THE SECRETS OF GROWING A GLOBALLY COMPETITIVE BRAND
Those of you that have been reading my blog for awhile know I am working with Xavier University on the application of their American Dream Composite Index™ powered by Dunnhumby as a tool to create winning community strategic plans. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Brian Till, Dean of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University. Brian also is a branding expert who learned the craft as a Brand Manager at Purina and subsequently as a marketing, branding, and advertising consultant. Brian is co-author of the book The Truth About Creating Brands People Love.
Brian and I had a great conversation comparing our careers and experiences in brand building. I also shared with him an overview of the Strengthening Brand America Project. At the end of our discussion, Brian generously gave me a copy of his book to read. I have to say, I think it is a great read! So good, I decided to take some of the information Brian and Donna Heckler share and recast it into the context of place branding so you can think about its application in your community branding efforts. If you get a chance though, please consider reading the book in its entirety. You won’t be disappointed.
THE 7 SECRETS
Focus Equals Simplicity. Simplicity is important because your target audience is exposed to a staggering number of messages each and every day. They are unable to process all the information coming at them. In order to get your message to stand out from the noise, your promise needs to be as simple to understand as possible. Simplicity is not easy to achieve though. It requires you to truly understand your community benefit promise and to boil all the supporting features to one or two compelling reasons to believe your promise is authentic. You will know you are in the “sweet spot” when you hear criticisms like “Is that all?”, or “Anybody could have come up with that, it’s too simple.”. The fact of the matter is that while simplicity takes a lot of work to achieve, when you do achieve it your community promise will seem obvious. Don’t despair when you hear those criticisms. They simply mean you’ve done a good job.
The Medium Is Not The Message, The Message Is The Message. A great promotional mix to communicate the wrong message is a waste of taxpayer (or funder) dollars. You must first have a compelling benefit promise for your community to communicate. Then worry about the promotional mix. I have been concerned for a while with the fascination the economic development profession has had with social media. I’ve attended a number of panel discussions (and participated on a few) where the speakers talk about a new world order and how critical it is to have an effective social media effort supporting your community branding work. Yet, without a compelling message, any social media program will be a waste of time and resources. Remember, having a conversation requires you to have something worthwhile to say. If you don’t, then what’s the point?
Your Brand Makes Your Community Powerful, not The Other Way Around. Companies do not succeed based on the quality of your community’s elected officials or economic development team. They succeed because your community promises and delivers a benefit that provides their business a competitive advantage. Your community is powerful when the businesses in your community are successful, not the other way around. You need to constantly assess the barriers to their success and focus on minimizing/eliminating them. And when making decisions regarding asset creation, infrastructure investment or public policy reform, you need to make a point of understanding the impact on the ability of the companies in your community to compete globally.
The Three M’s of Taglines: Meaningful, Motivating and Memorable. Great taglines reinforce your community’s promise. They are the succinct and compelling articulation of your promise. The best taglines encourage action. They help cause the reader to want to learn more about your community. And, they are not easily forgotten. If business executives can’t remember your community tagline, how can it possibly motivate them to learn more about why your community is a great choice for capital investment? One example of a poor tagline is “Open For Business”. It means nothing. Is there a community that is ever closed for business? A good example is “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas”. It paints a clear picture of the personal benefit for visiting Las Vegas. Another is Ohio’s “State of Perfect Balance” which reinforces the state’s promise that you can achieve both personal and professional aspirations without sacrificing one for the other. What is your community’s tagline? Does it reinforce your community’s benefit promise? Is it at all meaningful?
Repositioning Can Be a Fool’s Chase. To reposition means to change what currently exists as your community’s brand equity and shift it significantly enough to take on a new meaning. When I lecture on this, my requirement is that your community’s brand promise must undergo a fundamental change in order to be considered a repositioning of your community. Otherwise, you are simply introducing another campaign to communicate your community’s benefit promise. Why does this matter? If you hire an Agency to reposition your community they will start at square #1 and charge you for the process of discovering your community’s benefit promise and the bringing it to life visually (create a branding system). The output should be a new, and significantly different, promise statement. If you have a good benefit promise, then you do not need to pay again for this work. Don’t waste your money! Also beware, I often see that what Agencies claim as repositioning is simply a logo and tagline redesign initiative. The problem with that is you are paying for work you really don’t need. In this case semantics matter. If you want a new campaign to bring your community’s benefit promise to life, then hire an Agency to create a new campaign based on your existing promise statement. If you want a more compelling promise statement, and have not fundamentally changed your community, then hire an Agency to help you better articulate your current community promise. If you want a new logo, hire a designer and pay only for a new logo. Given my strong counsel, it is reasonable to wonder if any community ever truly repositions itself. The answer is rarely. Think Pittsburgh after the decline of the steel industry, or Detroit (in process and arguably in denial) after the decline of the domestic automotive industry.
Compromise Can Destroy a Brand. Brands are built on consistency of messaging and delivery of the promised experience. When you compromise and step away from communicating your community’s benefit promise, you begin to chip away at that consistency. Once you start down that slippery slope, it becomes extremely challenging to stop. Elected officials and well intended business executives in your community are great threats for forcing compromise. Each will have a personal (or specific industry) objective that they advocate. For example, if your community promise is low cost access to international markets and you begin to lead your messaging with a claim about the local skilled labor pool because an elected official read an article that access to skilled labor was of great importance to businesses, the compromise will actually dilute your community’s non-personal promotion investment because your messaging becomes muddled. If you are going to step away from promoting your community’s benefit promise, do it with great reluctance and for a very short period of time or you risk unraveling the equity you have already created for your community.
Beware The Discounting Minefield. I wanted to include this truth because of the hot discussion going on about the role of incentives in economic development. I know most people will not easily correlate discounting with offering incentives. But, in essence an incentive works like a discount in that it reduces the perceived value of the other assets your community brings to the table. The problem with discounts is the competition can always discount deeper. Competing on price is the weakest of positions. You should be providing companies with a reason, other than the size of the incentive, to locate in your community. It is true that there is a fine line you need to walk between relying on incentives and offering a competitive benefit. Be sure when you choose to use incentives that you aren’t simply papering over a competitive deficiency that your community might be better served by fixing. Walking into that minefield can lead to your community becoming irreversibly non-competitive.
If you are a private sector brand person, please share your thoughts and experience on the above truths. Think about it from the context of promoting your community to businesses as a location for them to expand. What do you see are the differences in how the above truths may play out? If you are an economic development professional, do the above truths align with your experience? Please share examples so the conversation can be educational.
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