North Star Destination Strategies’ Director of Research to Speak on Research and Branding at Conference for Michigan’s Great Lakes Areas of Concern

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Shannon Gray, Director of Research for community branding leader North Star Destination Strategies, will be a key speaker at the conference “Building Environmental and Economic Prosperity in Michigan’s Great Lakes Areas of Concern”, to be held October 25 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Gray’s talk will focus on the importance of conducting quantitative and qualitative research prior to launching a community branding campaign to counter negative public perceptions resulting from environmental issues.

But before you plunge into the marketplace with a branded message, it is critical to identify exactly what current perceptions are. Only when you understand what people actually think about a place – not what you believe they think

Shannon Gray, Director of Research for community branding leader North Star Destination Strategies, will be a key speaker at the Great Lakes Commission conference “Building Environmental and Economic Prosperity in Michigan’s Great Lakes Areas of Concern”, to be held October 25 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Gray’s talk will focus on the importance of conducting quantitative and qualitative research prior to launching a community branding campaign to counter negative public perceptions resulting from environmental issues.

An “area of concern” is an environmental designation given to certain Great Lakes areas with environmental challenges. AOCs were identified as part of the revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement signed by Canada and the United States. Regional leaders are interested in exploring branding for the Great Lakes Areas of Concern slated to be “delisted” from the designation having completed extensive environmental cleanup and restoration.

“Branding will shift attention from a negative focus on pollution and degraded water sources to a positive focus on each community’s assets and amenities, which is a position of strength as these AOCs are delisted,” explains Gray. “But before you plunge into the marketplace with a branded message, it is critical to identify exactly what current perceptions are. Only when you understand what people actually think about a place – not what you believe they think – can you strike the perfect balance of promoting a community’s competitive strengths and leveraging restoration successes.”

Specifically, Gray will discuss the research methods communities can use to determine how they are perceived in the marketplace. Time will be spent explaining the methodology and value of awareness and perception studies, which survey internal and external consumers to uncover familiarity, awareness and top-of-mind perceptions of the community. The session will close with a discussion of delisted communities can use that data to take control of future conversations that impact their reputation.

Joining Gray at this workshop is North Star Destination Strategies client Tim Irvin from Manistee County, Michigan. Irvin, who is with Manistee County’s Community Foundation and Alliance for Economic Success, will share the perspective of a region that has benefited from a successful branding campaign. Mary Boling, SPAC chair and representative of the Detroit River AOC will share the AOC perspective.

Gray is a cultural anthropologist who received her BA in Cultural Anthropology from Eckerd College and a dual degree of an MA in Anthropology and an MBA with an emphasis on marketing and market research from the University of Colorado at Boulder--Leeds School of Business. As a consumer anthropologist, she studies humans in our current society: their choices and decisions, traits, motivations, relationships, needs, joys, experiences and day-to-day lives.

As North Star’s Director of Research she works with destinations, economic development organizations and city government on research projects including focus groups, surveys, perception studies, mystery shopping, man-on-the-street interviews, ethnography studies, geo-demographic visitor profiling, inquiry mapping, opportunity analysis, marketing content audits, competitive analysis, retail leakage reporting, event analysis, ROI studies and resident advocacy.

North Star is a full-service community branding agency in Nashville, TN with a standalone research division. Having worked with more than 150 communities across the nation, North Star is considered an industry leader in helping communities become more competitive. Areas of expertise include local, regional and statewide economic development, tourism and municipal government.

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