How Good is Your Community Brand ?

Ed Burghard

A Brand Is A Promise

I have had an opportunity to speak with a number of economic development professionals about branding their community. A typical question I get is – How do I know if my positioning is going to be effective? Many times community brands go through a gauntlet review by a committee of public and private sector leaders who have strong opinions. The result ends up being a consensus position that is extremely politically correct, all-inclusive so nobody feels left out, and a reflection of the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, it does not inspire anybody and it does not persuasively speak to the real needs of a potential capital investor.

Always remember, a brand is a promise. It sets an expectation of an experience. Your community brand promise helps CEOs think about how to competitively position your community versus other location choices.

When the due diligence and RFP phase of the capital investment decision process is coming to a close, the CEO typically will be looking at 2 – 3 options that meet all the Company’s fundamental project requirements. Your competitors have created a financial package that offsets any asset benefit you might have. To the CFO, all three options have an essentially equivalent project NPV. There is no technically “wrong” choice. In the final moment, the great differentiator to ensure your community gets selected ultimately comes down to the strength of your brand promise. There simply is no other rational basis to make the decision, so it is the emotional appeal of your community brand promise that beaks the tie.

So, how do you ensure your community has a compelling promise?

Seven Simple Questions to Test the Strength of Your Brand Promise

  1. Is your community brand promise written down and shared?
  2. Does it clearly state the benefit a CEO can expect if he/she selects your community for the Company’s next capital investment?
  3. Has it been validated as meaningful with the CEOs in your target industries?
  4. Is your community brand promise relevant, competitive and authentic?
  5. Is the positioning something your community can expect to own?
  6. Can you articulate the personality of your community’s brand promise?
  7. Is your communication effort communicating your community promise across all the touch points you are investing in?


In my experience, most community brand promises fail to deliver on question #2. They are written using feature and not benefit language. They require the CEO to interpret the promise and intuit the benefit. This can often be a major mistake, because CEOs neither have the time nor inclination to try and guess what you are trying to say. There is an old saying – Features tell, but benefits sell. If your community promise is feature based, then rewrite it using benefit language. Make it easy for a CEO to say yes to selecting your community over other options.

I also want to point out that the answer to question #4 is a moving target. Your competition does not stand still, so competitiveness is a relative assessment. You need to make certain your community continually improves its business climate so you can consistently over deliver on your promise.

Finally, the hardest thing to do is focus on making a promise that your community has a right to believe it can own versus the competition. There are any number of things that are important to a CEO, but often there is no way to make a convincing argument your community can deliver a superior experience versus other locations. For example, “proximity to markets” is viewed as an important consideration in any location decision. But, it is a general promise that can be made by a number of communities and states. It is a major challenge for any single community or state to “own” that positioning in the mind of a CEO. For additional perspective on what good looks like, read this series of blog posts about keeping your promise from Brad VanAuken.


How often do you evaluate the competitiveness and relevancy of your community’s brand promise?  Do you have a preferred way of checking?  Does your communication strategy focus on making certain your targeted company executives understand your community’s promise?  What do you find the most challenging aspect of managing your community’s promise?  Please share your thoughts.

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