Four Step Process For Building A Brand

Building an effective community brand is tough work. But, it helps to have a proven process to guide you. Here is a four-step process that I advocate and teach. The model is conceptually easy, but the implementation requires a good deal of thought.

Four Step Model

WHO – The first step is to define your target audience. Who do you want to convince that your community is the ideal location choice for capital investment? There are two types of targets to consider. The first is your overall strategic target. In many cases this will be the CEO audience since CEOs tend to be the decision makers for location choices. The second type is Prime Prospects. These are subsets of your strategic target and are identified for special effort. For example, you may define the CEOs in a particular industry as a Prime Prospect target for your communication efforts.

WHAT – Once you know WHO you are going to talk to, you need to determine what you will say about your community. This is your Promise. Your promise needs to be relevant, competitive and authentic. You also have to think through the reasons to believe your promise. These tend to be the tangible features you can point to in your community that act as business success enablers. One of the more difficult challenges you will face is to be disciplined in sticking to communicating your Promise. You will get pressure from a lot of corners to communicate the latest news whether it has any connection to your Promise at all. Resist the pressure, it may be the right political thing to do, but it is absolutely the wrong branding choice.

WHEN – Your target audience is not always receptive to listening to your message. Sometimes they are preoccupied, or just too busy. You need to understand how your target audience truly makes a capital investment decision. This understanding will give you insight into what information to provide when in the decision process. Overwhelming a CEO with information early when it won’t be considered is a waste of your time and taxpayer dollars. Delivering the right type of information in just the right amount at exactly the right time dramatically increases the probability your target will actually listen to and hear your message.

WHERE – It is important to know where your target gets information for making a site selection decision. You want to create a communication plan that ensures your message is delivered in the manner your target wants to receive it. If peer recommendations are key, then you have to have a plan in place to deliver your community promise via other CEOs. If industry journals are key, then you need to find a way to have your community featured in them. The mix of tactics in your communication plan will be affected by how well you know your target audience’s sources of information and the size of your promotional budget.


I will be sharing more insights into the effective application of this model, including how product development affects the WHAT choices you make. But, here are a couple observations (pet peeves really) I’d like to highlight now.

  • WHO – A lot of marketers, and Agencies, will advocate using psychographic descriptions to define your strategic target. I prefer demographic descriptors because they are actionable. I don’t know how to find CEOs who are risk takers. But, I do know how to find CEOs who work in industries that involve risk. Be practical so your WHO definition can help you make communication channel choices.
  • WHAT – The problem I see most often in defining a community Promise is the lack of focus. Communities are complex entities and it is so hard to not talk about all the good things available. The result is an extrapolation of the Promise to a level that nobody understands it, but everybody believes their interpretation fits. Great branding is about making choices and focusing your Promise. Some influential people in your community will likely be disappointed. Making choices is hard, but necessary.
  • WHEN – Don’t “data dump”. There is enough time to share reams of data when your community has been asked to respond to an RFP. Answer probing questions with relevant data. Understand the business reason behind asking for the information. Answer the question, but be certain to address the business reason. Look for the real question behind the question asked.
  • WHERE – If your strategic audience does not rely on a particular communication channel for site selection information, then don’t include it in your media plan. I get highly frustrated when a marketer fails to truly understand the ability of a communication channel to deliver adequate reach and frequency within their WHO target. If your target doesn’t read the journal or participate in the social media channel, then don’t waste your limited funds to tell your community’s story in those specific tactical options. It is really that simple.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Can you define the WHO, WHAT, WHEN and WHERE for you community? Which of the four steps do you find the most challenging? Where do you see the biggest challenges in applying the four-step model?

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30 Comments so far

  1. Sandip Mitra

    September 28, 2011

    I think, the communications which are made to create the brand identity do not always match the actual offerings…it’s really difficult to make the balance….it’s obvious that some exaggeration will happen to create buzz but it’s crucial to understand where to draw line.

  2. Brian Dowling

    September 28, 2011

    Creating something that you believe is worthwhile enough to brand in the first place rather than advertise a facade. Advertising is skin deep. Branding is to the bone. Once you have that and your community believes that you have that your four steps become all the easier and more obvious.

  3. Khalid Abbas

    September 28, 2011

    I think once you have the concept of your Brand.
    I believe there are 4 things to make your Brand succesful
    1.Believe in what you are doing
    2.Customer Service cant say enough
    3. Do whatever it takes to make your client happy (One person at a time)
    4. Get to know titbits of your clients personal life

  4. Andrei Bujaki

    September 28, 2011

    Defining what the client wants and his philosophy it is the biggest challenge, 99 % they don’t have the slightest idea .

  5. Gayle Cooper, CEcD

    September 28, 2011

    The very nature of communities makes it difficult to proliferate a community brand because, unlike a corporation where the word of leadership is gold, buy-in cannot be fully achieved. As a result, there is a subtle “dragging of feet” in applying the brand to the extent that it needs to be.

  6. Phillinda Roy

    September 28, 2011

    From my experience the biggest challenges can be getting buy in from everyone in the organization. And getting them to want to live up to the promise of the brand.

  7. Rajendra Grewal

    September 28, 2011

    • Selecting the “Brand Name” and the logostyle [ icon + colours]
    Also please consider the additional steps of WHY ? and HOW?

    To quote: ” I keep six honest serving men
    They taught me all I knew.
    Their names are WHAT, and WHY,and WHEN
    And HOW, and WHERE , and WHO”.

  8. Kimberly Ratcliff

    September 29, 2011

    Some excellent advice for beginners and good reminders on the basics for the “experts,” Ed!

    I believe that the brand comes alive by way of the community’s storytelling and engagement. This is a good test for the Promise and the best way to see the Promise in action.

    Agree with another commenter that the WHY and HOW are critical. The WHY delves into the rationale and reasoning, and the heart, behind the Promise. The HOW gets at to effective execution, which determines whether or not the stories get told, shared and activated to bring the brand to life.

  9. MIchael David

    September 29, 2011

    Establishing a definitive positioning which is the core of the brand

  10. Stephen Paz

    September 29, 2011

    The time (hard work) it takes to build trust, confidence, and a loyal client base willing to recommend your product/service (brand). [Reposted LinkedIn comment from 9/28/2011]

  11. Stacy Kauffman

    September 29, 2011

    All these are great points for developing an initial brand strategy, but what about measuring it? In the past year we have re-branded our company and our now in the process of tracking the success of the brand. We are using web analytics and checking in with some of our customers but what are some other approaches?

  12. Ed Burghard

    September 29, 2011

    @Stacy – The classic way to measure the impact of branding is a brand equity monitor study ( This quantitative research study gives you insight into your brand’s share of mind space. The operational way of measuring brand success is typically a combination of net outside sales, category share, and profit margin performance. For a community, an equity monitor study is still a good measurement tool. But, NOS, share and margin are not readily translatable. Instead, economic development professionals need to keep and eye on Gross State Product, deal conversion rates, job growth, average resident income, share of foreign direct investment and other similar in-process measures. Love to hear what other economic development professionals use as reasonable and affordable measures.

  13. Deepak Shah

    October 1, 2011

    Building a long term and sustainable credibility around the brand proposition.

  14. Rob Bee

    October 3, 2011

    Robert J. Bee • The greatest challenge in my view – convincing a companies leadership to invest time and money into brand building/developing and taking an active part in the process. Most challenging, but fundamental for the outcome.

  15. Rob Bee

    October 3, 2011

    The most important step is missing – defining the brand. Who are you? What makes your company/product unique/different/special.

  16. Kiara Chellani

    October 4, 2011

    I think positioning is the most difficult step in building th brand… What message you want to communicate, what message is been communicated and what has been interpreted through the message… Eg Kinetic when launched its first 2wheeler model they started with the TV had showing ladies riding the Kinetic two wheeler… after few mnths when sales figure were analysed company found less numbers… after doin detail research they got to know dat people take this product as female two wheeler.. then they started with a new campaign where they tried showing a family going on scooter, two guys going college etc. but still it was difficult to replace the positioning in customers mind….
    Kiara Chellani, Snr. Account Manager @ EggFirst Ad agency

  17. Tanya Carter

    October 5, 2011

    commitment to building a brand is the most difficult part. A brand is build over time and consistency, meaning staying true to a jointly agreed upon set of values which are adhered to when hiring staff, structuring departments, creating products, selling products and CRM – not with money and flashy advertising. 92% of all companies surveyed by Interbrand are not successful in creating and maintaining brands.

  18. Bob Diakow

    October 5, 2011

    Especially in the context of the article’s focus on community versus private enterprise, it is difficult to get the buy in across all segments. Usually the dynamic of different agendas causes people to protect their own turf, as well as not being open to the greater cause. Without having consensus, community brands fight a uphill battle in creating momentum as well as sustainability.

  19. Divyabh Mishra

    October 10, 2011

    Defining ‘Why’ you exist and having agreement on the definition internally. By Why I don’t mean making money but the philosophical and emptional connect people should have. It is this connect that drives behavior more than anything else. Apple is what it is because it thinks different. If Apple decides to release a new SLR camera tomorrow, people will buy it, because they know it will be different from whatever’s currently out there. So, if you define the ‘why’, rest of the steps are just execution.

  20. Ray Welch

    October 10, 2011

    One of the most important steps in brand building, and one which is the most difficult to stick with sometimes, is continued commitment to your communication plan. Advertising and marketing are expensive propositions and they seldom show immediate returns. Your organization needs to understand brand building is a long-term, continuous endeavor. Work out your strategy, build your plan, and make the commitment to see it through to the end.

  21. Rob de Voer

    October 10, 2011

    There are many aspects to a brand, and we can easily get sidetracked with one of its interesting aspects.

    Ultimately a brand is only succesful if it gets people excited enough to remember it and share it with others.

  22. Tristan Fahey

    October 20, 2011

    In today’s fickle marketplace, keeping your customer loyalty alive!

  23. […] a previous post, I introduced the 4-W model of branding. As a refresher, it begins with determining WHO you want to have a discussion with. Then […]

  24. […] What is the process to do all this? Check out my blog post entitled “Four Step Process For Building A Brand”. […]

  25. […] HERE to read about a 4-step process you can follow to create an effective bran d for your […]

  26. […] Once you have created a WIN list for your community, you are in a good position to begin working the rest of the 4-W brand-building model. […]

  27. […] own branding model (4 W model) is a bit different than the Bloom Consulting model. But, similarly I believe a single promise is […]

  28. Disha

    July 9, 2018


    I am really impressed with you for the selection of a new and unique topic and also the well written article on it. I always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in your post. Thanks for sharing with us..

  29. Sourav

    October 10, 2018


    Thanks for sharing informative article with us… nice post….

  30. Sourav

    December 21, 2018


    Thanks for sharing article with us….

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