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Marketing Our Well-Kept Secret

Alex Alexander

Lake Wildwood is pretty much unknown out there in the world. New members either find us by chance, or they learn about us by word-of-mouth — they know somebody who knows somebody. There is virtually no market awareness about our little paradise. We’re a well-kept secret.

That’s distressful for those of us from the business world, where branding and marketing create demand for products, which leads to success in the form of growth and profits. For us at Lake Wildwood, marketing, we hope, will lead to increased property values.

I think we — members of the Lake Wildwood Association — are more about quality of life than property values. Don’t get me wrong. We definitely want our property values to go up … I certainly do, and I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t. But it’s quality of life that brought us here and keeps us here.

Our opinion leaders have been talking for years about marketing Lake Wildwood in order to build our reputation “out there” in the world, and presumably increase demand, which is the path to increasing our property values. It’s the capitalistic way — supply and demand — increase the demand, and our prices go up.

Is marketing a good idea for us? Yes, I think so. But we need to be careful about it. We need to be aware of the implications of increasing demand for Lake Wildwood properties and what that might do for our quality of life. We don’t want any unintended consequences.

Let me try some “what ifs” on you.

What if we succeeded in generating extremely strong demand? Property values would go up … the stronger the demand, the greater the upward pressure on property values. That’s something we all want. We’re already inside the gates — so it’s a good thing for us. But maybe not so good in the long run.

Over the years, higher and higher home prices would attract more and more affluence. People of affluence want different things from middle-class or upper middle-class people like us. Things would change and Lake Wildwood could become a lot more expensive … maybe too expensive? I don’t know. We’d all be gone in the long run, and the new guys would mostly be affluent so maybe it would be okay.

What if we attracted a lot of those upper-level information workers … you know, the ones who can work anywhere as long as they have electricity, telephone service and the Internet? They’re worker bees, not retired like most of us. They’re a lot younger than most of us currently living here at Lake Wildwood, and many of them have families with kids. Things would change, and Lake Wildwood would get a lot younger, more family-oriented, and a lot less oriented toward the needs of the 67% of us who are retired.

Would that be good? I don’t know. But eventually, as I said, we’d all be gone, and the new guys would fit in just fine, so maybe that would be okay, too.

What if all that demand caught the attention of property flippers and speculators — those entrepreneurial folks who buy a property not to live in it but to increase its value and sell it at a profit, or maybe to rent it out for an income stream. They don’t care much what kinds of people move in and become our neighbors as long as they pay the rent. Would that be good? Probably not.

What if it went the other way and we attracted even more retirees? What if our retired population went higher, say up to 80% or so, and our average age skipped up into the mid-seventies (it’s 67 now). That’s old-age home territory. What would that do, if anything? More of the same? Maybe.

It’s also possible that more people of my age (79), voting for our Board of Directors, and putting pressure on the Association to create more services and activities for the silver-haired crowd (in my case, the no-haired crowd), would shift us into a different definition of “active lifestyle,” and a predisposition for creating the kinds of services and support appropriate to an older crowd. Wouldn’t that doom the golf course and the tennis courts? Wouldn’t that appreciably slow down the energy level of our community? I don’t know. Maybe.

None of these is necessarily a bad scenario, but they’re all could-happen scenarios. Do we want any of them to happen? Or some other scenario I’m not smart enough to imagine? I actually don’t have a preference but maybe I should, and maybe you should, too.

My whole point is this: Whatever we do that impacts the future of Lake Wildwood should be done consciously, with the best possible understanding of the outcome. Marketing Lake Wildwood sounds good. And it could be very good. It could also be not-so-good.

We have a team of people charged with creating a marketing strategy for us, and, from what I can see, they’re being thoughtful about it. They’re carefully defining the target market they want to attract — a target market that’s a lot like us, but maybe a bit financially stronger, maybe a touch younger (but not much).

What I like about their effort is that it’s intentional, planned, purposeful … likely to strengthen and stabilize our membership without discriminating against anyone. Rather than simply “increasing demand” for Lake Wildwood properties, they seem to be trying to create sustainable demand from markets of stable, upper middle class people.

In a recent column, I praised the strategic thinking that I see emerging in our leadership. This is a solid example of it. We’re beginning to manage our future, rather than reacting to it as it comes barreling toward us. As Martha Stewart used to say, “That’s a good thing.”


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