Several months ago while discussing the possibilities of conducting research for the development of a a brand strategy we asked the executive director of a Chamber of Commerce, “Which nearby cities do you consider to be your main competitors?” She replied, “None of them, because we try to get along with all of them.”
This response revealed two unsettling things. First, though it is your customers who determine who your competitors are, this organization did not seem to have a customer focus or realize the power of the customer’s options. Second, the issue is not simply a matter of “getting along,” it is about generating and sustaining income, jobs, and prosperity for the community. No corporation would think the way of this Chamber executive, yet many communities forget that their tourism and economic development programs are not operating in a vacuum. They are operating in a dynamic environment frequently dominated by several big players. It is the response to the city’s external competition that draws commercial partners together to better compete.
No places can afford to feel that they are entitled to prosperity and don’t need to compete. A place that doesn’t compete and have a laser-focus on customers will fade away and become irrelevant. They must compete because cities and regions of all sizes find themselves striving more fiercely for attention. Many have the added disadvantage of trying to compete with an image that is out of date, inaccurate, or unbalanced. Prospective customers might simply not care about the place. The perceptions surrounding them, whether accurate or not, are the reality that people use to judge whether they will visit, study, invest, or relocate there.
Choice is not limited to the battle between one city and another - customers have abundant choices. Locations within cities are also in fierce competition with each other: city centers with neighborhoods, big box retailers vs. Main Streets, shopping malls vs. traditional downtowns, and suburbs competing with all of the above. All of this makes it imperative for places, no matter their size or composition, to clearly differentiate themselves and to convey why they are relevant and should matter to customers.
“Getting along” is certainly important, but it must not supersede your responsibility to the future well-being of your citizens or the city’s economic and social well-being. It’s about business! And the development of your city’s branding and marketing is about business as well because the city’s marketing programs are responsible for sustaining hundreds or even thousands of jobs within the community.
© Destination Branding for Small Cities – Second Edition: Baker
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