Action Plan For Winning

Characature 3x2 I have often been asked, what does it take to win in place branding? Is there a secret formula that can be applied? Are there some things I can concentrate on doing really well that will help my community be more successful?

Like many other things, the answer is a qualified NO. Place branding (or branding in general) is hard work. It takes a good value proposition, adequate resources, time, discipline, strong leadership and patience to succeed.

But, since the question begs a better answer, here are a few things you should consider that won’t necessarily guarantee success, but will certainly enhance the probability of it.


Know Who To Talk With

You need to develop strong prime prospect choices and insights based on an understanding of how they make capital decisions. I wrote a post on defining your WHO target that provides a set of “power questions” to ask yourself in order to ensure you have identified a target audience that has a higher than normal probability of needing/wanting what your community has to offer and is worth investing in communicating with.

Shotgun, or “all comers” approaches are both inefficient and typically ineffective. The approach fosters forgettable messaging and positions your community as good for everybody, but not right for anybody. The more discerning you are in your targeting, the easier it is to identify unique insights to build compelling messaging from. The more general you are, the higher the likelihood you will fall back on the generic 3-L approach of positioning your community on Location, Labor and Life Quality. This kind of undifferentiated is not compelling and will have little to no impact on how your community is perceived.

Have Something Worth Saying

Everybody advises this, but most community leaders find it a real challenge. They have a hard time differentiating their community from others. There are three primary reasons why –

  • Your community may in fact not be competitive. If this is genuinely the case, my counsel has been and is to work on creating a point of difference worth talking about. Thinking you can fix this problem by capturing the attention of capital investors is fundamentally flawed. Even if your marketing effort is successful beyond your wildest dreams, the only thing it will accomplish is to have more companies evaluate and conclude that there is nothing special about your community. In consumer packaged goods terms, great marketing cannot make up for a bad product. You need to first fix the product.
  • You may be overly focused of identifying a unique benefit for locating in your community. Dr. Kevin Lane Keller’s points-of-difference (POD) and points-of-parity (POP) model suggests your community’s uniqueness may lie in how it delivers the desired benefit rather than the end-benefit itself. Every community tends to be unique in its activity system to deliver a desired benefit. This is worth looking closely at when creating a value proposition. For example, most communities can legitimately claim employees can obtain quality medical care. How many communities though can claim it is delivered through the Cleveland Clinic?
  • You do not understand the capital investment decision well enough to have identified actionable insights. While it is true, virtually all companies need the 3-Ls, there are significant differences in what companies feel are mandatory for long-term success. Companies, which rely on high-speed, high-capacity Internet connectivity, will place that as a more important criterion in their investment decision process than companies that require a multi-modal transportation system might. The key is to understand your target audiences investment decision process as well as possible so you can differentiate the “must haves” from the “nice to haves”.

Say It Well

Even if you have a compelling story to tell a potential capital investor, if you tell it poorly it will never be heard. Your community’s message needs to be translated into a heart and mind opening campaign that is media neutral. I have written several posts on story telling that might be helpful to you –

Every Community Has a Story – What’s Yours?

Tell Your Story Well

Learn to Tell Your Community’s Story

More on Storytelling

To support telling a great story, you need a well-conceived and integrated communication plan. This plan identifies your tactical choices (e.g. website, trade shows, magazine advertising, public relations, etc.) for where you will tell your story. Key is to ensure you are telling it through channels your target audience uses to obtain information to help them decide which communities to include in their request for proposal short list. If your target audience doesn’t read a particular magazine, it doesn’t matter that the advertising space is offered to you at a 50% discount. It is still throwing good money down a hole.

Invest in Making Your Story Even Stronger

Be sure you have a long-term strategic plan in place to guide economic development in your community. The Plan should identify how you will create an even more compelling competitive advantage by further leveraging your point-of-difference. This is going to look like investing in infrastructure, creating new supporting assets, or public policy reforms that make the promised benefit easier to be realized. If you invest in improving the story, you always have news you can share that keeps your community’s story interesting.


Is there a silver bullet to help you better brand your community? NO, it unfortunately comes down to hard work. But, the good news is that it is possible if you approach the challenge in a strategic manner. A real challenge, not identified above, is the impact of public leadership change. For community branding, I think every community regardless of size should have a minimum 10-year strategic plan in place to guide their economic development. The challenge is that political timeframes tend to be measured in 4-year increments, so plans from one Administration have a hard time surviving the transition to a new Administration (even if it is the same political party). The solution, in my opinion, is for the private sector business leaders to lead the strategic planning process in communities. These leaders are used to long time horizon plans and have a vested interest in seeing choices on assets creation, infrastructure investment and public policy reform executed as planned. If you are an economic development professional, it is a good test to evaluate how deeply involved private sector leaders are in the strategic planning, review and deployment process. Lack of leadership involvement greatly increases the risk of failure.

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9 Comments so far

  1. Ed Roach

    July 16, 2012

    Assembling a team representing stake holders, establishing brand values, develop positioning based on a strategy of differentiation, validate discoveries and developing a complimenting brand image. These are my key components. My process is flushed out with secondary analysis as well.

  2. Brian Monger

    July 16, 2012

    Good article Ed

  3. […] you are communicating for your community, State or region? Are you simply speaking about the 3 Ls of Location, Labor and Life Quality? Do you believe that is sufficient to win, or do you believe […]

  4. Edward

    July 17, 2012

    @Brian – Thanks! I appreciate you taking the time to comment and for following the Strengthening Brand America Project.

  5. Phil Seeeld

    July 22, 2012

    In the course of my consulting with Michael Kanazawa, a Director of Bedrock Brands, we concluded that a winning brand plan must address four organizational “impediments.”
    The first step in clearing the pathway between brand strategy envisioned and brand strategy achieved is to remove confusion regarding the concept of branding. Lack of shared brand vocabulary severely limits an organization’s ability to establish a productive internal dialogue regarding branding issues. However, providing the organization with more coherent brand terminology is of little value unless all internal groups also share a core branding principle—that a brand reflects the degree to which experience matches expectations. Likewise, the value of having a shared understanding of branding fundamentals and the brand management process is contingent on an organization’s ability to coordinate operations. Unfortunately, there is an inherent tendency for functional groups to operate independently within an organization, making it impossible to manage the Customer Experience as an integrated journey.
    It is a sizable accomplishment for an organization to overcome these three obstacles and unify all branding efforts with a single, functional brand lexicon, a shared understanding of the brand management process and, lastly, cross–function operating systems. But it does not guarantee sustained success. To achieve long term brand management success it is imperative that the organization evaluates and refines the process on a continuing basis, in order to respond and adapt to external factors, such as the overnight emergence of social networking and its powerful influence on managing brands.
    The key to a winning brand plan is a “brand management model,” simple enough to establish a common understanding of the fundamentals of branding across the organization; yet comprehensive enough to coordinate all branding activities, evaluate performance and guide process modifications.

  6. […] Twitter · Facebook · LinkedIn · The Burghard Group | Place Brand Masters. Enter your email for updates… About Strengthening Brand America Insight from Experts Resource Center Place BrandAID Sponsors …  […]

  7. […]   […]

  8. Jean Ann Berthold

    January 15, 2013

    Yes, Ed, simply put…out-branding the competition is creating unique messages that convey compelling, credible and demonstrable value propositions for your product/technology/company to the target customer, who then becomes a hero in his own world for making the decision to spend his company’s money with you, instead of with the competition. Most importantly, you know you’ve out-branded the competition when this customer is so delighted by his decision, that he chooses to share his heroism experience with your brand with his peers outside his company. Now that’s truly winning the Branding Game. 🙂

  9. Nancy Dwyer Chapman

    January 15, 2013

    Good trademark counsel is a genuine help! I cut my teeth on trademarks at P&G in its Legal Division nearly 40 years ago, and we always stressed to brand managers the importance of selecting and protecting a good trademark (aka brand name) for a product early in the development process.

    Protecting that name, and expanding it judiciously with line and mark extensions if that is an appropriate marketing path (and keeping that extension nomenclature protected) is equally important. AND you don’t want that brand to become the generic – and therefore unprotectible – name for that product or activity. Nurturing a business has many branches.

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