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FROM THE GROUND UP — Five objectives when selling your community

PHIL HARDWICK

PHIL HARDWICK

As you read this column my wife and I are off on another trip. This time it’s to Maine and Nova Scotia. As much as I like the sightseeing, the activities and the food, it is the stories and the people who tell them that really appeal to me. One of the habits I’ve developed over the years is asking people about their communities. I have a feeling that this trip will reward me immensely.

While reading a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about what really goes on in a wine tasting I came across this paragraph:

“There are quite a few talk­ing points in the three-page memo that all em­ploy­ees are ex­pected to mem­o­rize, start­ing with the five tour ob­jec­tives: “telling the Chateau St. Michelle story,” ed­u­cat­ing vis­i­tors about the state, cre­at­ing “fond mem­o­ries,” en­ter­tain­ing vis­itors and cre­at­ing fu­ture ‘ambas­sadors’ for the brand.”

It made me think about companies, organizations and communities for that matter. What would you say if you had to do those five things for your place, especially your community? If you were a docent, for example, with your chamber of commerce and hosted a visitor from Europe who had no impression of Mississippi, much less your town, what would you say?

Let’s take each item individually.

The first objective is telling your town’s story. What would you include? Would it be interesting? Many towns in Mississippi have fascinating stories. In my visits around Mississippi I’ve learned of white squirrels in Columbia, the annual “Tales from the Crypt” event put on by students at Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, the Canton Flea Market and Civil War battles from Corinth to Vicksburg and beyond. Those are some of the more prominent ones, of course, but there are others that many local citizens don’t even know about. For example, did you know that in Rankin County the “Gold Coast” was once home to bootleggers, nightclubs and some of the best jazz and blues music to be found anywhere. The Rankin Auditorium was advertised as being able to accommodate 3,000 people for dancing. Check it out at the Mississippi Blues Commission website. In short, every community has a story.

So how do you find out about the stories in your community? That one is easy. Visit to your local library. Librarians know a lot about their communities, and what they don’t know, they know the people who do know. When I was doing research for some short novellas I would first ask the local librarian to gather a few “old-timers” to tell the stories about their communities. And, oh, the stories they would tell.

For those in business, telling the company story is just as important. Customers often want to do business with companies that have an interesting story, especially if it is one that matches their own interests. The Starbucks story, the L.L. Bean story and the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream story come to mind.

Next, how would you educate visitors about the state? Although we Mississippians, and even Americans for that matter, seem to have issues dealing with the Mississippi image, Europeans have a different image if they have one at all. In my travels to Europe I constantly ask Europeans what they know about Mississippi. The typical response is a mention of the river. A Parisian artist told me he thought it was a suburb of Atlanta.

How would you create fond memories? From our travels we always seem to have the fondest memories of certain people we met. So how can YOU be a fond memory. How do you connect with people? One way is to listen to THEIR stories. Ask about their communities and their fascinating people. Thus, you may glean enough information to connect them with something that will leave them with a fond memory.

Entertaining is defined as providing someone with amusement or enjoyment. How could you entertain your visitor? One way is to find out about their knowledge of Mississippi and your community and what they expect to find, then surprise them with something unique that they did not imagine they would discover. For example, are there restaurants or musical venues that could be explored? Are there events going on that would be of interest?

What are ways that your visitors could be future ambassadors? Are they now equipped to tell your story? Did you get their email address? Do they know that if they refer someone they can call you because you are now a connection? How do you plan to keep in touch with them?  All of these things apply to your company as well. And don’t forget that most people get their information from their peers. If they have had a good experience, they are more likely to share it.

So there you have five ob­jec­tives for visitors to your community or your business: (1) telling the story, (2) ed­u­cat­ing vis­i­tors about the state, (3) cre­at­ing fond mem­o­ries, (4) en­ter­tain­ing vis­itors and (5) cre­at­ing fu­ture ‘ambas­sadors’ for the brand.

» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com.

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