Students Use Marketing Research to "Find a Story" about Visitors to Downtown's Special Events
December 19, 2013
Catawba College students said they "tried to find a story" as they analyzed the marketing research data they collected from people visiting downtown Salisbury on special themed event nights this fall. They presented their findings to a modest audience in Tom Smith Auditorium on campus in early December.
These students, enrolled in Dr. Phillip Frank's Marketing Research class through the Ketner School of Business, gathered their research using a customized survey completed by 165 downtown visitors. They collected surveys from Friday Nights Out, beginning September 20th with "Kids Night" (with special activities set up for children). They continued gathering survey responses on three additional evenings: the October 4th "Fall Leaf Festival" (which included different music venues set up in the downtown area); the October 11th "October Tour Night" (which featured a Zombie walk and contest); and the November 1st "Sip and Shop."
In the classroom, the students broke into teams, with Team 1 analyzing data collected from the 0-40-year-olds, while Team 2 analyzed data collected from 40-82-year-olds. The story these teams found was this: both demographic groups used non-traditional media (the Internet, Facebook and apps on their mobile phones) to learn about downtownEvents.
Another story the teams uncovered was the importance of the snowball effect wherein a cluster of people who know about an event share it by word of mouth. This is how most individuals attending the downtownEvents learned about them, the Catawba students reported, with younger respondents being more apt to go to their friends for knowledge of what was happening.
The younger respondents also brought more people with them to a downtown event than the older respondents. Both demographic groups said they go on overnight trips to experience nature or an outdoor activities, but the younger group was more apt to go outside and stay outside, even camping.
Individuals attending the aforementioned downtownEvents interacted with the marketing students and responded to prompts or questions on the survey. Most responses were made by the individuals using a Likert-type scale (i.e. 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree), while other questions required individuals to select from one or more answers. Some of the questions or prompts included: "How did you arrive to [this] Salisbury, N.C. downtown special event?" "How did you hear about this event?" "I go on trips primarily for the following reasons."
"We were looking at what brought tourists into downtown Salisbury," Frank said. "Conducting these surveys, analyzing the data, and then presenting the findings gave the students an opportunity to get a real-life marketing research project under their belt before they hit the job market."
The findings also gave representatives from several downtown non-profit organizations some suggestions on how to increase participation at downtown SalisburyEvents, including the Rowan Economic Development Commission, Salisbury Downtown, Inc., and the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Students suggested that in the future these non-profits 1) better promote the Discover Salisbury Rowan County mobile app that has been created; 2) plan weekendEvents around high school or collegiate athletic sportingEvents to encourage people to stay overnight and keep spending money in downtown; 3) provide more information online and keep that information updated, making it easier for visitors to plan to attend and cheaper for the non-profits to promote; 4) use a grassroots campaign to promoteEvents, having downtown business owners and employees be brand ambassadors; and 5) market to college students at Catawba, Livingstone and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College using social media.
The students analyzed the data they gathered by learning a special software product for doing so — SPSS, an IBM product used for statistical analysis of social science data.
Catawba students who conducted the marketing research included Jacob Breig of Greenfield, Minn.; Jordan Greene of Oak Island; Emerson Hughes of Windermere, Fla.; Jacob Jester of China Grove; Kimberely McConnery of Welland, Ontario; Trevor Sieracki of Austin, Texas; Savannah Tomlinson of Remsenburg, N.Y.; and Kimberly Weemhoff of New London.