Cities and Other Brands: Not Created Equal
By: Scott Burkhead
As a marketing manager you may know that your city, state, airport, or regionally themed restaurant, did not start this year on an equal footing with Eagle Brand Condensed Milk. There are many reasons, such as some place-based entities have stakeholders who don’t believe the rules governing brand awareness, trust and preference apply to them.
Understanding why might improve your brand
Take Eagle Brand condensed milk, for example. With the possible exceptions of the most popular destinations in the US, including Las Vegas, NYC, and Nashville, millions more people are buying cans of condensed milk than are buying hotel rooms in your city, or are moving there. Your place-based brand likely does not have the same level of awareness among your audiences, as Eagle Brand and its symbol, Elsie, the first ever spokes-cow. Owned by Borden’s, Eagle brand messaging is carefully crafted with each ad or earned media effort supporting the positioning and generating interaction with the consumer.
Eagle Brand marketing is a living program, adjusted as markets, consumer tastes, and competitors change. And while promotion may differ by audience, what does not change is the strategic positioning expressed by the line, America’s most trusted. This isn’t just a tag line; it is a positioning line supported by dozens of stories every year in targeted and mass media advertising, on-line recipes, and cross branding with complimentary products.
Silly? Not apples to apples?
Whimsical perhaps. Not silly. Strategic Positioning is the backbone of strong brands, consumables or places. There is no reason a city, or other place enterprise cannot position, or differentiate, their brand as surely as Eagle Brand differentiates theirs. Paris, Dodge City and Chicago seem to understand that and tell the stories that make them different and desirable. Like them, your city has something that makes it memorable and different from every other city. This essence, this strategic difference is what the world needs to know about. Some good mid-sized city branding examples include Austin, Chattanooga, and Provo-Orem.
Closing the gap
Every place has something that makes it interesting, unique and worthwhile to the audience you want to attract. Even tiny Spiveys Corner, NC , population 448. The smart citizens there identified a difference they could exploit. Starting in the 1960’s the town earned the title of Hollerin’ Capital of the World. Every September thousands flock to the tiny crossroads community for the fun. It has become a favorite attraction in Sampson County’s economic development tool box. The town’s strategic positioning is not the Hollerin’ Contest, the positioning is, Outrageous Family Fun. The hollerin’ contest is an event, not the positioning. Hollerin’ is the means to the real essence of the town.
High growth small city, Greeley, Colo., benefits from a different dynamic. Greeley is located only an hour from Denver, a dynamic large metro area, but offers prized small town attributes like less traffic, good schools, and relatively low housing prices. Greeley urges people and companies to Grow.Trust. Build.Invest. Not exactly an ear-worm positioning line, but the city knows what they have that makes them different, and the message is working well. One common asset shared by Eagle Brand and Greeley is Trust, a very powerful pillar of any positioning. Finding that uniqueness that makes your place great, and translating it into a message that resonates, is a great equalizer.
Condensed Milk and Place Based brands are the same, and different
Places require a different approach but like all brands they experience better results when managed. And like other product categories, places are living organisms. They function as part of a larger ecosystem of politics, business interests, and citizens’ need for basic services. Places are also dependent on nearby attractions, transportation, higher education, and the need to provide jobs for the next generation. And the businesses that create the jobs need the stimulus and positive halo created by a thriving economy. Cities are a composite of their various human and geographic components, and that mixture is valuable. It means something bigger than the list of it’s features. In Chattanooga, they shook it all up and the mix translated to Gig City, a title attractive to knowledge-based companies and the people who want to work for them. In Texas, Austin is Weird (and that’s cool).
A new logo or tagline isn’t branding
As with Eagle Brand Milk, and Toyota, and NYC, branding starts with strategic positioning: differentiating the brand. Consider this: no matter your product, there are an unknown number of factors contributing to your positioning. This includes need, desire, competitor behavior, timing, history, residual value, the economy, past public relations baggage or assets, and your marketing budget. These roll up to potential success or failure for any brand.
With the possible exceptions of timing and budget, these factors are out of your control. What you can control is your brand. More specifically, you can manage your brand stories so the people most likely to want a product similar to yours would really rather buy yours. That may include adding Eagle Brand Milk to my cake or staying in your city for the weekend, or moving to your city, or, moving my business to your city.
A Brand Audit can be helpful
Since places are part of a larger ecosystem, the fragmentation of messaging from various entities (city, airport, county, or world’s largest snake farm) can be counter productive. This is a throwback to the Destination Marketing Concept. A different approach is called Strategic City Branding. SCB recognizes that different messages coming out of one enterprise are not nearly as powerful as an organic brand story. A brand audit can help determine if you are focusing on the organism or only pieces of the ecosystem. Are you telling a compelling story, or only a series of sound bites? If you have questions about the audit process contact us. We may be able to help.