is, your success will be built on your ability to create loyal customers.

Every employee must know his or her role in delivering high quality customer service.

That means strong training not only in the areas of product or service performance, but also in understanding the expectations of your customer. The employee’s ability to see his or her performance through the eyes of the customer is vital to truly satisfying or delighting customers. It’s the only way to create repeat business, and the best way to develop referral business.

Have a Plan and Stick To It

Every new business, even a franchise operation in a new market, needs a strong, well-developed business plan. Identify the market, know the competition, project sales, seasonality, profitability, Build the plan that drives leads and plan for the resources to deliver top quality service. Disciplined business and marketing plans are critical to success. It’s easy to start second guessing, but one key, vital attribute for successful businesses is this:

Successful businesses plan for success.

That takes courage. It takes vision. It takes discipline. It takes effort and late nights. Develop your plan and follow it. Go back to your original plan. How far off are you and how did you get there? Track and allow for course corrections, but make them quickly and deliberately.

So those are my big five. There are thousands of marketing books and even more marketing gurus who will provide variations. I believe you will find these key elements inherent in most of that thinking. If not, I would propose that something big is missing.

Try an evaluation test with your company or business. Run an audit against these five pillars as sort of a tune-up. You’ll find that returning to your marketing roots is a healthy exercise; one that should be repeated regularly for your personal marketing health, as well as your business.

A Meaningful Brand for NSU

NSUNorfolk State University is at a crossroads as it charts a course to rebuild its “brand” in the wake of the image hits it has taken over the past few years. The discontinuance of the school’s associate degree in nursing program due to low passing rates on the national licensing exam; the firing of a president; and, most recently, being placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), an accrediting body that oversees NSU and colleges in 10 other states, are incidents that have had a profound impact on how prospective students view the school.

The university’s marketing team is in the process of searching for an outside partner to help create a “unified brand identity.” But the team needs to be careful and meticulous in how it goes about the process. “Brand” is an enormously dynamic thing. There are two vitally different areas of perception to deal with: those within the university’s control and those outside of its control.

Brand standards—the colors and designs, what is said and how it is said by the university—can be controlled. Brand position, how NSU identifies itself as different from or even better than other schools, can be controlled. The physical properties—academic programs offered, facilities built or being built, as well as which are promoted, can be controlled. But brand image, the perception that students, prospective students and even those not connected with the university have of the school, is beyond the control of any school or company.key to branding

Brand image is the perception that lives within people’s minds and is formed based on the individual’s experience with the brand (or school). Forget about what the brand is saying, what matters is the experience. An appliance dealer can scream all day long that they have the lowest prices in town, but if my experience in the showroom is one high price after another, my brand perception is very negative. And brand perception, the consumer’s image of the brand, is all that matters at the end of the day.

The university holds what I assume is a fairly comprehensive proprietary study detailing the perception held by prospective and current students. Hopefully it contains opinions from alumni and those not necessarily connected to the school as well. The new outside partner will be privy to the information in that study, and it will be critical in creating a successful plan to achieve growth, particularly since enrollment has dropped more than 15 percent since 2012.

The brand message and the brand experience have got to align for NSU to be successful in building its image and building enrollment. Make no mistake, there are a lot of good things happening at NSU and a lot of truly positive momentum. The nursing program overall is vibrant, bolstered by a brand-new 140,000-square-foot nursing and classroom building. NSU will play the lead role in a $25 million effort to educate a new cybersecurity workforce at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the school is ranked among the top 30 HBCUs in the nation, and new facilities continue to energize the campus.

campus aheadSo with all of that, NSU has to continue to focus on delivering an experience that is relevant to prospective students and relevant to the Hampton Roads community. The University is an educational system that sees the need, for students as well as employers, and is building programs and facilities to meet demand. That alone is a strong focus on improvement.

Do the research within the market. Pinpoint and focus on the careers here in Hampton Roads that are in high demand. Then find the academic programs that Norfolk State has built and is delivering in excellent fashion (cybersecurity vaults to the top here.) Build the brand position and messaging around that, so that the experience is one of a high-quality, in-demand education.

The next step in ensuring growth and sustaining the experience for the future is to focus NSU’s academic development on those needs and careers that are in high demand, but where the university is not quite ready to claim excellence. Admit that. Chart the course to achieve excellence. Communicate the steps that are being taken and manage the expectations of current students as well as future students. Readiness for the future is what higher education is all about. NSU is at a pivotal point of growth, and it starts with aligning the message with the experience. That will build a unified brand for Norfolk State University.