Successfully Managing The Place Branding Exercise

Ed BurghardDefining your community’s relevant, competitive and authentic brand promise is hard work. It is a combination of science and art. You have to have a solid process, you have to do the research, and it is a huge help to have a third-party interpret the data without a preexisting bias.

Too often, communities decide to initiate a branding exercise only to end up disappointed in the results. Typically, that is either because the exercise wasn’t adequately resourced, or the Agency hired to facilitate the process did not have appropriate skills to do so.

When the exercise is done correctly, the identified brand promise guides investment choices in both the community’s communication and development plans. It sets the strategic direction for the community to pursue economic prosperity and it transcends political Administration time frames.

I thought it might be helpful to share my observations on the process with you.

6 Power Questions

Before contracting anybody to help your community with its branding exercise, it is always good to get answers to these 6 questions. Share the answers with the Agency or consultant you hire as input into the process.

  • What is the story we currently tell about our community?
  • What is the story others tell about our community?
  • What is the story we want to tell about our community?
  • What is stopping us from telling that story?
  • Who do we want to tell that story to?
  • What is the best way to tell that story?

10 Lessons From The Trenches 

Not every Agency is equally skilled at branding. In fact, many creative Agencies approach the process the same way they would in creating a communication campaign and see little-to-no difference between the two exercises. Based upon my personal, practical, experience, here are 10 things I’d suggest are worth your thought and a discussion with your community leadership.

  • Branding takes time and money. No money? Expect it to take more time.
  • Branding requires the discipline to stay on strategic message.
  • Branding is about making a promise and ensuring the capital investor experience is always consistent with it.
  • Branding is not for amateurs. Consider having the exercise facilitated by a professional. Note, most small creative agencies are very poor at branding. However, there are some exceptions.
  • If an Agency starts the conversation by talking about How to communicate instead of What to communicate, don’t hire them.
  • Branding involves management of product performance and competitiveness.
  • Product improvement in place branding often requires public policy reform.
  • You only want to do the exercise once. Remember, it requires a lot of time and a significant investment.
  • If you don’t manage your place brand, the competition will.
  • Be choiceful in selecting your strategic target. Over extending your dollars is the kiss of death.

6 Thoughts For Leaders

If you are responsible for leading your community’s branding exercise, I offer my congratulations. You are about to take a great learning journey. Here are 6 inside tips you may find improve your odds of success.

  • Seriously consider hiring a professional branding Agency. It will be money well invested. You can let them go after their work is done and hire a local creative Agency for the deployment phase.
  • Build your Marketing capability. Branding is an apprenticeship craft. In this field, gray hair and a proven track record matter.
  • Don’t allow short-term political goals usurp your branding objectives. Remember, politicians will come and go.
  • Evaluate your branding and sales activities separately, and then evaluate them together. These need to be synergistic.
  • Be prepared for criticism. Because everybody is a consumer, everybody thinks they are the world’s best marketer. You can’t stop it.
  • Make data informed and principle based decisions. Don’t let personal opinions drive direction.

What Is Your Experience? 

If you have run a community branding exercise, please share your observations on what worked well and what didn’t work so well. If you work at an Agency, please share your thoughts on how to ensure a successful outcome. The more real world experience we can draw from, the more successful we will all be.

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