"What IS the essence of Denton?" Barbara Hettinger, Denton resident since 1974, asked this question after reading last week's column about the ongoing comparison between Austin and Denton. The call for all Dentonites to step up and be ambassadors for our city resonated with her. She commented that even after 40 years as a citizen, she does not feel equipped to articulate the essence of Denton's sense of place. Barbara recommended that perhaps a series on this topic would be valuable to readers. Thank you for your feedback, Barbara, and your idea.
To Barbara's point, an ambassador needs two key attributes in order to be effective. She must first know and understand. And then she must believe.
So, let's talk about essence. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines essence as: 1) "the basic nature of a thing; the quality or qualities that make a thing what it is. 2) "a substance that contains in very strong form the special qualities (such as the taste and smell) of the thing from which it is taken."
How do we put into mere words the nature of Denton? All across our city and among many different groups of people from residents, students, business owners and artists to city leaders and elected officials there is an undeniable common understanding that Denton is special. Why? What are the rare qualities that make Denton Denton? What are those peculiarities that stir our senses and settle as a deep knowing that this place is different, good, comfortable, authentic, extraordinary?
At the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), our staff invests great effort in conveying Denton’s sense of place. As first-line ambassadors, we intimately know the essence of Denton and believe in it. Bringing it to life for others is our mission. It is also the challenge we tackle every day. Channeling essence is not easy work.
Social connectedness via the tools of technology makes communicating sense of place a more possible endeavor than ever before. Images, videos, real-time testimonials and shared experiences have somewhat negated our reliance on vocabulary alone. Text messaging, emails, blogs, and social networks deliver credible messages in non-advertorial, layman language we believe because “my friend told me.” Marketing’s most compelling tool through the ages is word-of-mouth, because it is unscripted and genuine. Digital and social content is king, true most of all when real people tell their own true stories.
Rather than wrangling for apropos verbiage to relay Denton to the world, the Denton CVB encourages and harnesses this most credible content. We have tested and proven its potency in our marketplace arenas and realize it is many times more successful than what we contrive as promoters. And when all this independently-submitted content is brought together, essence is evident, understood, and known.
During the development of our Denton Original Independent brand, we conducted focus groups and sought input from various sources. Our topic was essence. Each group struggled to describe Denton in a word. Again and again, the top two words to emerge were original and independent. Applied to the simple, round and slightly distressed graphic, the finished product has succeeded beyond our expectations to convey a place that fits each person like their favorite pair of jeans, a place where originality and independence are embraced, encouraged, and celebrated. This is Denton’s essence in a broad stroke definition.
Barbara’s question prompted a new challenge in my thinking. What if we boil that broad stroke down to the details of our essence? Again, we know them; but articulating them is something very different.
Per Barbara’s suggestion, today’s column is the first in a series where we will identify the special qualities that make up Denton’s essence. I say “we” because to capture it completely, your input is essential. Look back at Merriam-Webster’s definition. How do you describe Denton’s basic nature? What do you see, feel, hear, taste, smell, experience that contain the special qualities of Denton? Perhaps you can say it in a word or phrase. Maybe you need a paragraph. Maybe a picture or short video is a better expression for you. Share it your way, originally. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and for the next few weeks, we’ll work this puzzle.
When we finish, our collective articulation of Denton’s essence will become part of each of us. We will know, understand and believe. Denton will have the grandest ambassador corps of any city on the planet, and the world will know it.