Forget about the book, it's the cover that requires attention

You can't judge a book by its cover. For a marketing guy like me, I understand that pretty clearly. A brand is the cover of a business, what you do inside is the contents. That's what advertising does. Advertisers are trying to get you to look inside the book.

That's the lens I look at things through, including the South Delta Business Sustainability Strategy.

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I read that Delta council had approved a series of measures to provide tax incentives for local businesses and developers to make changes in our communities, which is a good move. But the problem isn't with the book, it's the cover that needs the work.

There have been a number of measures to improve the look and feel of Ladner and Tsawwassen. The drive into both places is beautiful - the palm trees in Tsawwassen are a really nice touch. I'm very proud to say I live here, and when my friends from other places come to visit me, they comment on how special and unique it is. But I've done the work to get them here by inviting them to my house.

For years people have been trying to get tourists to turn off the highway, stop by and spend some money. There's a reason why they don't - the highway doesn't convey the beauty that lies within.

Our cover is tattered, even though the book is a masterpiece.

The first thing you learn in marketing is to walk in your customer's shoes. They are the person you have to convince to do something, so you have to see what they are seeing. When I worked in advertising agencies, while I wanted the business owner's approval, I also reminded them they weren't the person we needed to attract.

If you want to know how to draw more people into our communities, clear your mind of where you are (or pretend you are in another country) and drive along the highway from the ferry terminal. Then decide if you are willing to turn into either community.

Frankly, the sides of Highway 17 are not attractive. There is an area for emergency stopping and a ditch. Yet when people travel in other locations, there are treelined lanes and wide meandering sidewalks to welcome them.

A sign describing what's available is better than nothing, but it's not going to solve the issue. Locals see it, tourists won't even notice it. Just because you put up an ad doesn't mean people will read it.

It's not about what they read, it's about how they feel. And right now, the feeling people have when they drive by is this is a rural area with a few houses and no reason to stop, sign or no sign.

I read through the latest update of the sustainability strategy. They have gone to great lengths to get feedback from local businesses and set out an action plan. But if there is one thing I learned in my years in marketing, it's that you can't market based on what the business owners want, because they aren't who buys the products.

Will people stop at the mall when it opens? That remains to be seen. But the cover on that book is a lot more appealing than the cover on ours.

Brad Sherwin, MBA has over 25 years' experience in marketing, public relations and business strategy. He is currently the director of marketing for a national non-profit organization.

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