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OTHER VIEWS

CVB takes big step toward better marketing of EC

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Peter Thomson
Columnist

Saturday, September 10, 2016

“Positioning” is ad-speak for a process where folks look at the history, pricing, competition and packaging of a product along with the demographics of the purchasers to find out how something sells best. With that information, they “position” the product in the marketplace.

The process is almost the same whether it be a box of cereal or an automobile or even a destination. The success of this somewhat scientific process is in direct proportion to the quality of the people doing the work and the ability of their clients to implement their findings.

Some months ago, our Convention & Visitors Bureau engaged The Goss Agency of Asheville to help Elizabeth City attract more tourists, and during this period they’ve worked closely with both government and private stakeholders. Recently, in an intense three-hour presentation, they gave an update on where they are in the process. While it may well be several months before there are final conclusions, this was an unusually expert meeting: these are folks with clients across the country who have done it before, successfully.

As The Goss Agency looked into our town’s tourism history they found that, as has been the custom in most small towns, we’ve been mostly focused on individual assets: the museum, Arts of the Albemarle, the waterfront and so on. Advertising money has often been spent on co-op advertising, in area magazines.

The Goss experts have concluded that radical change is necessary. They believe, and have statistics to prove, that Elizabeth City should be focused where today’s travelers look: online. Their belief is that tourists will come to town, not for any specific in-town attraction, but as a place to stay and enjoy the attractions of the Albemarle as a whole.

They presented a scenario in which a family would see us online, sign up for tours and then come to town. While here, they’d spend one day enjoying Museum of the Albemarle and two or three other museums in the area, then come back and spend another night here. In the morning they would spend their time either kayaking, visiting a farm or touring lighthouses. Goss proposes using the resources of the region to entertain and inform visitors while making Elizabeth City the Albemarle’s regional destination.

To make this work, Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Christina Rehklau, her staff and board will need to find or create a number of events that could be attractive to niche groups; Goss offered over 80 possibilities from which to choose. So in the next months while Goss is firming up its strategy and crafting the words and pictures that go with it, the Convention & Visitors Bureau will be working hard to line up potential regional partnerships and tours.

Once approved, assuming it gains wide local acceptance and is given a supportive marketing campaign, there will be positive economic consequences that could go beyond tourism. The recruiting of business and professionals could be affected, for example.

Over time this new positioning may well include new logos on websites, new messaging and new colors and formats, transforming outside perception of our town. Every message sent from the city, county and Chamber of Commerce could reflect a central theme reinforcing the same story.

The flip side is that if some decide they do not want to change, the static they create will diffuse the message and make it, once again, difficult to perceive the good things about our town. Therefore, consensus will be critical.

All credit goes to the Convention & Visitors Bureau board for making the courageous decision to spend money on expertise and invest in our tourism future. As we move forward, the hope is that everyone can plug into this new vision and that, together, we can help attract tourists, business, dollars and jobs.

Peter Thomson is a resident of Elizabeth City.

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