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Leading with Your Strength

Thursday, March 19, 2015

When we work with communities such as St. Paul, it’s easy to focus on “the Downtown.” In most of these municipalities there is a general understanding that the Downtown is the heart of the destination.

When working with County or Regional Destination Marketing Organizations, however, small town community pride makes the process much harder. There is the expectation that we (and the DMO) must be fair and treat every community within the destination with equal attention.

To paraphrase Tom Hanks’ character in League of Their Own, “There’s no fair in Destination Marketing!”

Truth be told, there’s really no fair anywhere.

In this cluttered, noisy world, there’s no time for building an argument for your destination’s myriad of opportunities. We must lead with our strengths...or fall by the wayside to competitors that do. And, that usually means having to lead with the largest (or best branded) city in the region.

And, as we discuss ways to spur destination enhancing development in our communities, leaders in smaller towns are often frustrated when the conversation continues to drift back to the “big” city. But, if the city center isn’t vibrant, the chances of visitors discovering and enjoying the surrounding small towns are diminished. A lot.

It takes a sophisticated view of the world for those from the ‘burbs and the ‘burgs to accept that the “big city” gets primary placement. And, it takes a confident understanding of what works for DMO Leadership to drive that message home to its small town partners.

Fargo's new brand is "North of Normal." And, if you subscribe to the notion that "north of" is a good thing, that destination is north of a breakthrough in regional sophistication.

Because, what CEO Charley Johnson and his team have done goes so far past a new logo and tagline that it is nothing short of sensational. For, after decades of being saddled with the cumbersome “Fargo-Moorhead” moniker (and with West Fargo now investing in the effort, as well), the region’s DMO is now calling the destination simply “Fargo.”

While those of us that are DMOpros can be excused for saying, “duh,” we have to remind ourselves that the Moorheads and West Fargos of the world are rightly proud of their communities. And, they understandably bristle at the concept of being excluded.

But, they’re not…and never would be (as evidenced by "Fargo's" new video). We all know that a destination is greater than its individual parts. And, all those cool attractions in surrounding communities make “the named” community that much more appealing.

In talking with Marketing Director Nicole Holden the other day, she confirmed that the deep research (both local and regional) that the Bureau commissioned validated what they already knew. Consumers couldn't identify where Fargo-Moorhead was, but everyone knew where Fargo was (even if they didn't). And, locals from Moorhead and West Fargo confirmed that, when asked where they were from when traveling, they'd respond with "Fargo" because it was just easier. And, after all, the movie and TV show weren't called Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo for a reason.

That "just easier" thing is what branding is about. It's the emotional trigger that creates desire. But, it took deep resident and consumer research to reassure surrounding community leaders that the Bureau was doing what was right for the region (and for them), not just the City of Fargo.

Proof that the new brand is working? Marketing Director Nicole Holden said locals are calling wanting to buy “Fargo: North of Normal” logo shirts and mugs. "Nobody's ever asked before," she smiled.

Well played, Fargo (and your surrounding communities). You’re a model for countless regional DMOs that continue to struggle against parochial pride.

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