Friday, May 15, 2009

A Rose by Any Other Name

A few years back North Dakota wanted to change its name to Dakota. Supporters of the idea argued that the word “North” suggested that the state climate was cold, and thus discouraged tourism. The national press got a hold of the story and the plan was abandoned under the scrutiny.

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There were two problems with the plan. First, the perceived cold isn’t North Dakota’s most significant barrier to tourism. North Dakota is relatively sparsely populated with few widely known attractions so the state gets overlooked. Second, North Dakota’s climate is among the coldest in the union, and changing its name isn’t going to change the weather.

Despite the obvious futility of pretending to be something we are not, it seems a natural inclination to change our name when we don’t like how we’re perceived. AIG is the most recent example. While there is enough gullibility and disinterest out there to defer some of the negative perceptions, simply changing its name won’t fool the majority. More importantly, changing its name does nothing to address the behaviors that created the negative perceptions in the first place.

Promoting state tourism is no different than promoting a company. Both have strengths and weaknesses that influence the consumers they can attract. When the obstacle is inherent, as in the case of North Dakota’s weather, the solution could be to view the obstacle an asset (a topic for a future post). When the obstacle is of one’s own making, the solution is to change behavior. The adage goes, “you can’t run from your past.” And while it may seem more difficult, making amends is usually more efficient and effective than avoidance.

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