Summer of Branding: Pt. III


This past week I participated in a Media Training Seminar in High Point for local leaders sponsored as a free event by the High Point Convention and Visitors Bureau and Visit NC.  First off, brilliant idea for the local CVB to help local leaders and business owners get training in such an important area, especially for places that are going through a transition or change of sorts. And because of the access of the sponsors of the event, they were able to attract some big and experienced names to provide that training. Truly a great service to the community.

But what was I doing at a media relations and messaging training? Well, I have an extensive history working with the media and in the newsroom pre-Knight Soul of the Community. But also because there is big overlap between place brand, messaging and strategy. Knowing your place brand and talking about place brand are two different things. And while knowing it is important, it is not enough. You have to be able to effectively talk about it to the press and others to activate the brand.

So last week I talked about the reasons why place brand is important: it gives you the context that should be informing every place-effort in the community and keeps you focusing on your strengths as a place and activating them to protect you from mission drift and selling out. As I also said last week: place brand is the authentic representation of who you are as a place and what you are striving to be.

Therefore, when you are talking about your place brand, there are basically 3 messaging buckets:

  1. Why place brand is needed,
  2. What is the place brand, and
  3. The “so what” of place brand.

Here’s example brand statements for each:

1. Why Place Brand:

“Today we see a new paradigm.  It’s no longer: People go where the jobs are. Today people go where they want to live. And the jobs go where the people are. ”

-Mayor Mick Cornett, Oklahoma City

Sometimes the hardest things for place leaders to do is admit change and a course correction is needed. We struggle to admit our “bless your heart” moments in a place, but we shouldn’t. They provide the justification for why a new direction is needed or a crossroads stands before us. When our personal relationship is having a moment, we can either stick our heads in the sand or face it. Facing it can be harder, but ultimately is the best choice.

We have to be able to say why place brand is so important these days, even if we admit mistakes or outdated thinking to justify why we are here. Mayor Cornett, to his credit, went even further in vulnerability to explain what ended up being a highly successful placemaking initiative in his community:

“Despite the city dangling $100m in incentives, United Airlines told Oklahoma City: ‘At the end of the day, we can’t see our employees living here.’ 

That was an expensive wake-up call on why place matters that led to a sea change for us.”

Place branding can’t seem out of the blue, because it feels gimmicky. Messaging effectively about the why of place brand grounds it in context and understanding, making it a critical first step.

2. What is the Place Brand:

“No matter the size of your dream or the scale of your ambition, we are the Land of the Possible. ”

-Mayor Foxx, Charlotte

This should be the fun part, but it can be challenging too. This is where all the elements of your place narrative I identified last week come together to illuminate your place brand.  It has to be uniquely your place.  It has to move beyond the “live, work and play” language.

It’s personal and has elements of your narrative infused:

“We embrace diversity and welcome newcomers and businesses that seek to do well and do good.  We are not afraid of change; we embrace it, a tenaciousness we have shared for many generations…ever since Charlotte was a hornets’ nest of the rebellion for the American Revolution.”

-Mayor Foxx, Charlotte

Place brand ties it all together. It touches on your spirit as a place and what you have endured to help make you who you are. It tells people what they can expect from you as place and what you as a place expect from them as residents. It’s actual and aspirational.

3. The “So what” of Place Brand:

“It is (the best way) to align North Carolina’s brand vision with consumer demand…(so people) know before they go.”

Brand matters because it connects place offerings to consumer demands, from an economic theory standpoint. It lets people know who you are so they can be naturally attracted to create an authentic foundation, from a relationship standpoint.

Place brand is a powerful tool in today’s world. But like most things, there is a right and wrong way to develop them.  Authenticity, resident voice, strength with vulnerability, and competitive advantage are all aspects of a powerful brand that will optimize your place and maximize your Place Match.


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