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?

No comments:

Post a Comment