Differentiate or Be Ignored

One of the branding thought-leaders I admire is Kevin Lane Keller. Kevin is the E.B. Osborn Professor of Marketing at Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College. Previously he was on the faculty of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, where he also served as the head of the marketing group. He has served as brand consultant to some of the world’s most successful brands, including Disney, Ford, Intel, Levi Strauss, Nike, Procter & Gamble, and Starbucks. I first met Kevin when he gave a presentation on product differentiation at Procter & Gamble, and I have been following his work ever since.

In a lecture Kevin delivered to an audience at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg, he described eight specific characteristics of strong brands. I’ve taken creative license to translate them into economic development terms. Hopefully I’ve stayed true to the spirit of Kevin’s perspective.

8 Characteristics of a Great Community Brand

  • A deep and visceral understanding of what their community promise means to both the business community and citizens, allowing local private and public sector leaders to tell a relevant, competitive and authentic story.
  • Properly positioning their community. As important as any points-of-difference you create to differentiate your community, are the points of parity. Points of difference create a strong, favorable and/or unique association. Points of parity – issues on which your community competes with its competitors – are just as necessary. There are two kinds of points of parity: the first is Category or Necessary types of parity (such as available labor); the second is Competitive points of parity, which involves negating the competitors’ point of difference telling your community’s story. Often the point of difference is well established, but your community’s point of parity needs to be strengthened.
  • Providing superior delivery of desired benefits. This relates primarily to the experience private sector leaders have with public officials at all levels.
  • Maintaining the authenticity of your community’s promise through a proactive development approach to asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy reform that helps companies in your community be even more susscessful.
  • Establishing credibility for your community’s promise and creating an appropriate personality and imagery when communicating it. There are three key dimensions to credibility: expertise, trustworthiness and likeability. Few communities excel in all three areas, but those that do are very competitive.
  • Communicating your community message with a consistent voice and sufficient volume over time.
  • Employing a full range of complementary branding elements and supporting marketing activities, all of which ought to be integrated to achieve the best blend. But a community’s promise is not captured in just a name, logo, symbol, or slogan. It is also being authentic and delivering an experience consistent with that promise.
  • Strategically design and implement a brand hierarchy, as your community is often part of both a larger MSA and a state. The two main basic principles are those of relevance and differentiation. The principles of relevance argue that equity is created at the highest hierarchical level possible. Differentiation implies that at any level down, your community promise must be sharply defined in order for potential capital investors to understand the differences between the various location options in your area. In short, the key to managing a regional market portfolio is to maximize the value of the regional brand for communities in the region but minimize overlap in the messaging delivered by individual communities. Local community messaging should support regional messaging and explain how the local community uniquely delivers against the regional promise.

What Are Your Thoughts?

How does your community stack up against the 8 characteristics of a great community brand? Which of the characteristics do you find the most challenging to address? How successful has your community been in making improvements in the competitiveness of its promise?

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