Place Branding in Practice


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This white paper will explore the issue of place branding and its role in furthering your economic development priorities. We will discuss how branding a place differs from branding a product, outline the rationale for a branding initiative, and introduce five key factors of successful place branding in your city or region.

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Place Branding in Practice

  1. 1. Place Brandingin PracticeCurrent issues foreconomic development professionalsEDAC / ACDEMarketing and CommunicationsWhite Paper SeriesSeptember 2008
  2. 2. Every place has a story. developers recognize the opportunity to actively define what that brand looks like.What’s yours? Later in this paper, we will offer practical advice for getting branding right in your community, but let’s start by defining whatParis. Detroit. Beijing. What comes to mind branding is and what it is not.when you think of these cities? If you arelike most people, each place conjures upideas about its culture, economic conditionsand quality of life. For better or worse, thereis no escaping the fact that your city or Branding definedregion is already making an impression onthe market. The real question is how you, A brand is not a logo. At best, a logo isas an economic developer, can utilize place a visual representation of a brand, but abranding principles to shape and influence brand is much, much more. In fact, manythe way your city is perceived. of the horror stories we alluded to in the last paragraph are the result of a failure toThis white paper will explore the issue of recognize the full scope of branding. Theplace branding and its role in furthering your launch of a flashy logo and clever taglineeconomic development priorities. We will is not a branding initiative. Rather, truediscuss how branding a place differs from branding must be derived from your corebranding a product, outline the rationale for strategy for economic development. Youra branding initiative, and introduce five key brand reflects your DNA – it is expressedfactors of successful place branding in your in every interaction you have with yourcity or region. stakeholders, both formal and informal. “A place brand strategy requires a realistic, competitive and very compelling strategic vision for a city, region, or country, and needs to ensure that it is supported,Branding doesn’t have reinforced and enriched by every act ofto be a dirty word communication between that place and the rest of the world. Every government and municipal department or local agency,There is no shortage of horror stories about local people and local companies musteconomic development branding initiatives consistently communicate and demonstratethat went awry or failed to gain momentum the same carefully developed brand.” 1and support from key decision makers. Wewill explore the reasons for failed branding For a brand to succeed it must be rooted inefforts in depth in a future white paper in this what is great and unique about a city. Forseries, but for now it will suffice to say that example, if you want to brand yourself aswe must not throw the brand baby out with the technology capital of Canada, then youthe bathwater. must have the infrastructure, investment and skilled workforce to back that up. OtherwiseThe truth is, a strong brand is absolutely your brand is little more than a tagline,critical to successful economic development. and the experience of your city will not liveWhether you engage in it or not, your up to the promise of the brand. In short,city has a brand, and smart economic your brand must fall out of your economic
  3. 3. development strategy, which in turn must be organizations. They are a hybrid form ofbuilt on your city’s strengths and ambitions. organization. Their characteristics areReal branding is not an afterthought. It is a determined by those who set them up,reflection of what your city is and why the the purpose for which they were createdmarket should take notice. and by those who form the team that leads the work of the partnership, the key stakeholders of the place. The form of partnership organization and operation is rarely a given. It has to be negotiatedWhat is unique about and agreed by those who are going tobranding places? be involved. Brand partnership has to be worked at.” 2Although place branding uses many of the In our experience, failure to recognize thesame techniques as more traditional product unique challenges of place branding canbranding, there are some differences that doom a city branding initiative. On theare worth noting: other hand, acknowledging and leveraging these factors increases the likelihood of aFirst, the requirements of the brand are sustainable brand that enjoys community-more demanding. Unlike a brand for a wide support.product or a company, place brands mustserve many different stakeholders andaudiences. A strong brand must be flexibleand versatile enough to apply to tourism,business development and to target specific Five ways to succeedsectors. It must accommodate the needs ofmultiple groups and communicate a number with place brandingof ideas. It must do this without sufferingthe watering down that often results from The added complexities of place brandingtrying to be all things to all people. This is can be mitigated by employing the five besta delicate balance to strike and one that is practices outlined below:unique to the business of branding places. 1. Be different from your competitorsSecond, the development and managementof the brand is decentralized and informal Many economic development organizationsin place branding. There is no corporate fail to think about the competition whenmarketing department that is bestowed thinking about branding their communities.with the power to define and control all This is a tenet of traditional product brandingaspects of the brand. Rather, place branding that place marketers would be wise torequires a high degree of coordination and observe. You must recognize that sitecooperation. According to the Medinge selectors, businesses and workers are notGroup: looking at your city in isolation. It is one choice in a sea of options, and the only way“Place brand partnerships are not like to stand out is to think not just about whatcentral government departments, or your city has to offer, but to think about whatlocal government or private companies your city offers that is different.or voluntary, community and charitable
  4. 4. As the International Economic Development it, they will come for that too. But if you areCouncil (IEDC) points out: dishonest about it, they will come, see for themselves… and then they will promptly leave.“Technically, your community may have thesame strengths and assets as a number of 3. Get stakeholders excited aboutothers. The key is finding a differentiator in what really mattersthe mind of the client, and understandingsite selection criteria so you can turn Too often we see stakeholders being poorlyfeatures such as transportation or education utilized in the branding process. It’s notinto distinct advantages.” 3 uncommon to find a group of community leaders huddled around a conference tableDon’t be afraid to take a stand and commit debating the merits of a red versus blueto what makes you different. Many people logo, rather than engaging with an overallshy away from this approach for fear of strategy and vision. Get your stakeholderslosing some of their potential audience, excited about what is really driving thebut the result of trying to be all things branding exercise in the first place. Thisto all people is usually a “bland brand” will garner lasting engagement that canthat resonates with no one. Build your be counted on well after the launch of thebrand message around your competitive brand. The Medinge Group, a not-for-profitadvantage. think tank of communications professionals, says that this type of approach:2. Tell the truthA British consultancy recently released a “…helps the key stakeholders of the place tostudy that compared the brand strength of chart a route towards realizing their sharedEuropean cities.4 The study looked at both vision for the development of the futurethe assets the city had to offer (e.g. culture, offer of the place. It helps define the valueamenities etc.) as well as the current image that will be created for those stakeholders,of the city. In many cases, cities had assets for example through increased incomethat they were not leveraging, resulting in an generated by sports events or from retailimage that was weaker than what the city sales, from increased investment in landhad to offer in reality. and buildings, from job creation and from the creation of new services. It providesBut in some cases, the opposite was true. a decision making tool for shareholdersCities did a great job of selling an image that to identify really ‘on-brand’ investmentsembellished (or worse) what the city offered from among the many possibilities andin reality. This resulted in a city whose image opportunities on offer to them.” 5was stronger than its actual assets. In short,these cities fail to live up to their own hype. When community leaders present a unified message, it is a clear indicator to siteA sustainable economic development selectors and investors that this is a placecommunications strategy requires the reality that has its act together and will be easy tolives up to the perception. Identify your work with. Successful branding initiativescurrent assets, match them to an audience must have the support and buy-in of thethat values those assets and fill the gaps city’s leadership and spokespeople toyou need to attract sectors targeted in your succeed in the long term.economic development strategy. If youbuild it they will come. If you already have
  5. 5. 4. Appoint ambassadors too often in graphic design and slogan- led marketing terms, involving the designA U.S. consultancy, Development of an attractive logo and the coining of aCounsellors Inc., released the results of catchy phrase. Rarely has the brand of aa survey of top executives responsible place been recognized as the summationfor site selection.6 The survey has been of the way it operates, how it behavesconducted five times since 1996, and asks and what it aspires to be and do. Eventhe question: “What sources of information more rarely has branding a place beeninfluence your perception of a city’s recognized as a key component of itsbusiness climate?” The top response was overall economic development strategy to“Dialogue with industry peers”, with 61% of maintain its competitiveness and as a toolrespondents citing it as a factor. to help develop its people, companies and institutions.” 7To take advantage of this channel in aformal way, many communities are creating Communities that are successful have aambassador programs as a component of strategy in place for sustaining momentumtheir branding initiatives. The idea behind after the launch. They recognize that the truethese programs is simple: In a world of too power of their brand lies in how they live itmuch information, a message has more day to day.credibility when it is delivered by a trustedsource. Advice and personal experiencefrom an industry peer can strengthen thebrand of a community and reach deepinto networks that economic development In Closingprofessionals may have a difficult timeaccessing. Structured ambassadorprograms ensure that professional networks Place branding is quickly gaining recognitionbecome a forum to further promote your with economic development professionals. Itcity’s brand. is a platform to communicate and reinforce your city’s economic development strategy, and as such it must be defined by your5. The launch is a beginning, priorities for development and by whatnot an end differentiates your community. Whether you pay attention to branding or not, yourIt’s baffling to watch a community unveil audience still has a perception about youra new logo and tagline as if it marks the city. Smart economic developers are takingcompletion of their re-branding initiative. steps to influence these perceptions andAlthough the launch is a significant use them to strengthen their overall strategy.milestone, it is only the beginning ofsustainable branding. This is where the hardwork starts, where every communicationmust reinforce the brand, where everystakeholder must adopt and nurture it. About the Author On Three Communication Design Inc. is a creative agency“In traditional approaches to local specializing in promoting places not products. For moreand regional economic development, information and insight, visit them at www.onthree.cadeveloping a brand for a place is still seen or read the blog at
  6. 6. Endnotes1 Agenda for Local Economic Development, February 2004. “Find a vision and dump the spinning”., accessedSeptember 2008.2 The Medinge Group, “The Journal of the Medinge Group”. August 14, 2007., accessed September 2008.3 The International Economic Development Council. “What’s in a Brand? Some Insights from theExperts”., accessed September 2008.4 The Saffron Group. “The Saffron European Cities Barometer Report”. August 2008.5 The Medinge Group, “The Journal of the Medinge Group”. August 14, 2007., accessed September 2008.6 Development Counsellors Inc. “A View from Corporate America: Winning Strategies in EconomicDevelopment Marketing”., accessedSeptember 2008.7 Agenda for Local Economic Development, February 2004. “Find a vision and dump the spinning”., accessedAbout this White Paper SeriesEDAC is pleased to announce a new service for our members to support yourcommunications activities.Over the next year, EDAC will release a series of six white papers that explore current issuesin marketing and communication as they relate to economic development.Topics include:Place Branding in Practice (September 2008)Has Branding Become a Dirty Word? (November 2008)Small Communities: Special Considerations for Building a Competitive Brand (January 2009)Buy-in Begins at Home: The Importance of Stakeholder Support (February 2009)Making the Most of Your Communications Budget (March 2009)Ambassadors: Your Secret Marketing Weapon (April 2009)