Quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin
A location’s reputation can be its most valuable asset. Understanding how to create, protect and repair a reputation is the subject of the book entitled “18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation” authored by Ronald Alsop in 2004. The book provides a great overview of how some of the most respected corporations in America proactively manage their public perception. In this blog post, I’ve taken the liberty to reinterpret Ron’s laws for application in place branding.
After you read the laws, it would be great if you would take a minute and share your perspective on the importance of a positive place reputation in economic development by posting a comment. The real value of the post will be from the experience reflected in the comments readers, like you, provide.
LAW 1. Maximize Your Most Powerful Asset – Your location develops a reputation that is based on people’s perception over time. Gaining and sustaining a positive reputation is everybody’s business in your location. Executives and citizens need to understand the value of a strong reputation for economic development and the payoff generated by this intangible asset. Reputation is as valuable to a location as capital. Nurtured it pays dividends and helps offset competitive advantages in close negotiations. Left unattended, a reputation can be lost quickly and when lost it is costly and difficult to recover.
LAW 2. Know Thyself – Measure Your Reputation – See your location through the eyes of your target audience. You need to measure what potential capital investors think about your location. It is very important to keep score and to work on finding ways to strengthen your location’s reputation. Understanding over time how your reputation is shifting will help you course correct to ensure your reputation remains a strong and competitive asset.
LAW 3. Learn to Play to Many Audiences – Your location has many important stakeholders from political leaders to private sector leaders to citizens. It is important you understand what each constituency sees as the reasons for rating your place above realistically competitive location choices. These are the attributes you need to ensure are evergreen. They represent the core underpinning of your location’s reputation and need to be sustained.
LAW 4. Live Your Values and Ethics – Every community has a unique culture that reflects the values of its citizens. It is important to describe these values as a set of guiding principles that can be used to help make important, difficult decisions. If your location’s private and public sector leadership can make principle based investment decisions, then your reputation will be enhanced. Consistent application of principles help clear define what a location stands for.
LAW 5. Be a Model Citizen – Actions speak louder than money. Your location is a complex system of many constituents with interdependent needs and relationships. Communicating clearly and walking the talk is critically important to maintaining integrity with your citizens and community leaders. When promises are made and under delivered, a withdrawal is made from your reputation bank account. Too many withdrawals and you location earns a vote of no confidence.
LAW 6. Convey a Compelling Vision – It is important to establish a direction of how your location will remain relevant and competitive in the future. It is also important the leaders and citizens of your location understand the vision and their role in it. Progress toward a desired future promotes collaboration, optimism and clarity of purpose. Investment decisions are easier and more transparent because they are evaluated against a plan of action. A clearly articulated vision establishes an environment of transparency that promotes productive problem solving behavior and will attract capital investment.
LAW 7. Create Emotional Appeal – Emotional appeal isn’t easy to define, but when a place has it there is a magnetic vibe that makes people want to belong to the community. It is important to not only capture the imagination of your constituency. You have to engage their hearts. Successful places do this through effective communication of their core brand promise.
LAW 8. Recognize Your Shortcomings – No location is perfect. In part, it is because your location is always in transition adjusting to changes in the global economy. It is important understand the points of negative difference between your location and the competition, and to have a plan to productively address them. This could include acknowledging that there may be nothing you can do to make them go away. Not every location is going to be able to deep water navigation or 200+ days of sunshine. Commit to proactively address what you can to effectively neutralize your location’s competitive shortcomings and focus on strengthening your strengths.
LAW 9. Stay Vigilant to Ever-Present Perils – Your location’s reputation is under constant threat of damage. It is important to have a proactive and effective sensing system in place to alert you to potential threats before they materialize as a crisis. Three classic areas of threat include negative news coverage, unethical behavior and natural disasters. Anticipating these threats and having a solid plan of action in place if one should materialize will go a long way to protect your location’s reputation.
LAW 10. Make Your Citizens Your Reputation Champions – Nobody knows your location better than the people who live and work there. These are either your strongest and most credible advocates or detractors. It is important you listen to them and address any misperceptions or complaints they may have in a timely and respectful way. The more engaged citizens are, the more vibrant the community. But, the greater the expectation that their voice matters and is heard. Participatory government demands genuine respect and caring. Done well, your citizens become ambassadors of good will and the strongest advocates for your place.
LAW 11. Control the Internet Before it Controls You – Information travels instantaneously in today’s wired world. Social media presents an opportunity to cost effectively reach millions of people. Your location’s reputation can be enhanced through an effective interactive media plan. There is an excellent chance that many of your citizens are online and tweeting or posting comments about your place using social tools like FaceBook or MySpace. Join in the conversation, understand what is being said, become a productive part of the discussion.
LAW 12. Speak with a Single Voice – Consistency and clarity of delivering your place brand promise helps ensure a clear understanding of what your place stands for. Because your story is told by so many people in so many different venues, it is difficult to ensure a disciplined delivery. But, conflicting messages create a cacophony of noise. Encouraging delivery of similar messages creates a concerto. While total message control is highly unlikely, you can achieve continued improvement. Progress will always be amplified.
LAW 13. Beware the Dangers of Reputation Rub-off – The cost of effective place branding is rising as the economy gets even more global. Partnerships are an important strategy to deliver adequate reach and frequency of messaging. But, partnering carries risk. Guilt by association can be a real concern so it is important to partner wisely. Protect your location reputation by only partnering on projects that make economic development sense. Do not lend your reputation capital without having a clear understanding of what the expected return on investment will be. Every association is a reflection on your location reputation. Ensure it is a reaffirming one.
LAW 14. Manage Crises with Finesse – Crises are inevitable no matter how hard you work to manage your reputation. How you react is more important than the circumstances. All locations are vulnerable. Timing in handling a crisis is key. Crises are not like fine wine, they do not improve with age. A strong and trusting relationship with the media can go a long way in helping ensure a balanced treatment of the facts. Your response to a crisis must be rapid but never rash. Crises can be managed, but not controlled. During a crisis it is more important than ever to remain in contact with your citizens to understand their thoughts and concerns. Effective management of crises remains principle based, authentic and credible.
LAW 15. Fix it Right the First Time – Branding your location is an exercise that should be adequately resourced so it is done well and can be sustained. Too many place branding exercises are done on a limited budget with an over focus on creating a logo and tag line. A brand is a promise. It sets an expectation of what people will realize if they invest in your location. Your ability to consistently deliver the promise day in and day out establishes your lasting reputation. Invest in hiring a professional to guide any branding exercise you do for your location. Getting it right the first time helps ensure your long-term economic vitality. Having to revisit the exercise creates frustration and a loss of confidence in your location’s strategic plan and direction.
LAW 16. Never Underestimate the Public’s Cynicism – Bad reputations die hard. It takes a lot of time and money. People expect spin and are constantly on the look out for it. It is important for a location to understand how to harness the influence of thought leaders to help repair any damage to their reputation a crisis may have caused. When things go wrong, credible messengers are key.
LAW 17. Remember – Being Defensive is Offensive – Apologies are good for a location’s reputation. When something goes wrong admit it. When something doesn’t work as well as expected, share the reasons why and what has been learned to avoid making the same mistake twice. The best way to avoid being on the defensive is to get on the offensive.
LAW 18. If All Else Fails, Change Your Leadership
“Perception is everything, and reputation is certainly as important to places as it is to companies and other organizations. Just as a company’s reputation affects people’s purchasing and investment choices, so does a location’s reputation influence development decisions.”
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