There are many reasons why even well-meaning cities can end up being bland and uninteresting. The most common causes are that they lack bold vision, belief in themselves and don’t have a focus on their distinctive points of difference. On many occasions it’s because they try to be all things to all people and lack the will to stand for one thing around which they can build a competitive advantage. They may also be neglecting their natural, heritage or cultural assets. To get beyond this state takes vision, some good old-fashioned guts and stop trying to please and appease local interest groups.
Great place brands thrive when there is a touch of tension derived from making a stand around a singular brand concept that resonates strongly with customers and that competitors can’t easily match. It may sound simple, but achieving this takes courage, leadership and imagination – and a great amount of selfless teamwork.
Dare to be Different
To avoid the Anytown, USA syndrome a city cannot present itself as all things to all people, or claim that they “have it all” or are “the center of it all”. These platitudes simply dilute any competitive edge and the city ends standing for nothing and being a weak imitation of other places.
We rarely conduct a Brand Retreat or focus group for a community when someone doesn’t say, “This is the best place to live, work and play”. Further, many residents advocate that it should be the city tagline.
While researching for “Destination Branding for Small Cities” I Googled the term, “a great place to live, work and play” and variations thereof. I found over 4 million results. So if you are considering joining the masses in building a community brand based on being “a great place to live, work and play”, you have simply identified an entry level ticket to play the game. There are tens of thousands of places in the USA and even more around the world that can match that claim. You simply have to dig deeper to uncover the heart and soul of your city and what will help it stand out and be valued.
It is easy for residents to overlook the appearance of their streets, the absence of trees, the poor lighting, trash and bad signage that may have evolved over the years. Visitors, however, are much less forgiving. When attention has been paid to the aesthetics of a place, including preserving or enhancing its natural qualities and environments, the city gains the reputation as a “special place” or a “fun place to hangout”, and this goes a long way toward supporting its brand identity.
City Image Boosts Economic Development
Tourism is now one of the key drivers of the American economy. It’s a leading employer in communities across the country, and a highly efficient revenue generator for state and local governments. States and cities are increasingly treating their travel promotion budgets like strategic investments that will be rewarded with more visitors, more jobs and higher tax revenues. But gaining these rewards means not being seen as Anytown, USA.
When city leaders recognize that there is a direct link between their city’s image and reputation and its attractiveness as a place to visit, live, and invest it is off to a good start. If a city isn’t attracting more income, talented people, new residents and investment then it is slowly dying.
A 2015 landmark study by Oxford Economics analyzed the tourism performance of more than 200 U.S. cities over 23 years and found widespread economic benefits from those actively promoting tourism. The study clearly showed a direct link between marketing expenditure of destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and long-term economic growth.
To avoid being Anytown USA schedule a TDM Brand Retreat
The final part of this series will be posted next week.