Experience MasterPlanning


Malcom Allan, Managing Director of Place Matters, recently shared a white paper with me entitled “Experience Masterplanning”. Malcom presented the paper at the 2012 Destination Branding and Marketing Conference.

The paper highlight’s Malcom’s thinking on the need for place and destination marketers to recognize the need for creating a robust strategic plan and deployment process for their community as a way to ensure authenticity of the brand promise. Simply communicating a set of community attributes is insufficient.

Malcom’s academic background is in architecture and planning, with development economics as a secondary area of study. He developed the masterplanning concept over the last 20-years of his career as a place brand builder.

In the paper, Malcom says – “I have coined the term ‘experience masterplanning’ to describe the process I use to turn destination development vision and destination brand strategy into reality.”

I like the way Malcom looks at the brand promise through the lens of experiences. It is a great way for you to see your community the way people actually see it on a day in and day out basis. This perspective adds an important degree of objectivity to your strategic planning process.

Here is an example.

It is a post about Cincinnati from a person living in Portland, Oregon. Some of the observations (e.g. “It felt so … American”) would like be missed by people living in Cincinnati. I am confident the same is true for your community. When you live in a place you often lose site of some of the things that are obvious to visitors.

“I just got back home to Portland from a week-long trip to the Cincinnati area (though I jaunted down to Louisville and Lexington while I was there), and I have to say I was mightily impressed.

The hills, the architecture, the skyline, the food, the bars, the music… WOW! What an amazing time. Read a little about Over the Rhine before I went out there, but it really didn’t seem as bad as I was expecting it to be. Though, in fairness, I did see more cop cars in one place at one time (there were 12–I counted them) than I ever recall seeing… This was relatively near the Kroger on Vine Street.

Stayed across the river in Covington, and marvelled at the architecture. Ate at Skyline Chili (had to), visited UC, went to Northside… Bar? Or Tavern? Also went to Hofbrauhaus in Newport, and a few other places. We wandered around all over. Downtown, Northside, Covington, Walnut Hills, Avondale, St. Bernard, The Heights, Clifton, Norwood… Explored the Vine Street Hill Cemetery.

One thing I was struck by (not something unique to Cincinnati) is the marked and plainly visible differences between the rich and the poor neighborhoods. You DEFINITELY know when you’re in a wealthy part of town versus when you’re in an impoverished part of town. Seemed very segregated in this sense. Out here it’s a lot less obvious–run down looking houses can be owned by rich yuppies, or a decent looking house can be inhabited by working poor, and a lot of times they’re right next to each other.

The suburbs were clearly suburbs like you’d find anywhere else–Oregon, Washington, Ohio, Kentucky… But the urban core was just spectacular. A very pleasant surprise to find such a charming city in what I considered to be flyover country. Seemed to be a lot going on there–even though it was the middle of winter. Loved the snow and the cold. It was a dry cold–much more tolerable than the clammy wet we have here at times.

Definitely was quite the experience. It felt so… American. When I pictured “America” in the past, Cincinnati is pretty much exactly what I imagined. But when it came to what I expected Cincinnati to be, it defied what I imagined it to be completely.

I definitely wouldn’t mind if I had to go back there again! Never thought I’d go to Ohio (or Kentucky) and like it, but stranger things have happened. I know Cincy has its problems like anywhere else, but it still seems like a great little gem to be proud of and keep working on improving.”

Of course, in fairness, here is another view of Cincinnati from an outsider. In this case, Mark Twain – “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always twenty years behind the times.”


The point is that the image of your community is established, in part, by the experience somebody has when visiting it (or by the stories they hear/read of other people’s experiences). You can leave the experience up to chance. Or, as Malcom suggests you can masterplan them.

His paper provides a step-by-step overview of his experience masterplanning process and examples in the context of tourism. However, in my opinion experience masterplanning is not limited to travel & tourism. It is a relevant concept for capital attraction, retention and expansion as well. Understanding how a Company’s management and its employees experience your community will provide you important insights on opportunities for improvement. The more positive you make the everyday experience, the less likely a company is to relocate.

I encourage you to download Malcom’s paper and hope you glean some insights that you can use to improve the experiences people get from your community. Think outside the strict travel & tourism application and you will find Malcom’s perspective extremely interesting.

Special thanks to Malcom for his generosity in making his paper available for free download.

Download Malcom’s Paper

Just click on the cover image …

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