Community Branding Basics

Seven Steps for Developing a Destination of Distinction

I’ve been fortunate enough to lead destination branding projects for over 35 communities. As I look back at the variety of cultures, assets and politics surrounding every effort, these fundamental points stand out as the pillars for success when you are beginning a community branding initiative.

1. Identify your core stakeholders.
Every community has a group of core stakeholders that guide the direction of the destination. Yes, this is the same group most often accused of controlling the political pocketbooks of the town. Truth is, they stay involved and know how to get things done. If this group includes Tourism, the local Chamber, the City and Economic Development you’re ahead of the game. Without a group of passionate people behind a community branding effort, nothing happens.

2. Engage everyone else in the community - somehow.
When people have a chance to voice their opinion they feel valued. Granted, the most vocal citizens are the same ones who show up at council each month and seem to do nothing but complain. Nonetheless, they are passionate, even if they are sometimes misguided. Naysayers will exist. You'll have to get over it and move on. Providing a vehicle for citizen input on the vision of a community is important. And it should be, it's their community.

3. Authentic experiences matter if you want to be remembered as somewhere distinct.
Everywhere, and I mean every single community, says they are a great place to live, work and play. That may be true, but it not a distinct statement. If you are going to really consider branding your destination, you must first decide to fully commit to leveraging your soon to be established USP (unique selling proposition).

4. What other people say does matter.
Have you ever gone house shopping and asked potential neighbors what they think of the neighborhood or community? Why wouldn't you do the same when learning the perceptions of your community? Ask neighboring community leaders and citizens what they think of your community. Good or bad, it's some of the most important feedback you could learn.

5. Taglines and logos are important, but way over emphasized.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to branding and marketing a destination. No one has ever made a decision to visit or move a business to a community because they liked their logo. This is probably the single most controversial area of community branding. Often a high-dollar price tag is assigned to a very complex branding project only to have one loud vocal citizen turn it into an overpriced logo design. Two primary tips to avoid this: 1) don't unveil a logo to celebrate the completion of the branding initiative (not sure I've ever seen McDonald's do this) 2)educate the public on the real insights of the project and how it will be used to make decisions moving forward.

6. Hire an outside (dare I say it) consultant to moderate the process.
Yes, the dreaded C word will instantly create cries to keep the business local; however, a local provider instantly creates conflicts over political alliances. An outsider brings a fresh unbiased perspective. Even Tiger Woods has a golf coach watch his swing.

7. Develop a marketing plan for success.
Most communities want to be recognized like Las Vegas, but seem to forget about the years of publicity, amount of investment and advertising that has been put behind it. Don’t expect to be recognized like McDonald’s, Nike or Apple if you’re spending like Taylor’s Bait Shop. More importantly, develop a marketing plan so you can see the affects of your efforts and measure the ROI of the dollars spent.