During recent months I have conducted brand coaching seminars for small cities in USA, Canada and Australia. These sessions usually attract a wide range of interesting and challenging questions from participants. Interestingly, at the end of my presentations in all of these countries I been approached with a surprising number of questions or comments relating to intrusions and interference that had over-ruled or heavily influenced the defining of their city’s branding and tourism marketing. These seminar attendees lamented that they were compelled by city officials to introduce strategies that were deeply flawed and frequently failed once launched.
Place branding and marketing demand honesty and objectivity. Success calls for the city to be customer-focused, strategic, open-minded, and imaginative in order to reveal its brand in ways that will generate positive feelings, respect, and loyalty among target audiences. It must be crystal clear about what it is, what it does, why it is interesting, and why it should matter to its key audiences. In other words, success takes brutal honesty and reality-based decisions!
To the annoyance of many city leaders, the commonly held view of their city may be out of sync with what they personally see as its strengths. Successful place branding demands a consultative and community effort which ensures that the reality experienced by its customers must match the brand promise being conveyed by the city and its partners. When a brand strategy is shaped by the whim of an official it’s not likely to generate local support and enthusiasm – and quite possibly miss its target by a mile!
An added problem with city officials heavily influencing the nature of the brand is that in four years a new mayor, city manager or councilor might continue the cycle by changing the brand strategy to mirror their personal view. When we think of accountability in the branding and marketing of cities, we frequently think of the staff directly responsible for marketing. This accountability should also extend to mayors, councilors and city managers because when it comes to the city identity and image, they are playing with public funds, not to mention the city’s economic well-being in the form of income, jobs and new businesses.