Interview with Eric Swartz
Eric Swartz is president and founder of Great Destinotions, and has 30 years of experience as a marketer, business communicator, and branding strategist. My first exposure to Eric was as the "Tagline Guru". I was preparing a presentation and found Eric’s website to have a significant amount of quality perspective on the subject. Subsequently, I’ve come to know Eric through his Byline Group site where his turn of phrase "Experience the brand and the brand the experience" really caught my eye. Eric has a knack for taking complex branding concepts and making them simple. I believe you will find the interview with Eric both candid and educational.
- Question: Many place branding exercises involve the creation of a logo and a tagline for communities to use in the promotion of their location. Based on your experience what are the characteristics of a great tagline?
First, it should be original, succinct, positive, and believable. There are so many me-too, cookie-cutter slogans that sound notoriously alike and are not specific to the destination they purport to represent. If you borrow another city’s brand style, personality, or message, you’re selling yourself down the river. A tagline should reflect a town’s unique attributes and core values, and illustrate its distinctive character. It’s all about being authentic and telling a compelling story. A good tagline should also serve as a town’s ambassador. It should inspire people to visit and want to learn more. For place branding specifically, a tagline should read like an invitation, not just a calling card…and promise an experience that can’t be duplicated anywhere else.
- Question: You make the point that a tagline should reflect the core promise of a product or place. How important is a strong underlying strategic positioning to an effective tagline?
The position, promise, and overall message of a destination’s tagline should reveal what the brand is all about. The strategy is to make it clear, consistent, and compelling because it functions as a road map to how you’d like people to experience your town’s brand. It’s like a symbolic GPS device. If you have a sound strategy, you’ll be in a stronger position to promote and communicate your town’s value down the line. A tagline is just the tip of the iceberg. However, it’s a rallying cry…the leading edge of an overall brand awareness program that your town’s citizens and the rest of the world will judge by its clarity and creativity.
- Question: In your experience, what are the benefits of a strong tagline to creating awareness and interest in a product or place?
The benefits are many: increased tourism, increased tax revenues, more hotel stays, greater investment, economic revitalization, better press, increased mind share, renewed pride and optimism, greater community involvement, more unity and goodwill. That’s assuming, of course, there’s a strong marketing plan and program in place to support it — working multiple channels for maximum effect.
- Question: What should an economic development professional look for from an Agency contracted to help brand their location? How can you tell a great Agency partner from a bad one?
A good agency is one that is fully engaged in the project. It does its homework, it listens, and it elicits viewpoints from the key stakeholders involved. It must also have a strategic framework for conducting a successful brand audit, assessment, and analysis in order to make sound recommendations. Branding is a process which takes time. It needs top-down buy-in and grass roots support. Ultimately, a branding program should be tailored to a location’s style and personality in addition to its stated objectives, budget, and timeline.
- Question: What does a reasonably resourced initiative to create a tagline look like?
Branding is a consensus-building exercise, which means that all the key stakeholders and decision makers need to be identified from the start. In some cases, the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) will drive the program and take ownership of it. Sometimes, it’s an economic development group, the Chamber of Commerce, or the City Council. In many instances, it’s a partnership, combining some or all of these folks. The larger and more urban the destination, the more people are usually involved. By implication, it also means a bigger budget and a longer time frame. An initial meeting with the powers that be is critical to see first-hand what the dynamic are, how the process has developed thus far, and how clear the group’s objectives are. A solid RFP is helpful as long as it spells out the parameters of the project and the expected deliverables. Creating a logo and tagline is fairly straightforward. Creating an entirely new brand identity, or re-branding an identity based on perceived needs and stated objectives, is the part that takes a lot of strategic work upfront and back-end follow through. Given that fact, a budget could range from $20K on the low end to more than $150K on the high end. It really depends on whether the objectives and expectations of a destination are in line with the budget it has in mind. It has to be realistic and some compromises (on both sides) are usually in order before final details are worked out. An audit/logo/tagline project would probably take a few months. A full identity program would take about nine months to a year. I think a destination would be well served to bring on board a branding organization that is adept at project management that can offer strong strategic and creative credentials to deliver sound thinking and quality work.
- Question: If a state or city economic development organization wanted to contract you to do help them create a tagline, what is the process?