Doing Place Branding Effectively

Remember It Is A Process. It Is Going To Take Time.  But You Will Make It As Long As You Do Not Give Up.

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Developing Effective Concept Statements To Guide Communication Strategy

A Concept captures a promise that resolves an unmet need or creates desire for an unrecognized need.  It promises a benefit to the potential user that offsets the risk of selecting your solution (product, service, location).  In place branding, the two most common situations Concept work should be considered are (1) to test the appeal of creating a new asset, making a new major investment in infrastructure or developing a new public policy/program, and (2) to develop a new Communication Message Strategy to support development of your community’s branding, marketing or sales plan. 

The primary objective of concept development is to “see” your community through the eyes of your strategic target audience.  This allows you to better understand what the driving benefits are and the positioning that will be most appealing and therefore worth the investment to communicate.

Components of a Typical Concept Statement


The Headline is a succinct, one line summary of the Concept’s most important benefit idea.  It should be about the benefit, clear and single-minded.  Since it summarizes the main idea, it should be the last thing that is written during the process.

Setting the Stage Statement: This describes the problem your place benefit will solve.  It is sometimes referred to as an “Insight” or an “Accepted Belief”.  It often expresses the capital investor’s (or potential resident’s) unmet need.  Sometimes though it imparts information or creates an aspirational possibility.  All Setting the Stage statements should be:

• Insightful – reflecting a deep understanding of how your location will help the potential capital investor (or potential resident)achieve  his/her near-term and long-term objectives.

• Integrated – clearly setting the context or establishing the need for the specific benefit.

Benefit Statement: This answers the question “What’s in it for me?”.  It is the most important element in the Concept.  All other elements of the Concept are intended solely to help the potential capital investor (or potential resident) understand and evaluate the appeal of the benefit.  Generally speaking there are two categories of benefits you can focus on:

• Performance Benefits – speak to the assets, infrastructure, public policies/programs your community uniquely offers.  More often than not, it is a combination of performance benefits that make the higher order benefit possible.

• Higher Order Benefits (aka Extended Benefits or End Benefits) – the expected result of leveraging the performance benefit. I always recommend communities consider using the higher order benefit of “better enabling residents to achieve their American Dream”.

The 4 D criteria for evaluating benefits are:

• Desirable – fundamental.  

• Distinctive – sets the product or service apart from competition and provides a basis for preference.

• Decisive – a single-minded and focused proposition.

• Drives Equity – supports the Brand Promise.

Reasons to Believe Section:  The Reasons to Believe (RTB) is the part of the Concept explaining why your community will deliver the promised benefit.  It gives credibility to your promise, and answers the question “Why should I believe you?”  The RTBs should clearly support your benefit, be easy to understand, and ideally be unique.  From a practical perspective, you should focus on no more than three RTBs in a concept.

Additional Practical Information Paragraph: This can include any information the executive will absolutely need to credibly assess interest in pursuing due diligence. 

Concept Development Process

STEP #1 – Review Data

Historical research, industry papers and meeting summaries can provide a wealth of information useful to creating draft concept statements.  The key is to mine the insights from these documents and leverage them as a starting point for the process.  Sometimes this step can help move the process along at an accelerated rate.  However, caution should be taken to ensure the historical assessment does not become a exercise of restating paradigms generally believed to be true but not actually built on true insights from potential users.  If available, the best data to review is quantitative primary research reflecting input from actual target users.  For communities, states, and geographical regions in the U.S.; I recommend looking at Xavier University’s American Dream Composite Index data to better understand the sentiment of residents living and working in your place.

STEP #2 – Brainstorm Benefits

Identification of the driving benefits is important to authorship of a quality concept.  Getting input of industry experts and/or new residents can help you be confident you are “seeing” your community through the “eyes” of your strategic target.  Failure to do so will more often than not result in creation of a concept that is appealing to project leaders, but not necessarily potential capital investors or potential residents.

The number of brainstorming sessions is not as important as the expertise of the people involved.  You will need to pre-select participants.  These sessions should be facilitated with an eye to ensuring minimal bias is introduced into the process.  The goal of this step is to define as many authentic benefits as possible.  Later in the process, the benefits will be laddered into a higher order benefit statement and prioritized based on contributory importance.

The key questions to ask are –

1. What is the need?

2. How does the location deliver against the need?

The output of the brainstorm session should be an extensive list of need-benefit dyads.  To keep the cost of conducting these sessions low, you can do them via video conference rather than face-to-face.  For perspective, sometimes the perceived anonymity of online conferences (often there is a feature that allows written communication with the moderator) sometimes stimulates novel ideas.  You should plan on two 30-minute sessions of around 6 people each.  Then assess where you stand and add more sessions if needed.

STEP #3- Convergence

With a small group of experts you pre-identify and invite to participate, take the need-benefit dyads and cluster them to identify higher order benefits.  Many of the dyads will reflect different aspects of a higher order benefit to the capital investor.  Whenever possible, try to tie the benefit to a bottom line performance impact.  This makes the higher order benefit easier to identify and articulate.

Once the clustering is completed, the benefits need to be prioritized.  There are two ways to consider.

1. Quantitative Research – The benefits can be assessed by your strategic target using a paired comparison methodology.  Responders are asked to select between pairs of benefits.  This forced choice approach helps you better understand which benefit(s) consistently are selected as the most desirable and can help ensure you create benefit statements for only the most compelling.  Advantage – minimal risk of wrong decision.  Disadvantage – cost.

2. Delphi Method – The benefits are evaluated by a jury of industry experts recruited from your location, ideally different than those who participated in the brainstorm session.  Advantage – cost.  Disadvantage – moderate risk of wrong decision.

This meeting should be done in-person.  The meeting should be scheduled for no more than 2-hours.  

STEP #4 – Author Concept Statements

In this step, you take the top 3 – 4 benefits and develop one-page concept statements following the format described above.  The best concept statements typically contain at least one of the following –

• Unique benefit that cannot be easily duplicated elsewhere.

• Or a unique secondary benefit if you find out the key benefit is a category benefit your community cannot own.

• Comparative claim versus a competitive community.

• Will somehow leverage an emerging need of long-term strategic importance.

• Offer a significant and sustainable cost reduction versus the current most popular approach to solving the problem.

STEP #5 – Selection

Once the one-page concepts are authored, they need to be tested with the strategic target audience to identify which will be viewed as most compelling by the greatest number of capital investors.  The primary behavior change that the “winning” concept must drive is “interest” (How probable is it that the potential capital investor (or potential resident) would spend time required to learn more?).  This is similar in principle to purchase intent. 

The best way to assess which concept is the strongest is by quantitative research.  People in your strategic target group are exposed to the concepts and asked to evaluate each.  The strongest scoring concept is the one you should ultimately select to move forward with to drive your Sales and Marketing Plan development.

The results of the quantitative research are also key to creating alignment among the various stakeholders who need to support the final positioning.  Without the benefit of quantitative research, the decision is based upon opinion of the group and inevitably the choice will not be unanimous.  It is much more efficient and effective to rely on the “voice of the customer” to guide this choice.

To keep costs down you can use a simple research design for this stage and a tool like SurveyMonkey.   The downside is that the research may not stand up to a rigorous review from an academic expert.

Next Steps

Once a final concept is developed, the next step is to bring it to life in your communication efforts.  Depending on your Sales and Marketing Plan choices, this can include both direct (face-to-face interactions) and indirect (web-site, email, letters, advertising, public relations, etc.) promotional tactics.  It is important to provide clear direction to whatever Advertising Agency you contract to bring your message to life creatively.  The result is your messaging stays focused on communicating the selected concept.  There are tools available to help.  These include –

• Brand Promise Statement

• Communication Plan Message Track(s)

• Holistic Touch Point Strategy Matrix

• Creative Brief

Collectively, these tools provide the degree of transparency required to ensure everybody involved in the communication of your location (or project) promise is singing from the same sheet of music even if they are singing different octaves.

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