You cannot stand for something if you chase after everything.
In an effort to think through the reapplication of private sector branding principles in the field of place branding, I decided to take on the challenge of translating the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service Into a World Class Brand by Al and Laura Ries. What follows is my interpretation of the 22 Laws and their application in creating a world class place brand.
22 Immutable Laws
- The law of expansion – The power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope. Focus on a core set of industries or capabilities and do a good job of investing behind a strategy to leverage the critical mass in your location as a reason for both capital attraction and expansion.
- The law of contraction – A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus. It is more effective to target limited resources to build a best in-class structure and critical mass in a limited number of industries than to spread your resources too thin and make marginal progress across a wide range of industries in your location.
- The law of publicity – The birth of a brand is achieved with publicity. Be first to stake a claim and leverage it through publicity. Once to determine the core Promise of your location, be bold in declaring it to the world and harness the credibility of getting others to share your location story. Third-party endorsement is a powerfully persuasive tactic.
- The law of advertising – Once born a brand needs advertising to stay healthy. It is important to be top-of-mind with information seekers in order to be considered for more capital investment opportunities. If your location doesn’t make the list of locations to receive an RFP, you never have a real chance to be successful. Out of sight, out of mind and consequently out of consideration for due diligence.
- The law of the word – A brand should strive to own a word in the mind of the consumer. Your location certainly already has a name, so this counsel is not about revisiting that. Instead, think about what your location’s core Promise is and try to articulate it in one or two words. The exercise will force clarity in defining the unique reason to believe why your location is an ideal choice for capital investment. To the extent you can, try and make the word(s) benefit focused versus feature focused.
- The law of credentials – The crucial ingredient in the success of any brand is its claim to authenticity. Nothing kills a product faster than great advertising, and nothing will undermine your place branding efforts faster than failure for the capital investor experience to match your Promise. It is critical that the walk and talk are aligned.
- The law of quality – Quality is defined through the eyes of the potential capital investor. Make absolutely certain you location delivers value, solves a problem, or meets a real need for the business. Your place brand must be relevant and competitive in order to be seen as quality versus other options.
- The law of a category – A leading brand should promote the category and not the brand. Be as concerned about creating critical mass through industry infrastructure growth as you are about attracting individual company investment. The more synergy you can create through strategic company attraction that enhances industry capability, capacity or lowers cost for the companies in your location, the more attractive your location becomes.
- The law of a name – In the long run a brand is nothing more than a name. Your reputation is gold. Do not pursue strategies and alliances that risk your location’s good name. Do not pursue short-term gain at the cost of your location’s image. Trust is difficult to build and easy to lose. When you make promises keep them.
- The law of extensions – The easiest way to destroy a brand is to put its name on everything. Everything you put your location’s name on draws an inferred association. Be mindful of where your name is used and how it is used. Guilt by association is an unfair but too often real outcome.
- The law of fellowship – In order to build a category, a brand should welcome other brands. There is power and synergy to be gained through the right Regional efforts.
- The law of the generic – One of the fastest ways to fail is to give a brand a generic name. Don’t let your location get lost in a gross generalization of your region, It is important to stand for something and not let the world define you. In a competitive situation, the competition will always define you as second best or worse.
- The law of the company – Brands are brands. Companies are companies. Capital investors ultimately choose a piece of property to invest in. The Region, State and community are all considerations and need to contribute to the choice. But, if the specific property does not meet the capital investor’s needs (or can’t be made to meet them), then the decision to invest will certainly be no. A good brand creates attention, interest and desire. But, the product ultimately dictates the action. Don’t expect to cover product problems with a good brand.
- The law of sub-brands – What branding builds sub-brands can destroy. It is important to have alignment of promises from the state to the local community, and a consistent delivery of an authentic experience. To the capital investor, this is an integrated experience and not a series of random events. Interactions at all levels matter.
- The law of siblings – There is a time and place to launch a second brand. The naming of projects is important. Particularly, if a project is inconsistent with the brand promise or potentially controversial. It is much harder to disassociate your location’s reputation from a well-publicized project gone wrong. Pay attention to how your locations brand mark is used by third-party Organizations. It may be perceived as tacit endorsement of their product or service and create negative equity for your location.
- The law of shape – A brand’s logotype should be designed to fit the eye. How you plan to use your logo matters. Take the time to think it through. Eliminate complexity and ensure the logo is scalable both up and down. Also make certain the logo can be pleasingly presented in multiple media from print to the web.
- The law of color – A brand should use a color that is opposite of its major competitor. Color matters. Typically you will have a legislatively designated color. Leverage it in your promotion to create an association with your place brand over time. If your community does not have a color, your State does. Leverage the State color in your promotion to take advantage of any synergies that can be created between the State brand equity and your place brand.
- The law of borders – There are no barriers to global branding. Your branding should translate across cultures. Looking forward, you will be increasingly be competing globally for capital investment. It is important your location’s core Promise has relevance and is competitive to foreign direct investors.
- The law of consistency – A brand is not built overnight. Political cycles can kill a place brand program. Not only is it important that a consistent level of investment be made to support telling your location’s story but that it be told consistently by public sector leaders. Building brands takes both time and money. If you have limited time, you will need more money.
- The law of change – Brands can be changed, but only infrequently and very carefully. Brands cannot be static or the relevancy and competitiveness will erode. It is important to understand what currently makes your location the better choice versus competition and effectively promote on that basis. But you also need to determine what will make you even more competitive and keep you the location of choice. Public policy reform and infrastructure investment decisions should be made with an eye toward what your location should become as well as to deliver the current Promise.
- The law of mortality – No brand will live forever. Protect your place brand from politics or it will suffer irreparable harm. Place brands should reflect the core Promise (or essence) of a location and not be treated like a campaign slogan. Relevance, competitiveness and authenticity are what win investment and create jobs in a location.
- The law of singularity – The most important aspect of a brand is its single-mindedness. Begin with the end in mind and reverse engineer strategic choices to ensure excellence in delivery. Any promotional money spent that does not forward your brand communication is worse than money wasted. It detracts from your overall messaging by contributing to creating confusion on what your location stands for. You should always be able to articulate the connection between the investment and its tie back to your core Promise.
“Without a doubt any “person, place or thing” can become a strong brand. Edward has outlined exactly how to build a place brand according to our Immutable Laws.”
– Laura Ries
Co-author of the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
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