In our blog series on “Will Your City Be DOA in the 21st Century” we explored branding as a strategy for sustainability and, even better, thrivability for local governments. We keep getting questions about this, so we are going to unpack that idea.
Why is branding, and specifically place branding, so important? And just exactly what is it? And lastly, how do you start the process?
Branding is important because your town is in competition with hundreds, if not thousands of other local governments for highly talented and resourceful residents, businesses and organizations. You want the economic engine of the 21st century – “that creative class of people” as Richard Florida has called them – to come live, stay and grow their families and businesses in your town. Branding is the emotional magnet that will draw them to you, and keep them there.
A brand is a living, breathing relationship that is forever changing between your stakeholders and the focus of that relationship: your civic brand, which is a clearly defined and identified entity with an associated promise of value, purpose and values.
In other words, a brand is what “they,” your stakeholders, say it is – NOT what you say it is. A brand is the sum of all that you do and don’t do as experienced and interpreted by others. In your case, it is the shared experience of the place you are stewards of and the people who congregate there.
Space + Place
First off, these are two different, but interrelated ideas. ‘Space’ is the physical aspect of your community – for example, open areas, great recreational facilities, clean air and water, and climate. But ‘Place’ is the social aspect of who you are. Think of a personal brand. Your ideal American male is described as “tall, handsome and athletic”. OK, that’s the physical brand part. But, that person could also be described as “warm, funny, outgoing and compassionate”. That’s the emotional brand part.
So a community’s ‘Place Brand’ is about the unique core purpose, values and value of a place for stakeholders.
Your core purpose is your True North: your guiding star.
If you know why you exist – your purpose – then you, as a Place Brand, can make all your decisions guided by that purpose, which you can then clearly share with all of your stakeholders.
As we said, places compete with other places for people, resources and businesses. Global competition of cities consists of 3 million small cities/towns, 3,000 large cities, and 500 metropolises in an era of rapid change, 24-7 social media and ever increasing transparency.
The purpose of Place Branding is to turn a place from a location into a destination – a place where people want to invest, live, work and visit. The process to target stakeholders’ hearts, minds, feet and wallets is based on the visual, verbal and visceral expression of a place. This consists of the aims, communications and general culture of the place’s stakeholders and the overall place design, with the goal to favorably impact the perceptions of a place and position it in the minds of its stakeholders and supporters.
The purpose of Place Branding is to create a singular brand for the place and to encompass it in all its offerings and interactions. This creates a unique picture of the place at every level of interaction from the stakeholder point of view. This also helps in removing the need to present a case-by-case picture of the place for each of its offerings to stakeholders.
Ultimately, a Place Brand is the promise of value – a promise that must be kept. Effective branding can assist in making a place desirable. Successful Place Brands market their unique history, geography, lifestyle, culture, diversity and economy.
How do you start?
Place Branding is a complex process, which stems from the great diversity of stakeholders involved in the process. In general, a Place Brand is derived from existing assets of the place such as its value offering or public perception. Otherwise, the Place Brand is derived from created assets, such as events, policies and abstract concepts such as tolerance. We usually engage in Place Branding with a four-step exploration. But first we start with a “Place Brand: a strategic map:
- Brand Mapping: Identify and recruit a small team of community leaders to work with. Usually 7–12 people who will commit the time to work with you both on-site and at a distance.
- Brand Audit: Define what is your local government brand in the hearts and minds of your stakeholders today. What does Chamber of Commerce advertise? If you did a focus group with a cross section of community leaders, what would they say? What would they put on the back of a t-shirt?
- Brand Analysis: Do gap analysis of the difference of what you think your brand is and what it actually is. This is where we leverage our value as an impartial outside observer. You say one thing, but we see another. How would others see it?
- Brand Articulation: Determine what to start doing (more of) and stop doing. We use a unique method of figuring out where to put your mouth and energies.
Next steps for you
There is a decision point here. Do you want to move forward and execute a Place Brand strategy? Will it be a priority? How will you manage that process? All-important questions that need to be approached from business and communal perspectives.
We invite your interest in this process. Contact us for a free consultation and we will share some examples of our successful Place Branding.