Why Some Places Avoid Branding: A Roundtable Discussion
Participants: Will Robin,Scott Burkhead,Bill Kamp
An unstructured discussion of our observations of Places that don’t take advantage of Place-Making and Branding as a way to reinvigorate their city or state.
Will:Got a question for you: Why doesn’t every place develop a strong brand? I mean, all the tools and support are available.
Bill:I think some people don’t really understand what a difference Brand can make.
Scott:Well, cities, towns, hotels, museums… obviously, they’re all different. They all have different issues. But the one common thing that we have seen is the lack of ownership. Someone has to own the idea of branding. They have to say, “This is my project. I’m going to go out and find support for it, and we’re going to transform our community.” Others say, “We’re already involved in Place Making. We’re doing some nice things. We’ve revitalized downtown. We’re doing this and that.”
Bill: I can think of a bunch of reasons why that isn’t enough. My response to that is, absolutely. I mean, that’s wonderful. However, if you don’t tell anyone about how you’re different from all the other towns working on Place Making, then how much progress can you make?
Scott: You just picked the brass ring… if Places don’t position themselves in a way that differentiates [them] from all the other Places, you aren’t going to meet any significant development goals—or any tourism goals that you might have.
Will:More than half of the City Managers I’ve talked with in the past few months all complain about money. And when I dig a little, I find out there’s money being spent. It’s just hard to find. Nearly every city department has an information or marketing or advertising budget.
Scott:I’ve found that whether you’re a major metro area, like Chicago, or a mid-size city, like Raleigh or Austin, or even a small town, like Wilson or Rocky Mount in North Carolina, or Collinsville in Oklahoma… there’s never enough money. There’s never enough money to do everything that people want. You get back to, Who’s the advocate? Who is the one person that says… and it could be the mayor; it could be the city manager; it could be the economic development folks. But somebody has to say, “Look, this is important. I know we have limited resources, but we need some of those resources for this.”
Bill:This also gets to the difference between Destination Marketing and Strategic City Branding. If you tie all those smaller budgets to the big core idea—the Brand—then you can begin to move forward.
Scott:That’s right. And, of course, it starts with why are you doing it? What do you want to make happen? Well, if you’re a community where your population has declined, or is static over the last few years, or maybe is growing just slightly, you have to decide what you want to do about that. And sometimes a Place has been involved with this work for awhile and they’re doing great! But they recognize that they need a specialist group to help [them] get to the next step. Place making is an absolutely wonderful way to start. But it is one piece of the program.
Bill:We’ve also talked about the cities that were on the outskirts…
Scott:… in the Golden Halo…
Bill:Right. Nice towns. People who lived there loved it… near an expanding metro area and suddenly grew like crazy, and ten years later all the things that made the town attractive were gone.
Scott:That’s another case for positioning and branding. Establish your goals and values, and you can control what your community becomes.
Will:What’s a simple definition for place making?
Scott:Yeah, well place making. I’m thinking of… a town like… I can use Kinston, North Carolina, as an example. They’ve gotten a grant to improve a distressed downtown district. They created subsidized housing for working artists that are revitalizing the town. Artists are flocking to Kinston and making paintings on buildings, on street corners. New sculptures and statues are popping up all over town. They attracted a chef who has a restaurant that draws diners from Raleigh, seventy miles away. That’s interesting. Everyone is not going to come to Kinston just to eat, or see the art, but it’s part of it.
Place making is taking your city, your town, your state and looking at all the ways that you can improve that for the good of the people who live there. Because if you improve it for the good of the people that live there, it’s going to be attractive to other interests— maybe for economic development. If I’m going to put a new plant in, and I’m looking for a location, and I want a good place for my employees, well, I want a place [where it’s] comfortable to live. That’s what place making is. Make the place better, more inviting, more attractive, and more functional.
Will:If nobody knows about it after you make all these improvements and make this city nice and the community nice, you go out and tell people. You mentioned about maybe positioning. Would you explain positioning a little more? And why spend money on branding… get a freelance designer to create a new logo and run some ads on Google?
Scott:Yeah, strategic positioning is differentiating one product from another. It not only differentiates product, but towns, airports or a museum or a hotel. How do you differentiate who you are and what you are from competitive entities? The second part of it is, How do you differentiate yourself in a way that is just sort of standalone, that people say, “Oh, that’s an interesting place. I’d like to look into that place, you know? I’d like to go visit. I’d like to live there.” Positioning is the perceived differentiation of the brand.
A lot of people get this twisted up and think it is something done to the brand. Positioning is not something you do to the brand. The brand is the brand. You’ve got it. I mean, you are who you are. You can get better or different, but positioning is the work of expressing your brand so that other people understand your strengths and how good you are. Las Vegas is a great example, you know?
Bill:What goes on here stays here.
Scott:What goes on here stays here. Just a little bit risqué. But there are many, many other examples. Chattanooga is really interesting. Chattanooga is a place for pioneers. What’s that mean? Well, it’s Gig City. Chattanooga has created a broadband positioning that attracts thought leaders, attracts entrepreneurs, attracts clean industry. Chattanooga 12 years ago was called the dirtiest city in America. An old mining town, it has positioned itself as a place for new pioneers. That’s positioning. That’s differentiation. It doesn’t mean that they’re trying to be different from Knoxville or from Atlanta, although they certainly are. But what it means is they’re attractive to a whole new way of creating wealth… to a whole new crowd of people that think in a different way.
Bill:We need to wrap this up.
Scott: Yeah, okay. Just a couple of things… I want to mention this because many managers we talk with are working with a local ad agency and are concerned about disrupting that relationship. We work very closely with a number of clients who already have advertising agencies. We’re not an advertising agency. We’re a strategic branding organization. We’re happy to hand it off after the development is completed, to hand off the messaging, the recommendations, the positioning, and the brand development to the local agency who then takes the program into execution.