We have recently encountered situations where advertising, web design, visual design and communications agencies pitch for, and win, the development of brand strategies for cities and regions with disastrous results. Unfortunately, few of these agencies had any tourism or city brand planning credentials. Brand planning can be a very confusing situation for city leaders and marketers or panelists on a selection committee. In some cases, unsuspecting locals have been lured by the “glitter” of the advertising examples and designs presented by these agencies, causing them to lose sight of their original Request for Proposal (RFP), objectives and the role of advertising and designs in the development of a city branding strategy.
We understand the need for ambitious cities to have great advertising, designs and communications. But those actions come after the overall strategic framework is established. Otherwise, it is like engaging a painter to design your home because you like the colors he chooses and how he will finish the job. The first step is to establish the right architecture for the house with a specialist architect.
The first important consideration is to recognize that brand strategy development and marketing implementation are not the same thing. The project should be divided into two stages: (1) the formulation of the brand strategy, requiring strong brand research, analytical and strategic skills, as well as a detailed knowledge of tourism, economic development, experience development and placemaking, and (2) the strategy and marketing implementation, possibly requiring advertising agency, web design, public relations agency, and social media expertise. And it isn’t a marketing plan! While some firms will claim to do both strategy development and implementation, it pays to gain a clear understanding of the depth of their city and destination brand strategy experience. Recruit specialists appropriate to each phase.
The branding firm selected for strategy development must have the capacity to also consider organizational issues, partner relations, tourism and relocation dynamics, economic development, experience development and investment, as well as placemaking and wayfinding – and yes, they must also be creative and capable of designing a knockout visual identity system.
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