Preserving the past, present and future : consumer involvement in community heritage marketing

Alexander, Matthew and Hamilton, Kathy (2014) Preserving the past, present and future : consumer involvement in community heritage marketing. In: 2014 AMA Winter Marketing Educators' Conference, 2014-02-20 - 2014-02-23, Florida.

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Research Question: Our study is guided by the following research question: How can consumers contribute to place marketing strategies that promote the heritage of their local areas? We highlight the various ways that consumer involvement can support and enhance the marketing of local heritage. To do so, we use the context of "Adopt a Station" a community engagement scheme offered by First ScotRail who hold the rail franchise in Scotland, communities take part by adopting their local station. Adoptions are varied and include: bookshops, model railway clubs, community meeting rooms, art galleries, charity shops, toy libraries, small businesses and, most commonly, gardening activity. Method and Data: We used ethnographic techniques to enable a thorough appreciation of the uniqueness of the context. We conducted in depth research at a total of 19 stations across Scotland and recorded data through extensive field notes, photographic evidence, video capture of station visits and interviews with 100 participants. To support our understanding of the context, data gathering was enhanced by large-scale collection of archival material including books, press articles and newsletters. We followed a hermeneutic approach to interpretation. Data relating to each station was interpreted initially to a gain a comprehensive overview, these were then compared and common patterns identified. Summary of Findings: We focus on three themes: heritage and authenticity, consumer involvement and, individual and collective identity. Firstly, our findings reveal how heritage and authenticity are socially constructed by the local residents who play an active role in defining and informing heritage activities through their knowledge and interpretation of the past. The adoption projects are not simply about looking back but also creating future resources, fitting with Balmer’s (2011) tripartite temporal approach to heritage. Secondly, adopt a Station allows residents to contribute to a tourism agenda. Through the scheme, the railway station becomes a stage where important moments in the town’s history can be represented and heritage is brought outside the museum context to community places which residents pass through on a daily basis. Thirdly, participation in Adopt a Station supports the construction of individual and collective identity. On a personal level findings reveal a range of emotional and affective bonds that connect adopters to stations. At a collective level some of the towns and villages where station adoption is prominent have become vulnerable because of the decline of traditional industries. What Adopt a Station offers is a way to restore life to these communities and bring back a sense of pride in the local area. Key Contributions: Many place marketing strategies focus on consumption; by prioritizing heritage we offer a contrast to this dominant perspective and highlight how it can be used to retain a sense of uniqueness. Place marketing’s purpose of facilitating place identification for residents has often been overlooked with emphasis placed more on economic development. We also highlight how the link between heritage and local identity can contribute to a rediscovered sense of community. This brings attention back to the importance of geographic communities complimenting the more recent focus on brand and online communities (e.g. Kozinets, 1999; Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001). References are available upon request.