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Place Branding

Powerful Place Branding

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Powerful Place Branding

In place branding it is very important to take inventory of assets to determine which of those are unique and compelling to each of its target audiences. For instance, my city, Rochester, New York has identified the following as potential assets:

•    Large number of cultural amenities
o    Largest number of cultural workers per capita
o    Rich musical scene – Eastman School of Music, Hochstein School of Music and Dance, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Rochester International Jazz Festival, etc.
o    Numerous film festivals
o    (George Eastman House) International Museum of Photography and Film
o    (Strong) National Museum of Play with the National Toy Hall of Fame
o    Writers & Books delivers the biggest literary center program per capita
•    Abundant outdoor recreational opportunities
o    Close proximity to the Finger Lakes
o    Lake Ontario, Erie Canal, Gennesee River
o    Nearby skiing
•    Light traffic, short commutes
•    Affordable housing
•    Excellent school systems
•    Large concentration of colleges and universities
•    Concentration of optics, biotechnology, food and beverage science and fuel cell technology businesses
•    Largest number of utility patents issued per capita
•    Very high United Way giving per capita
•    Friendly people
•    Pleasant summers

The proper analysis is to evaluate each of the assets against the following criteria – unique, compelling, believable – with each of the target audiences. The place would then choose one or more of the assets as the foundation for its unique value proposition. Closely related assets could be clustered together under a broader heading or could be used as proof points for higher level assets.

In Rochester’s case, while its top-of-mind associations might be “snow” or “long winters” or “Kodak” today, it could be “small town feel, big city culture,” or “just perfect for families” tomorrow.

Most places stand for a small number things in peoples’ minds. This is their brand position. The objective of a branding exercise is to insure that the primary associations are unique and compelling, not neutral or negative.

For instance, what is the first thing that comes to your mind associated with each of the following places?

•    France – cafes, wine, cheese, berets, fashion, attitude?
•    Mexico – beaches, laid back, Mayan ruins?
•    Finger Lakes – wine, hills, lakes?
•    Switzerland – Alps, watches, chocolates, banks, formality?
•    Australia – koala bears, kangaroos, Crocodile Dundee, Sydney Opera House, Great Barrier Reef?
•    Aspen – skiing, rich and famous, expensive?
•    Singapore – modern city, safe, clean, strict regulations?
•    Alaska – wilderness, glaciers, whales, cruises?
•    India – IT jobs, Hindu, exotic, hot?
•    San Antonio — the Alamo, Riverwalk?
•    Woodstock, NY – hippies, new age, tie-dye?
•    Detroit – automobiles, weak economy?
•    Belarus – Chernobyl disaster
•    New Orleans – Mardi Gras, Creole, Bourbon Street, Hurricane Katrina
•    Florida – warm weather, flat, beaches, Disney World, retirees?
•    Minneapolis – cold, Scandinavian, Garrison Keillor / Prairie Home Companion, rich culture?
•    Maine – Lobster, cold, sailing, Bar Harbor, L.L. Bean?
•    Kazakhstan – Borat?
•    China – big, booming, manufacturing, The Great Wall, defective products?
•    Las Vegas – casinos, gambling, legalized prostitution, shows, desert, sin city?
•    Orlando – Disney World?
•    Oklahoma City – Oklahoma City bombing?
•    U.S.A. — ???

Clearly some places are known primarily for one thing (such as Orlando and Disney World or Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame), while others are known for multiple things. While some associations are quite positive, others are neutral or even negative. Oklahoma City would do well to try to stand for something other than the bombing. Belarus has the same problem with its Chernobyl association. Detroit’s almost exclusive association with automobiles not only creates “eggs-in-one-basket” economic problems but also “eggs-in-one-basket” brand positioning problems.

Larger cities such as New York or Chicago have the problem of being so big and diverse that it is difficult to focus on one or two things. Chicago went through a branding effort a few years ago. It decided to focus on business leaders worldwide and to position itself in the context of major metropolitan areas. Its points of difference? (a) abundant business resources, (b) incomparable quality of life and (c) great people. These are all generally true. However, I can’t help thinking that Chicago is really saying that it offers everything New York does only in a Midwest friendly way. (Note: The people in New York have been very friendly to me the last several times I visited that city.)

Chicago’s “frame of reference” is “major metropolitan areas” – globally. Each place must decide which “frame of reference” is most advantageous for it. For instance, for Rochester, is it competing in the context of other mid-sized cities in the entire country or just in the northeast? Maybe it should look globally as many of its products are sold globally. Should it be evaluated in the context of Upstate New York, western New York, western and central New York or of other Great Lakes cities (most of which are Midwestern)? Or should it associate itself more with its across-the-lake neighbor, Toronto (Canada)? Perhaps it should define itself through its relationship with water. If so, should it be characterized as New York’s North Coast (looking north) or as the Gateway to the Finger Lakes (looking south)? Maybe, it should look far south and let people think it is an upstate suburb of New York City. After all, that is what most people outside of New York state think when one says he or she is from New York. Each “frame of reference” will have different consequences given the other places in the same context.

I would ignore the place’s weaknesses. Sometimes weaknesses can be turned into strengths, such as “snow = abundant winter recreational opportunities” or “cold in the winter means pleasant in the summer,” however, as a rule, I would focus on assets. Moscow’s dominant association isn’t “cold” even though it is colder than most major cities in the world. And, Minneapolis is known for much more than cold winters, even though it is one of the coldest cities in the U.S.A. A place will always build momentum around its strengths. That momentum will allow it to add amenities and attractions as time passes by. Orlando and Cooperstown are both examples of that.

Ultimately, a place must find those one or two things that will get the target audiences excited about living, visiting and conducting business in its geography. Those one or two things must be unique and compelling enough to cause those people to choose it over all of the other increasingly compelling options that residents, tourists, businesses and meeting planners have. And, most importantly, those one or two things need to be authentic and believable. Finding these one or two things is much easier said than done and requires rigorous research among the target audiences. I wish you great success in branding your place. May you attract everyone you desire.

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