Personal experience still trumps everything

Kia Sportage front view (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Kia Sportage front view. My ageing minivan was a little jealous about having this vehicle in our driveway. (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The human brain is a stubborn, funny thing. It believes what it wants to believe, and trying to get someone to change that – to literally “change their mind” – is one of the most difficult challenges faced by communications professionals.

I was reminded of that recently while test-driving a pretty little cherry red Kia Sportage, and I think remembering this is very important when you are marketing a destination, attraction or hotel that may no longer be what people think they remember.

Now, I am a car salesperson’s worst nightmare. I’m not much impressed by glitz, I’m very price-conscious, I’m comfortable with mechanical things thanks to some time in Navy engineering departments (so you try to BS me at your peril) and I will drive a car till the wheels fall off before I’ll buy a new one.

The last time I really researched cars before buying was about 2003, and ten years ago, vehicles by Korean manufacturers like Hyundai and Kia did not have a good reputation for much of anything other than being inexpensive. The Edmunds.com Sportage review says that early on, the Sportage was a “cheap, poorly made penalty box….” (ouch!)

If you keep reading, though, Edmunds notes that “today’s Sportage is now a stylish and well-rounded compact crossover SUV….[it] has gone from a baboon to a Neanderthal and then George Clooney in the span of 15 years.”

Kia Sportage parked at Choc Beer in Krebs OK (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Picking up some craft brew at Choc Beer HQ in Krebs, Oklahoma (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

That’s exactly what I found, to my considerable surprise, when I test-drove the vehicle from central Texas all the way north to speak at the Social Media Tulsa (Oklahoma) conference, and then back down south to do a social media workshop for the Tyler, Texas CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) before finally returning home.

If I’m ever in the market to buy a car, I will now absolutely consider looking at a Kia, which I NEVER would have done had I not physically gotten into one, checked it out and poked through its features like great pickup speed, decent gas mileage, push-button start, rear-camera display for backing up safely, a massive sunroof and gobs of tech-friendly touches like multiple USB/auxiliary inputs to plug in and charge my gadgets.

This particular Sportage model included a SiriusXM radio package with a fabulous sound system – imagine, if you will, me screaming up the Interstate with Guns N’ Roses blaring from my iPod, which hooked right into the dashboard.

I was not all that crazy about the navigation system, though. It seemed to want specific street addresses, whereas with (free) Google Maps on my Android phone, I can simply plug in a town and get going in the right direction, with turn-by-turn voice nav if I want it.

Interior of Kia Sportage (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Interior of Kia Sportage (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I’d never have given this brand a second glance if they had not gotten the product into my hands. Now, let’s take this lens of personal experience and think about your town.

What was it like 10 years ago, when some of your visitors last passed through?

Was it Sleepyville, like my mother’s hometown of Winnsboro, Texas that is now an arts enclave? Was it big oil and not too much else, like the resurgent Oklahoma City that now boasts unexpected attractions like an Olympic class rowing facility on a recently re-routed river?

When destination marketing is your job, and you know your subject well after years of talking about it with visitors, it can be very difficult to do that mental shift and remember that many people have very outdated views of your town. When I expressed surprise at the OKC Chamber of Commerce about the rowing facility, they were surprised by my surprise. I had to remind them that there was no river a few years ago, so of course the idea of OKC as a rowing destination seems absurd unless you’ve been there recently.

Kia Sportage rear view (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Kia Sportage rear view (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Think like a visitor as much as you can train your brain to do so, and that includes thinking like the people who have not visited in a long time.

Things change, in towns and in cars.

(Thanks to Social Media Tulsa, Drive STI and Kia Motors America for arranging my test drive.)

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