Place Branding = Place Making + Place Marketing

Ever wonder why most place branding efforts fail?

The short answer is because they focus exclusively on Place Marketing and ignore the critical role of Place Making. For communities with competitive disadvantages, this is a sure fire recipe for disaster.  As one of my former Board members once said – “It’s analogous to putting lipstick on a pig”.

Effective Place Branding starts with the realization that Place Making and Place Marketing go hand in hand.

They are related in the same way product development and product marketing are in the consumer packaged goods world.  An outstanding product marketing initiative rarely (if ever) makes up for a product’s competitive deficiencies.  First you fix the product and then you tell the world about it.  Similarly, competitive disadvantages in a community must be addressed before a Place Marketing initiative can work.

To start off on the right foot, in the US it is important to realize your place promise describes how you community uniquely enables the American Dream for current and future residents.  Look into the areas of Economic Satisfaction, General Well Being, Societal Satisfaction, Diversity Inclusion and Environmental Quality for clues on strategic approaches to improve your community’s ability to enable the American Dream. Recognize, different demographic segments in your community are likely having different experiences.  Understanding how your community looks through the eyes of sub-demographic groups is key to creating Place Making strategies that can effect positive change.  If you want a more granular look at the five categories I noted, just search “American Dream” on my blog.  I have several posts that break each category down.

Armed with an understanding of where your community is doing a great job and where it needs improvement, it is time to assemble a team of community leaders to begin the strategic planning process.  This team should include representation from local government, private sector leaders and critical sub-demographic advocacy groups (particularly those who are dissatisfied with current conditions).  This team needs the backing of your Mayor for both legitimacy and to increase the odds action team recommendations will actually lead to action.

Share the findings of your phase 1 research and prioritize the performance gaps based on importance to address.  Most communities can only hope to make meaningful progress on a few areas, so it is important to be selective.  Then facilitate candid and productive team discussions to identify the root causes of the dissatisfaction and to deepen team understanding of what the gap looks like to the average person.  It is always attractive to skip this step because it requires trust, honesty and the willingness to face the truth.  Don’t skip it.  The step is admittedly messy, But, working through the messiness is how you get to “ah-ha” solutions.  Many communities find this is a great step to bring in an outside facilitator to help ensure all voices get heard and bridges do not get burned when there is a genuine disagreement within the team.  It is much easier to fire an outside facilitator than to override a disruptive opinion from a colleague whose support is required for success.

When the team is confident they have a good understanding of what the gaps are and the root causes for their existence, it is time to move into problem solving mode.  This is the phase where action plans get created.  Benchmarking other communities that have successfully addressed the issue yours is facing is a great way to identify possible solutions.  This is also the case where innovation can lead to a competitive advantage.  Creating a unique solution can often result in bringing positive attention to your community.  Action plans should consider three big areas – 1) asset creation, 2) infrastructure, and 3) public policy/programming.  Whatever solution the team comes up with, it is important to get buy-in from the people you will count on to execute the action plan.  Think through who they are and invest the time to secure their enrollment.  Many time this will include securing funding.  In my experience, economic development organizations that lean on private sector leaders for problem solving tend to have a less trouble in this phase.

Once a set of strategies and action plans are created, the team must focus on enrolling decision makers.  many times this involves understanding how a strategy impacts delivery of specific group missions.  Help these groups see how successful execution of the plan leads to better delivery of their organizational mission.  This helps greatly increase the odds of positive action.  Of course, one of the more important groups is the Mayor’s office.

You cannot have a successful Place Branding effort without the strategic and tactical coordination of your Place Making and Place Marketing initiatives.  When you have the Place Making component down, then Place Marketing can tell the world about how wonderful it is to live and do business in your community.  You will have a story worth listening to.

Seven Phases For Success

Phase 1 – Gather data to identify and understand performance gaps.

Phase 2 – Assemble a leadership team to identify key drivers of the most important gaps.

Phase 3 – Develop strategies and action plans to address the gaps.

Phase 4 – Enroll critical players required for execution.

Phase 5 – Gain approval and execute the plan.

Phase 6 – Monitor progress and adjust the plan as necessary.

Phase 7 – Tell the world about why your community is the best place to achieve their American Dream.

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