As Beaufort dissects its marketing plans for 2013, it is a good time for all governments in Beaufort County to step back and review the basics.
First, marketing is vital to the economic lifeblood of the community: the tourism, retail, recreation and real estate industries. Marketing, we have learned, must never stop. It must be a long-term undertaking that can never falter, no matter the current events or leadership.
Second, marketing should be left to professionals. Too many laymen think they know the art and science of marketing when they do not, just as too many people think they know how to be highway engineers and school superintendents. Election to public office, or being selected to serve on the numerous committees that touch local marketing, does not make one an expert. Local governments must designate a marketing organization that will receive accommodations tax revenue. Elected bodies should see to it that the right people are doing the marketing, not get down to branding specifics or telling local organizations how to advertise.
Third, decisions should be made using data and statistics, not anecdotes and whims. A popular drumbeat today is that Beaufort County is woefully behind Myrtle Beach in spending on tourism marketing. But look at the facts. Our market is dramatically smaller than the Myrtle Beach market in every way, so comparing total dollars spent is not all that relevant.
The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce is using a professional marketing agency to track and analyze data, which is good. Even better is that it is eager to share what it learns with everyone in town.
That is what governments need: a private sector that knows who is coming, when, from where and why. How much are they spending? What are they buying? What is the trend? Who is not coming? Who are we missing? Where are they? What could we do to reach them?
Finally, the siren song to put heads in beds is a function of the private sector. Because municipal and county councils vote on accommodations tax allocations to local organizations, it is natural that they wrestle with how it is best spent. But government has a more fundamental role in the conundrum of how to attract visitors, and thereby businesses and residents. It is not a role of organizing and funding events or placing ads.
Governments are needed to fill the potholes, keep traffic flowing and provide police and emergency medical services. After that, they must set policy that protects and enhances the local aura that visitors want: historic preservation, tree protection, clean waterways, open space, healthy beaches and waterway access. Governments must guard against a proliferation of signs and tackiness in all its forms. Buffers, setbacks and controlled lighting set the local tone, as does landscaping of public places. This is how governments can best help marketers and indeed use marketing data to help set policies that meet public expectations.