Thursday, February 9, 2012

For retailers, too many choices leads to 'just looking' |

This is a great post about the need for retailers to remain focused. I meet lots of entrepreneurs who want to open a retail business in our downtown. I've started to notice a "type of DNA" in their personality. That "DNA" improves their chance of success, my job is to help them pick a location that improves their chance of success. That improves downtown's chance at success!!!

For retailers, too many choices leads to 'just looking' |

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

anecdotal vs. empirical

I’ve been thinking about marketing a lot over the past two years.  As much as I would love to run “shop downtown” ads, I don’t know how to measure success?  In the past, the merchants have been reluctant to participate in anonymous surveys.  The Department of Revenue in Raleigh does not allow economic developers to pull retail sales tax information for census tracks.  The parking dynamic in our downtown shifts so frequently; not to mention that on street and deck usage is never reported on the same pie chart. 

Parking utilization should be a good indicator and we have the following bar graph that represents meter utilization.  This represents the hours purchased at the parking meters by hours purchased with not regard toward parking deck usage.

The dollars are not represented because the rates changed over these time periods.  

So what caused this?  The economy?  Well maybe, but our new Wilmington Convention Center held its first public event in November 2010.  In 2010, downtown saw a net gain of 14 new street level businesses.  In 2011, we had a net gain of 19 new street level businesses.  There was some growth happening in anticipation of the new convention center and other projects that were being discussed. 

From January 2010, through July, the Front Street Improvement Project was going on, two blocks beautifully restored with all new trees, streetscape and lighting.  It was a transformational project, as buildings in the area sold and began renovations,  In fact, the city’s $1.8 million project resulted in over $3,200,000 in private sector investment on the same two blocks.  Growth still occurred.

In the fall of 2011, the City of Wilmington began the transformation of North 3rd Street, as a spectacular gateway to our city.  Both the 3rd Street and Front Street Project resulted in the temporary removal of some meters, but those parkers moved somewhere else, right?  They didn’t avoid downtown all together, they just got moved a little.  That goes back to my mention of reporting the deck and on-street together.  This project too, should spur private investment along North 3rd Street.  Already a 150 unit apartment building is being planned.

This brings me to my email trail.  Something happened and I think it may offer some anecdotal evidence as why meter usage decreased.  I’ll explain the distinction as to why I feel it’s anecdotal and not empirical later.  But I thought my email trail would tell something.

During the fall of 2009, I suggested that a group of downtown businesses and marketing professionals collaborate on a short term marketing plan.  The purpose of this plan was to drive traffic into the area affected by the Front Street Project during construction.  What evolved was somewhat different.  It was suggested we adopt a slogan, “Do It Downtown” as an “open source” brand if you will.  “Open Source” could be defined as meaning that everybody use this in their own advertising. The hope being that with enough repetition and awareness, people would be drawn downtown.

The hope was that several good ideas may foster and remain as ongoing initiatives, however I wanted “the plan” to be rolled out every time the city does a major road construction project that will impact businesses downtown.  Others came in with their own ideas, and agendas.  That’s not a problem, it just requires a well run meeting.

One of the “ideas” was to get everybody saying “Do It Downtown.”  My response, “hey guys, let’s run this through a consumer focus group, make sure it works for us.”  Knowing only enough about marketing to be dangerous, I thought to myself, it’s a double entendre – I’m not sure its going to attract or encourage what we are trying to do here … but then again, the goal of our original meeting had shifted to something else completely.  At any rate, I don’t know what a consumer focus group would have said, but I would have stood by it either way.

Well, leadership on my board of directors instructed me to walk away, and not worry about it … but wait; somebody is doing something I think might not work.  “Don’t worry John; if these people want to market themselves this way, then it’s their prerogative.”

Well anyway, that first review of artwork was in December of 2009.  Look again at that graph above – is there any correlation between the use of the D-I-D slogan and the decrease of meter usage?  I don’t know, but it looks anecdotal.  The billboards, print, radio and PR associated with D-I-D began in January of 2010.  Its not empirical, meaning we don’t know scientifically that it had an impact … but it’s a correlation.  

Until someone can show me empirical data that saying or using D-I-D draws customers … I would suggest you stop using it, referencing it … in fact, remove it from your lexicon.  Anecdotal evidence suggests it might hurt the parking program … which isn’t good for anyone.  

Those are my thoughts and mine alone ... what do you think?

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Businesses opening and a job fair

This is really positive. Read this newsletter to read about the new businesses opening in downtown and the job fair that's coming up.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

new websites

We hear a lot of talk lately about people updating their websites. Websites are the new collateral material. As soon as it goes live, it needs to be updated. After all, once you've seen it, I guess it needs something new to draw people back.

I'm not going to pretend to know everything there is to know about websites but I do know enough to be dangerous ... and knowing that helps. One of my first obsessions in this job was to update our website. We chose a vendor who is a consistent supporter of the International Downtown Association. Actually, he found us. He had secured the business of Downtown Greensboro, Inc (who has now moved to a different vendor) and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. Both organizations I have great respect for, and who's leaders I value as friends and mentors.

The day our site went live, I was bragging and bragging about how awesome our site was and someone said to me, "yeah, it is nice." I thought "nice"? Seriously, this is the best thing ever ... then I thought to myself ... what are the weaknesses of our website? It turns out I was not too pleased with our design. I wanted a site that POPPED, BANGED and EXPLODED off of the page.

Well good design is hard, especially if you don't have a brand or consistent message that you'd like to portray. This began the work of laying out a strategic plan for our organization. Tops on the list as voted on by our leadership: A Strategic Marketing & Branding Campaign.

So off to work we went. I can't begin to tell you how hard this project has been. To date, we've been at this since September 2010. No consultants, no high powered marketing firm, no slick big city professionals in blue jeans and blazers carrying brief cases. Just me, a white board and 70 different stakeholders. I knew this work would result in good stuff for us, but developing good creative is hard. We've come to a point where we have the brand positioning statement and that is huge. Everyone likes our tag line, but the creative can't really fit. We've taken at least four concepts to consumer focus groups and they have all been destroyed. Disheartening, but we must remain dedicated to the process. A good process gives good results.

So that leads me to a few of the discussions and observations I've had in the past couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I attended the International Economic Development Council's course: Economic Development Marketing and Business Attraction. I had no predetermined notion of what I might learn, so I went in open minded. Interestingly enough, they focused on websites. Here's why: for every one site visit a prospective company does, chances are there were at least ten internet looks online. Did you get that, ten people looked you over online before someone picked up the phone and called. During the summer of 2011, our site averaged over 6,000 page views a day. Imagine the phone ringing 6,000 times a day :-O.

This past weekend I attended the International Downtown Association's Annual Conference and Trade Show. Before we loaded up the Honda Pilot, I worked on developing a new site map (that's really hard). The goal is to develop a site map that gets the visitor to the information they desire in three clicks or less. Now here's our challenge, presently we average four page views per visit. Is that good (that our site is sticky) or bad because it takes too long to find what you are looking for?  Like I said earlier, I know enough to be dangerous.

The other challenge with a site map is the end result graphically. Most print ads, no matter the size, have a limited number of elements. Too many elements (visuals) and the eye wanders and becomes confused. We must remain focused and remember "Three Clicks."

So some good news, a few downtown businesses are also updating their sites. Crescent Moon in the Cotton Exchange launched their new site yesterday. It's a very retail oriented site that offers online sales: a key feature for any small business. I hear others are working diligently on their's as well. We hear that Wilmington Industrial Development and the Wilmington Chamber are about to launch new versions of their websites. The chamber recently went through similar branding and logo initiatives, so it should look better. Me, I can't hold my breath, I've been working hard here to get ours done. I know they are all going through a lot of work - it's tough, that's for sure.  I hope to have a deliverable real soon.

 Stay tuned; and as that guy from King of the Hill said, "get on that internet man, and go click click click click."