May 14, 2014LANCASTER — Roger Brooks, a tourism and marketing consultant who seven years ago analyzed what makes Coös County unique and came up with a county-wide marketing plan for its businesses and communities, delivered a wake-up call to some 30 business owners on Wednesday at the Rialto Theater.
Five years ago, many of his marketing recommendations were implemented under an umbrella brand — NH Grand: Grand Resorts, Grand Adventures.
This elevated the stature of the region by focusing attention on what makes it unique, said the CEO of Roger Brooks International.
"Your goal is for Coös to become the premier destination area for both local residents and visitors," Brooks said. "It's to create small business opportunities and to strengthen existing businesses, and to attract young people and families for new jobs and opportunities. It's to make Coös County the adventure-sports destination for business, and to help make each downtown a vibrant, central gathering place for locals and visitors."
Brooks emphasized in his PowerPoint presentation that Coös should avoid falling into the trap of "dumbing down" and "softening" how the county's unique appeal is portrayed in its marketing efforts.
There are lots of other forested locations with serene lakes, he said, so do not replace the NH Grand brand with generic milquetoast words, such as Great North Woods. "You simply can't be all things to all people; promote the primary lure," Brooks said. "People want experiences — not locations. 'Great North Woods' is a location; it means nothing!"
At an invitation-only meeting held the previous evening at the Omni Mount Washington Resort, someone apparently suggested substituting "Ride the Wilds" for "NH Grand."
A 1,000-mile ATV-OHRV loop trail is a Grand Adventure and does not represent an "umbrella" marketing concept with the drawing power of NH Grand, Brooks said at the Rialto.
"Branding is the art of differentiation; that is, what sets Coös County apart from everywhere else," he said. "Find and promote what sets you apart: your unique selling proposition. A brand is a perception and a promise that you will deliver on that perception." Perceptions are created through visual cues, people and attitudes, word of mouth, and publicity and social media. Logos and slogans are not brands; they are marketing messages that are used to reinforce the brand. Brooks warned, "Brand identities make up only two percent of a brand, but get a lot of the political attention locally."
"Successful brands are built on product, not marketing," he reminded. "You can't 'roll out' a brand; it's earned over time."
"And," Brooks explained, "you can't do branding by public consent! You will never get everyone to agree until you water it down to something generic. You cannot let local politics kill your branding efforts."
"You never see statues of committees in public parks, only of brave leaders," he chuckled, noting that committees are very apt to seek compromise, thus killing a potential brand winner. "Brands last for generations; they're not something you 'reinvent' every few years," Brooks said. "Brands are built to get everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction."
Brooks praised the many efforts of NH Grand that have been implemented.
"What you are doing is amazing!" he said, pointing to such examples as the way-finding kiosks and coordinated websites that resulted in the county's several Chambers of Commerce working well together.
Room and meals tax tallies in 2013 show that Coös has grown three times more than the rest of the state; TripAdvisor click-though rates are nearly 10 times the average, and unique website visits more than doubled between 2010 and 2013, he said. Coös experienced a 25 percent increase in travel spending in its first year of implementation and continues to lead the New England states. The "audience reach" for stories focused on the NH Grand area rose from 80 million in 2011 to 385 million in 2013.
Coös businesses are, however, still grappling with the reality that 70 percent of all consumer retail spending takes place after 6 p.m. Seventy percent of first-time sales can come from "curb appeal" and 80 percent of all spending is by women.
"You and downtowns should be joined at the hip!" Brooks pointed out.
The Internet has changed destination tourism, he explained.
"We have the world — every city, town and county — at our fingertips in a fraction of a second," Brooks noted. In addition, he said, "We're drowning in marketing and advertising overload because we're exposed to 5,000 marketing messages a day."
Later that day, Brooks met with business owners in Berlin, thanks to its Main Street program. He also spoke earlier at the Governor's Conference on Tourism held last week at Church Landing at Mill Falls in Meredith.