This is the second part of the blog I posted Monday. When discussing the differences in branding places and consumer products with friends in advertising agencies, they frequently maintain that there is no difference between the two. To some extent they are correct. However there are differences that have a profound influence on the process. These relate to the complexities of ownership, consultation, decision-making, and product development.
A city has many faces and identities. For instance, it may be known as a destination for medical services, culture, education or shopping as well as being home for residents, each with different levels of political, financial and community support.
While a corporate brand may need approval by a marketing team or Board, a city or downtown brand usually requires endorsement by several public organizations in which the players may never see completely eye-to-eye. Another problem for many city brands is that important leaders frequently do not have strong marketing or branding credentials, nor do they have a customer-focused perspective. Yet they can exert considerable influence over the process and end result. A place brand must overcome enmity and rise above politics. Support from political leaders is vital and their understanding must be nurtured because they may not readily recognize the direct relationship between decisions they make on a daily basis and the reputation and attractiveness of the city.
These community-based brands must withstand a level of public debate that consumer brands rarely endure. A city brand must stand the test of time, public debate, political scrutiny, media
questions, and the analysis of marketing partners and residents. The best way to insulate the brand from this scrutiny is to generate buy-in and involvement through an open consultative process.
Place branding usually requires an approach that is more conciliatory and inclusive than that found with most consumer products. For instance, being very specific with the positioning may unintentionally alienate some locals and cause controversy. Conversely, diluting the brand to the point where it pleases everyone results in losing its strongest competitive edge and ends up being seen as weak and irrelevant.
Additionally, unlike a consumer product such as a soft drink, cities are not discrete or independent entities. A city is much more complex and cannot be reformulated or terminated if it is not popular or is under-performing. Even the prospect of changing the name of the city can prove difficult.
Project leaders who are aware of the differences between the branding of places and consumer goods are in a much better position to adapt to these challenges when they become evident. Their
presence should not represent a barrier, but a need for further fine-tuning – and a lot of patience!
This is an extract from Destination Branding for Small Cities – Second Edition.