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Place Branding

Place Branding Q & A

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Place Branding Strategy

Today we are sharing some of the questions and answers from recent interviews regarding the place branding process. We hope our insight helps you in your place branding endeavors.

How is branding a city different from branding a product?

In some respects, branding places is no different than branding anything else. Finding the most powerful and unique image for the place (“unique value proposition” or “brand position”) is the most important activity. After that, building awareness is next most important. Both of these activities assume that the requisite research has been done with the most advantageous and receptive target audiences.

Beyond the basics, branding places becomes a more interesting and complex activity than branding a typical product or organization. The target audiences are myriad and disparate, including at least the following:

•    Residents and potential residents
•    Businesses and potential businesses
•    Tourists/visitors
•    Meeting and an event planners (including convention planners and major sporting event organizers)

Each of these audiences has its own distinct issues and needs.

What does a city – or place need to discover in the branding process?

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.

What can the city expect in terms of name recognition?

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. When the right associations are linked with a place brand an increase in name recognition can be expected. Without awareness no brand will reach its full potential.

How are cities hurt by not having a brand?

Like it or not – we are branded. Whether intentionally managed or not, brands exist in the minds of people to whom they should matter. Cities without focus or intent to build their brand miss out on relationships. Relationships bring opportunity. In today’s over-communicated society it is even more important to stand for something in the minds of your target audiences. If you do not that that ‘something’ will be chosen for you. Oklahoma City would do well to try to stand for something other than the bombing. Belarus has the same problem with its Chernobyl association.

What factors are most important in creating a brand?

One of the most important factors is choosing brand benefits that you can ‘own’ and prove. We believe the chosen brand benefit should deliver against these objectives:

-The benefit is extremely important to the target audience(s).
-The municipality has unique, sustainable competencies (and strategic intent) in delivering against the benefit.
-Competitors are not delivering against the benefit (nor would it be easy for them to do so in the future)
-Any benefit chosen is unique, compelling, motivating, understandable and believable.

Ideally, the brand tries to ‘own’ only one or two key benefits, as that is all decision makers in the target audience will remember.

The strongest place brands are positioned to be relevant, unique and compelling and are built by community leaders, stakeholders, and organizations that promote the competitive advantage by speaking with a unified voice. Economic Development Organizations, Convention and Visitor Bureaus, Chambers of Commerce, and Government bodies are all in synch with each other when communicating the brand promise. The community delivers on the promise because it’s who they really are.

You can find more on place branding here.

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1 Comment

Edward Burghard on March 14th, 2008 said

I agree the principles of product branding can be applied to place branding. I can now speak from practical experience in both categories. A couple other interesting differences I’d like to to highlight include –

1. Product development. In place branding this is primarily public policy reform and process improvement.

2. Managing the brand experience. In place branding there is less direct control over how the brand presents on a daily basis. Place branding requires the brand builder to have effective influence management skills, since so many people are involved in bringing the brand to life for the capital investor.

I continue to believe it is mission critical for states, regions and municipalities to increase the priority and mastery of place branding in order to effectively compete for global capital investment. One only has to track the decline in brand America to see the challenges we will collectively face as emerging markets come online and the world becomes a true global economy.

I hope the work we are doing in Ohio is seen as contributing positively to developing a better understanding of the effective application of product branding principles to place branding. It is extremely exciting to see the progress being made across the United States. But, compared to Europe we all still have room for continued improvement. The next few years are going to be extremely exciting for American place branding professionals.

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