The challenges faced in developing brand propositions for regions, districts and cities.
If you want to promote where you live and/or work, these days you need to have a location ‘brand’. Those responsible for marketing locations have learnt the lessons from branding. If you want your location to stand out, it has to stand for something and for something meaningful for your target audience – just like brands such as Sky, Virgin and BT.
Branding theory is compelling when looking to develop a brand for your location. Actually delivering it, for something as complex and (probably) diverse as a region, district or city, is a challenge of a much greater order than that faced by a marketing manager looking after a brand with a clear and distinct heritage and image, such as those mentioned above.
The challenges faced when working on location branding are significant; –
Local leaders will want to promote the best possible image for the location – even if this is some way from reality.
Many local people, who experience your location every day, will have a more realistic view. Any attempt to just present a glossy image, without a basis in fact, will be met with a sceptical response and a lack of support.
There may not be an in-depth understanding of marketing, propositions, and positioning, amongst your colleagues and local leaders. It will be your responsibility to involve, collaborate with and educate decision makers and your peer group in these matters.
Audience and stakeholder needs differ. You need to develop both an overarching proposition and message, and a number of tailored messages to meet the differing perspectives and needs of each audience and stakeholder group.
Audience insight and segmentation;
You need to know who your audiences are, and understand their attitudes and needs.
Recognise that it’s a very competitive arena;
The fact that your location needs to promote itself is a major part of the challenge. Many of the most successful locations – against which you are competing – don’t need to try as hard as you. The media, word-of-mouth and published surveys do the work for them. Many of those locations deemed most desirable, such as Harrogate, Cambridge and St Albans, don’t need – or even want – to attract more visitors or inward investing businesses.
Faced with this daunting list, how can you go about developing a location branding proposition which can deliver something worthwhile?
- Understand where you are now, warts and all. Whatever you say must have an evidence base. However, it’s important that you do look out for positives – and there will be some.
- Seek out those features of your location which make you distinctive. This word has been carefully chosen. There may be many locations similar to your own, which can make similar claims. Your location needs to stand out. At the same time, you should not seek to be different just for the sake of it. Many in your target audiences need to be able to see something they can recognise.
- Create propositions at both the overall level and for each audience group you need to address. Make sure however that they are linked under an ‘umbrella’ idea, concept or phrase, as illustrated below from the Higher Education sector;
Finally, take your colleagues with you along the journey. Explain your approach and rationale to them. Ask them for views. Involve them in developing the location branding strategy. That way, you can win their buy-in and advocacy, and create momentum.
Taking all of these essential elements into account will help you create and promote a successful location brand.