How to Get Stakeholder Support for City Branding
by: Joshua Cruce, PMP
A strategic city branding project must reflect the cumulative personality of the community and in some cases, the county or region. It is crucial for branding success to have all stakeholders represented in the process and ensure their input is reflected in the brand. This involvement can be both rewarding and it can also lead to significant difficulties if stakeholders are not properly identified and managed throughout the process, such as delays in approvals and lack of support for the final recommendation. This is very common with city branding projects, as the stakeholder ecosystem is very complex with a variety of interests, goals, objectives and desired outcomes for the brand. Branding projects will likely fail without a detailed dive into the stakeholder environment and understanding who all of the players are, from the average resident to the Mayor. Stakeholder management is a simple, often overlooked, tool to help branding leaders incorporate all of the needs of the affected community. In a few steps, we can help you understand how to identify typical stakeholders and manage their involvement within your branding project.
Step 1: Stakeholder Identification: Brand Audit
The first step in identifying all interested stakeholders is to commission a brand audit. An audit is a detailed analysis of a cities environment, stakeholders, objectives, target markets, and current intangible infrastructure. All identified stakeholders are impacted by a brand change in varying degrees and most can be prioritized by the degree to which they will be affected by the city brand.
Primary Stakeholders are people or groups that stand to be directly affected, either positively or negatively by the branding effort. In some cases, there are primary stakeholders on both sides of the equation: a change that benefits one group may have a negative effect on another.
Secondary Stakeholders are people or groups that are indirectly affected, either positively or negatively, by a branding effort. For example, if a brand objective is to highlight tourism in the area, businesses that support seasonal tourism will benefit positively from the increased traffic,but the year around residents might be negatively impacted by the increase in traffic and increase in prices during peak seasons.
Key Stakeholders are people or groups who might belong to both or neither of the first two groups. This group can have a positive or negative effect on a branding effort. They are often important members of the city or region engaged in the branding effort.
The audit allows the sponsor to not only identify all stakeholders, but understand how each stakeholder views the current brand image, and which stakeholders can become supportive champions of brand evolution.
Step 2: Stakeholder analysis: Engagement and Influence
When it comes to branding a city, there are are many stakeholders who will be impacted by the outcome of a brand evolution. Once we have identified these, it is time to classify them based on level of engagement with the project and what degree of influence they have on the success or failure of the rebranding effort.
It is important to stakeholders at all levels to have a voice and feel they are being heard throughout the branding project. Accurately classifying the engagement level will ensure the agency and project sponsors can communicate to all groups appropriately. Stakeholders can generally be placed into five engagement classifications:
- Unaware – Unaware of the project and the potential impacts
- Resistant – Aware of the project and potential impact, and resistant to any change
- Neutral – Aware of the project yet neither supportive nor resistant
- Supportive – Aware of the project and potential impacts and supportive of change
- Leading – Aware of the project and potential impacts and are actively engaged in ensuring the project is a success
Understanding the engagement level of stakeholders tells us who wants a seat at the table, but doesn’t tell us in what order their seats should be. To identify the ability to influence the project, we use multiple classification models to accurately determine the degree of influence stakeholders have on the rebranding project:
- Power / Interest Grid – groups all stakeholders based on their level of authority (power) and their level of concern (interest) regarding project outcomes.
- Power / Influence Grid – groups all stakeholders based on their level of authority (power) and their active involvement (influence), in the project.
- Influence / Impact Grid – groups stakeholders based on their active involvement (influence) in the project and their ability to effect changes to the project’s planning or execution (impact).
Step 3: Stakeholder Management
At this stage, we have identified all stakeholders and analyzed their level of power, engagement and influence to the success of the rebranding project. The next step is to implement a stakeholder management plan which will outline how we will engage all stakeholders. A plan will vary depending on the stakeholder landscape, and the approval process required. Typically, we find the following best practices lead to the most success in a city or regional branding protocol:
- Identify the key stakeholders who can create a project success coalition. This group will be the project champions and can help the agency build support for the strategic branding campaign and reach the cumulative goals identified for success.
- Identify / create an executive input board of no more than 4-6 key stakeholders that represents the people or groups who will be informed of the projects progress at various stages of development. Ideally, the board will include representatives from the major interested parties, and together can speak for the city or region’s needs.
- Create scheduled update sessions for the larger groups of stakeholders within the broader community. During these sessions, the branding agency and executive input board will present a conceptual vision of the positioning, and open the floor to questions, comments and note objectives.
The feedback from the community is important. After all, it is their city. If there are constructive comments (and there usually are) incorporate these into the finished positioning statement. The goal is not to confuse the effort with everyone’s voice, the goal is reaching a deeper understanding of who and what the city or region really wants to be. We find great insights through community engagement, however, it is critical that the final approval on the finished branding be given by the executive input board. While the larger stakeholder group gives input, and has been listened to, the final branding work should not be approved by popular vote.
If you are a department, city, county, or regional leader who knows it is time to improve your economic development efforts, become discovered in the larger economic ecosystem, or are looking to highlight your infrastructure improvement efforts, give us a call. Our team of strategy experts and certified project managers can help unify your stakeholders and help drive your community toward economic excellence. We are happy to provide a no obligation call to hear your thoughts, and suggest ways branding can help achieve your goals and objectives.