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Brad VanAuken Place Branding

10 Considerations For Crafting Place Branding RFPs

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We have received and responded to hundreds of Request For Proposals over the years. Many of those RFP’s have come from municipalities and that are interested in community branding and destination marketing. It has been my observation that municipalities in general are less certain about what they are seeking and how to ask for it.

Here is a guide for municipalities that are seeking branding help.

1. DIFFERENT TYPES OF MARKETING SERVICES FIRMS: Know that there are significant differences between marketing research firms, brand consultancies, brand identity firms and ad agencies. Each has a different focus and each has different skill sets. There have been more than a few Place Branding RFPs in which we were competing against all of those firms at once. This made us much less certain about what the municipality was seeking and how they would know whether they got what they needed.

  • Marketing research firms specialize in helping their clients gain customer, competitor and marketplace insight. At a minimum, brand consultancies help their clients position their brands and craft brand strategy. They may possess brand research and brand identity capabilities as well. Brand identity firms focus on creating brand identity (names, logos, taglines, etc.). They may also have brand strategy capabilities. Ad agencies tend to focus on developing integrated marketing campaigns, though some may specialize in digital media, direct marketing, print ads, media and other specific marketing vehicles. Many ad agencies have some brand strategy capabilities but usually not nearly to the degree that brand consultancies do. The best question to ask to understand an organization’s capabilities is “What percentage of your staff is focused on each of the following: marketing research, brand strategy formulation, brand plan development, copy writing, creative development, media planning/buying and account management?”

2. PRIORITIZE TARGET AUDIENCES: Determine the order of priority of your target audiences, including the rationale for that priority. Target audiences to consider are current and potential residents, current and potential businesses, tourists/visitors and meeting, convention and event planners.

3. COMMUNICATE YOUR BUDGET: Let the companies bidding on the branding project know what your budget is. We have bid on some projects only to find out that the municipalities only had a fraction of the resources required to accomplish what they had hoped to accomplish. We would have approached the proposals much differently if we had known the budgets up front.

4. BRAND POSITIONING IS MOST IMPORTANT: Know that the most important thing you can do for your municipality is to figure out what it can stand for that would be truly unique and compelling to its target audiences. This is brand strategy and positioning and is the result of rigorous research. Too often, municipalities are looking for a tagline, ad campaign and street banners without doing the tough up-front work of figuring out what the municipality should try to “own” in its target audience’s minds. I have seen far too many completely ineffective municipality taglines (and advertising campaigns) that may sound good but say and achieve little to nothing.

5. SAVE MONEY FOR BRAND MARKETING: While brand positioning is the most important step a municipality can take, the municipality should also budget for executing the new brand position through brand identity (logo, tagline, etc.) and communication (website, advertising, publicity, street banners, collateral materials, etc.).

6. INVOLVE THE RIGHT PEOPLE: For municipality branding to work, the right stakeholders need to be involved in the process. We recommend that you consider including the following people: mayor, town/city manager, key members of mayor’s staff, person responsible for economic development, visitor and convention bureau leadership, chamber of commerce leadership, business improvement district leadership, business leaders, cultural institution leaders, local university presidents and sports franchise leadership. We involve these people through one-on-one interviews, online surveys and consensus building brand strategy workshops.

7. UMBRELLA BRAND POSITION: Consider creating an umbrella brand position for the municipality (that could work for all audiences) augmented by individual messages for each of the separate audiences – residents, businesses, visitors, etc.

8. BRANDING PROJECT DELIVERABLES: Ask the firms bidding on the project to be specific about the deliverables for each step of the project. This may include samples of the output for each step. In this way, you will know what you are getting if you go with a specific marketing service firm.

9. DON’T BE OVERLY INFLUENCED BY CREATIVE SPEC WORK: Some marketing services firms might include creative developed to promote your municipality as a part of their proposal to you.  This is called “spec work.” This is premature and presumptuous if you haven’t figured out what your municipality should stand for. Other firms that haven’t presented spec work may be better at helping you determine what your municipality will stand for.

10. STRATEGIC & EXECUTION PHASES: Consider breaking your municipality branding project into two phases: (1) brand strategy formulation (requiring strong marketing research and brand positioning skills) and (2) brand marketing execution (requiring strong integrated marketing campaign skills). Expert firms specialize in one or the other. Many firms only do one or the other. Even if a firm says it can do both, determine its capabilities by understanding what its staff’s professional training is and on what activities they focus most of their time. Also ask for client references and ask those references what the marketing service firm does well and what it does less well. Hire experts for each phase, building the best team for your municipality / place brand.

We have much more to share on place branding here. (Click and scroll down)

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1 Comment

Bill Baker on December 28th, 2010 said

Derrick & Brad
This is an excellent piece. You are bang on with so many of your points. Too often Cities are working against their own best interests when they think that their RFP is setting conditions to get the best outcomes for the best price – when it is doing quite the opposite. for instance, you would never walk up to a car salesman and not inform him of your budget or whether you want a Toyota Corolla or a BMW. Your comments on the different skills and experience of various types of agencies, not focussing prematurely on creatives and advertising and separating the strategy from implementation again are all well founded. Too many city brand planning projects go off the rails during the RFP process. Well done. Have a Happy New Year.

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