Monday, March 31, 2014

Powerful Reasons to Launch a Community Branding Effort

A well thought out strategy can make all the difference

By: Jim Walton
Brand Acceleration, Inc.

Why should we brand? It’s amazing how often I’m asked this question, and sure understand the confusion. It usually comes from the idea that a brand and a logo are one and the same. They aren’t.

What is a brand?
Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo or slogan. A beautiful and carefully supported visual mark can be a strong stimulus, but it must effectively convey a set of beliefs that are shared by all audiences. Consider McDonald’s golden arches. The simple sight of them conjures certain feelings and expectations that are relevant, differentiated from the competition, and believable.

The true definition of a brand is that it is a promise. When you see the McDonald’s arches, you know exactly what’s inside the store. You know what it will look like, smell like, how the workers will be dressed, and which food items will be on the menu. This is the promise. If you were to walk into a McDonald’s store and find that everything had changed, you would be seriously disappointed. The promise would be broken.

A community is no different. With a marketing message that is believable and differentiates your community from others, viewer and visitor expectations will grow. What you promise and what you deliver must match.

What is the benefit of branding?
Before I answer this question, let me first define “branding.” In this situation, I am referring to a program to define a community’s key messages and then effectively promote them to clearly identified and carefully selected audiences.

First, a branding effort provides a competitive advantage. People are much more comfortable doing business in or moving to a place they know. If they are aware of your community and have positive feelings about it, it’s much easier for them to see themselves living and working there.

Next, it builds pride and loyalty among businesses and people who are already there. When existing business executives and residents see that their community is being promoted with a believable message, they are more likely to feel that they made the right decision to be there. They are also more likely to become strong community advocates, suggesting to business colleagues that they move there. Another advantage is that it’s easier to attract talented workers to a place they know and for which they have a positive opinion.

Who are the audiences?
In the economic development industry, there are several audiences, each with different needs and expectations. It’s very important to fully understand those needs and to carefully communicate with them in powerful and effective ways. Site selection consultants, real estate professionals, and c-suite executives have very specific and demanding expectations that must be considered when developing marketing or branding efforts. They expect you to tell them how you can serve their needs and help them do business and make money in your community. It’s also important to carefully address the needs of existing businesses. If they’re considering and expansion, they need to know that your location is right and that your office is there to serve their needs. Trailing families cannot be forgotten. If your community is in the top three or five places being considered, the trailing spouse and family are much more likely to be an advocate for your community if they feel good about being there. If not, you could be off the list. If a message fails to resonate with each and every audience, the resulting disconnect can result in a less than successful campaign.

Regardless of what your community has to offer or which industries you are targeting, it is always important to carefully develop a positive brand message and support it with a smart and well-funded marketing effort. The goal, of course, is to grow awareness and plant seeds that will germinate and grow into opportunities for a strong economy where area residents can live the American Dream.

I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share your thoughts and personal experiences below.

Have a great week and I’ll see you soon,

Jim Walton
Brand Acceleration, Inc.
Branding // Marketing Communications // Public Relations
Indianapolis: 317.536.6255
Charlotte: 704:230:0394
Atlanta: 404.474.7980
Fax: 317.222.1425
Cell: 317.523.7380

Brand Acceleration is a full-service marketing communications, brand management and public relations firm with a focus on economic development branding and marketing.

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