What’s the Difference Between Branding and Marketing?


We receive many emails from city leaders, practitioners and students around the world. From time to time we share some of the responses with readers. 

I had an email from Sharon at a chamber of commerce on the East Coast of the USA, “Some members of our Board are confused about the difference between branding and marketing a city. I am finding it hard to explain. Can you help me?”

Gillette Billboard

Sharon, your Board members are not alone in their confusion because I often hear discussions where the terms “branding” and “marketing” are mistakenly used interchangeably. They shouldn’t be. There are distinct differences.

City branding provides a framework for organizing, differentiating and focusing around your city's competitive and distinctive identity to ensure that its messages and experiences are as distinct, compelling, and rewarding as possible. Most importantly, it’s a promise that must be grounded in truth and reality.

Marketing, on the other hand, comprises the processes and actions for communications, product development, pricing, and promotions directed toward facilitating transactions with end customers. It involves deploying and following elements of the brand strategy such as positioning, personality, core experiences and tone of voice.

We can consider branding as long-term and strategic, while marketing is supposed to be strategic (or at least should be), it is usually short-term and mainly tactical.  Brands are distinctive, where marketing isn’t.

You can consider marketing as being a part of branding. Not the other way around. And marketing alone can’t build your city’s brand. In essence, marketing is what enables you to communicate your brand messages or promise to customers, while branding relates to your competitive identity and how you keep the promise.

Which Towns Have The Most Unfortunate Names? And Does it Matter?


Intercourse PAThe name of a place is the most powerful part of its identity. It has often been said that being introduced to a brand is like meeting a person. Their name is important - it’s how we remember them, make associations, and refer to them. It’s as if there is a filing cabinet in our brains where we keep everything relevant to that name. When we hear London, Paris or Saigon, we recall the many pieces of information, thoughts and feelings large and small, that we have assembled about each over the years, even if we have never been there.

I recall that in a survey a few years ago, Toad Suck, Arkansas, was voted America’s “most embarrassing or unfortunate” town-name, in a global poll. It beat Climax in Georgia, Boring in Oregon (and its namesake in Maryland) and Hooker in Oklahoma in a poll of almost 2,000 people by findmypast.com.

The web site and its global network of partner sites asked users in seven English-speaking countries (U.S., UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) to pick from its own shortlist of 11 unfortunate or embarrassing American town- and place-names. True, it’s not the worst thing you might unearth when tracing your ancestry. But some people are disconcerted to learn that their forebears came from somewhere called, for example, Toad Suck, Roachtown or Monkey’s Eyebrow.”

However, rather than feel embarrassed, residents of many towns with unfortunate names embrace their odd names with pride, have a laugh and use them as a feature to promote their towns. Of course, Intercourse PA has done that for decades. Boring OR and Dull Scotland have proclaimed "Boring and Dull Day in Perpetuity" in honor of the two communities. In today’s stressed and over-worked society the prospect of visiting places that embrace boring and dull might actually have some appeal to it. It might create some interesting economic development opportunities for visionary leaders. Make no mistake though - capitalizing on their unusual names will take more than providing a humorous photo-op with local town signs.

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Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

A City's Brand Strategy Isn’t a Magic Wand!


ClownI recently had a conversation with the president of Midwest DMO at a conference who was being pressured by some of his lodging partners because the community’s brand strategy, which had been revealed three months earlier, had not generated an increase in business for them. While we at TDM didn’t develop this strategy, it did seem to be a fairly robust and credible brand they had launched.

While there may be some short-term increases in visitation, the real benefits of branding won’t be apparent overnight. If this DMO wanted to increase heads in beds, perhaps they should have invested more in their tactical marketing and sales. Even then, it may take time to break through the clutter of competing messages, build awareness and convert interest into actual bookings, unless they are offering deep discounts.

We are living in an era in which some brands like Uber and Air B&B have become household names virtually overnight. On the other hand, others have soared and then crashed just as quickly. Do you remember World Football League, Webvan.com and eToys.com? Cities are different. Their identity and image has usually been established over a very long period, in some cases hundreds of years. They almost always have small marketing budgets, need to overcome generations of preconceived thoughts and opinions, and must mobilize myriad stakeholders, many of whom are competitors, to adopt and use the brand accurately and consistently.

The benefits from city branding, if done well, are considerable. The article, “What are the Benefits of Place Branding?” provides more insights into why the benefits of city branding do not materialize overnight. From the outset, you must be sure that the objectives are clear and realistic, programs are well funded and that there is an understanding of what branding is and isn’t. This includes ensuring that no one expects a magic wand. And when the brand strategy is finally launched, that’s when the hard work really begins.

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Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities



Welcome Signs Show How Many Places Are Out of Touch


Vegas SignWelcome signs can play an important role in the marketing and branding of cities. They not only provide a sense of arrival, but also communicate a welcome to travelers and can signal that the place is ready for them. They can also serve to convey the distinctive identity of the place and why it may be of interest to prospective visitors and new residents. One of the most famous of course is the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign which was erected on what was then the outskirts of The Strip in 1959. 

CityLab has assembled a slide show of some of his favorite welcome signs around the USA. I think that Mark must have quite a sense of humor. Some are funny, some interesting, but unfortunately many of them reflect small towns that are totally out of touch with the needs and interests of prospective visitors and new residents.

At a time when places of all sizes are locked in competition for their economic well-being, I found myself looking at many of the signs and asking “who would care?”  The signs reminded me that cities of all sizes in the next decade will have to work much harder at marketing themselves and developing a competitive identity than they have done in the past. Their audiences are becoming more discerning and demanding and their competitors are increasing and becoming more sophisticated. There are so many other choices.

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Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

Place Branding: What’s the Difference Between Theory and Practice?


I was honored to recently speak at the Inaugural International Place Branding Association Conference in London. This was a very stimulating and informative event with academics and professionals involved in the principles and practices of brand development and brand management for places (cities, regionSS09027s, nations and destinations).

With such an eclectic audience, the focus of my presentation was on the differences between theory and practice in place branding. To start my presentation, I borrowed from the German statesman Otto von Bismarck who said, “politics is the art of the possible, the attainable … the art of the next best”. I believe that because politics and place branding are so inextricably linked we can easily substitute “place branding” for “politics” in von Bismarck’s statement.

Some of the main points of the presentation were:

1. The #1 challenge in place branding is the lack of understanding and awareness of what it is and how to utilize it successfully.

2. Good theory should be simplified to underpin and improve practice.

3. Our peers are not our clients: We must focus on the practicalities of what will be understood, valued, implemented and  sustainable for our clients.

4. Words have meaning. There needs to be a clearer and better defined vocabulary used by clients, practitioners and academics in regard to place branding.

5. While it may sound great in theory, an overarching brand for a city isn’t always possible. There may be power and budget struggles within the city with no agreement as to who should lead the branding effort. At the same time, there may be different budgets, objectives, customer hot buttons, control and silos in competition to influence the project.

6. Projects may involve balancing many conflicting and competitive interests within the location.

All of these points help validate the view that “place branding is the art of the possible, the attainable … the art of the next best”.

Or you may prefer Yogi Berra’s take, “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is!”

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Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

Avoid a Place Branding Headache: Don’t Hire a Painter if You Need an Architect


ConstructionI used to think that positioning was the trickiest part of place and destination branding. However, I now believe that getting the RFP or Expression of Interest, scope of work and agency selection processes right in the first place are probably the most problematic and can most easily send a place branding project off the rails from the start.

Many communities do not fully understand the nuances of place branding and are somewhat tentative and imprecise in how they ask for the services required to undertake the process. Or they have been misled into thinking that all they need is a new logo, tagline or advertising campaign theme. This view has been verified in recent months as we notice a steady flow of poor outcomes for communities. They announce weak or bland positioning and cheerleading taglines that are only designed to make locals feel warm and fuzzy, but are doomed to fail with external audiences.

We have seen situations where advertising, web design and communications agencies have successfully pitched for the development of place branding strategies. Unfortunately, few of these agencies have any tourism, placemaking, community development or city brand planning credentials, but that didn’t stop them from being appointed to their first jobs in the field. Branding is strategic!

Yes, creativity and designs are important. But more important is establishing a strategic guidance toolkit to inform your operations, communications and experience delivery. We have even seen cases where cities have simultaneously issued RFPs for web design and brand planning. Of course, they then merged their requirements and selected what they considered to be the best agency to tackle the combined assignments. That’s right. The painter will design the house as well as paint it!

Here is an article in our Library, (Don’t Hire a Painter if You Need an Architect) provides good advice, which, along with the blog by Derrick Daye of the Blake Project provides some valuable considerations for communities about to start their brand planning.

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Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

Do Billboards Destroy Community Character?


BillboardsProject for Public Spaces has highlighted an excellent article in the Planning Commissioners Journal (PCJ) by Ed McMahon, who is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute. Ed is a nationally renowned authority and speaker on sustainable development, land conservation, and urban design.

In his PCJ article, McMahon argues that billboards are not only unsightly, but damage community character. He also responds to arguments commonly heard in favor of allowing billboards.

McMahon claims that “in a relatively short time, outdoor advertising has gone from from small and folksy to huge and intrusive. We have now entered the era of digital billboards – huge outdoor TV screens wasting energy while degrading the landscape and distracting drivers.”

On a recent drive from Portland to Seattle, I observed the size and attention-grabbing techniques of some of these mega-sized digital billboards. I would add that they may also be a tad more distracting and dangerous for motorists than the passive displays of a few years ago. I think in some cases they are also reshaping the identities of the communities that have these displays along their corridors. I’m with Vermont, Maine, Alaska and Hawaii all of which have banned billboards.

I don’t hate commercialism, I just prefer nature and attractive communities a whole lot more. 

Photo Credit:  Los Angeles Billboard - Flickr photo by Awecelia

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Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities


Why Many Place Brands Run Out of Steam - And Why Yours Doesn't Have To Fail


SteamAdopting a place brand offers tremendous rewards for cities and regions if done correctly. However, sometimes these well-meaning efforts introduce levels of complexity and challenges which could easily have been avoided if leaders understood the nuances of place brand planning and were better prepared to tackle these obstacles from the start of the project.

Many city branding projects get off to a great start with lots of publicity and energy, only to soon run out of steam. Their momentum starts to lag, fresh ideas are not as frequent, designs start to miss their mark, politics and self-interest intervene and suddenly the brand has faded, is confused, and becomes very vague to customers and stakeholders.  Unfortunately, some even falter during the initial planning stages.

There are many issues that contribute to a failed city brand. An article in our Library (Why City Brands Run out of Steam - And Why Yours Doesn't Have To) highlights some of the common challenges that can contribute to brand hangovers and failures and hopefully can help you avoid them.


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Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities



It Takes a Culture of Collaboration to Deliver a Place Brand


Town 4
Early this year, we conducted a Tourism Assessment Review for a small city that discovered that its tourism performance was declining. This was an attractive small city with an historic downtown that had successfully established a state-wide reputation as a destination for antique shoppers. However, our research soon revealed that in addition to facing increased competition from online antique stores, the city’s antique stores were falling short of the “antiques capital” reputation.

It didn’t take long to realize that antique store owners were disconnected and totally focused on their own businesses, making little or no effort for cooperation and collaboration with other businesses or civic organizations. In fact, most store owners did not speak to each other and simply regarded the others as competitors. It seems that over time stores were sold and new owners came in and rested on their laurels in the belief that the city’s reputation as a favored antiques destination would sustain itself without any effort on their behalf. They didn’t realize that the reputation was created by the totality of antiques-related experiences in downtown.

This assignment carried several lessons for the city’s tourism performance. Firstly, the Internet can be a positive and a negative force for some destinations.  Secondly, sustaining a city’s brand identity, whether it has been formalized in a documented strategy or not, requires a concerted effort to collaborate, innovate and manage the promised visitor experience by everyone associated with the downtown.

Even though a downtown may have attractive architecture and well stocked stores, it’s the attitudes of residents and business owners that determine whether a place has a special sense of place and can elicit a sense of loyalty from visitors.  And once the culture of collaboration is successfully established, there must be a conscious effort to “pass the baton” to the next generation of merchants. As for being competitors, the merchants need look no further than a food court or freeway interchange to see fierce competitors working together to create a bigger “pie” so that they can all get larger slices.

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Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities



How Not to Manage Your Nation Brand










The Philippines is clearly demonstrating how nation branding should not be approached. Last week the Department of Tourism (DOT) Media Director said that the organization is creating a new slogan that would “reflect President Rodrigo Duterte's thrust to institute reforms in the country”.

Of course this is 100% political interference and has nothing to do with market research or an attempt to better resonate with target markets. This follows the controversy surrounding the lead up to the current tagline, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” in 2012.

The DOT spokesperson went on to make the unusual statement that “it’s normal to change the tourism brand when a new administration takes over.” That may be what they think in political circles, but the brand should be defined and managed in such a way that it is enduring and only creative executions change.The DOT seems to conflate a tagline, advertising campaign and the marketing of government programs. None of these represent a brand.

I must admit that the current tagline, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” is a little out of sync with President Duterte's recent comments about President Obama and that approximately 38 people per day have died in Duterte’s “war on drugs” since he came to power nine weeks ago. If ever there was a place that needed a genuine nation branding approach with robust public diplomacy, this is the place – and no new tagline will do the trick.

Produced by: Total Destination Marketing

Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities


Showing Why Nation Branding Matters


Rio 27 (2)The Olympic Games provide an interesting backdrop to observe an alternate competition between nations that isn’t happening on the playing field but in the court of public opinion. It seems that each Olympiad brings ever more intensive efforts to leverage the spotlight to gain recognition and enhance the image of nations in regard to tourism, trade and public diplomacy.

Nation branding and marketing were on display over the past weeks from the Japanese Prime Minister appearing at the closing ceremony to present Japan as cool and tech while dressed as Nintendo’s Super Mario, the Ethiopian marathon runner drawing attention to the persecution of the Oromo people in his country, to the black eye that the reputation of the USA received with the exploits of Ryan Lochte. And not to mention the panorama and iconic views of Rio broadcast to the world.

Nation branding is now firmly on the radar of the esteemed Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Wharton marketing professor David Reibstein has collaborated with U.S. News & World Report to produce the Best Countries Rankings. Reibstein has also produced a series of articles exploring the many facets of nation branding and why it matters. For the report, Reibstein and colleagues surveyed more than 16,000 global citizens on 65 different national attributes.

Just as Nike, Adidas and Puma are locked in brand battles at the Olympics, I am sure that future Olympiads will see more intensive competition between nations building their brands to establish their relevance, reputation and respect as international players.

I can’t wait to see what other costumes Japan’s high profile brand ambassadors will wear in 2020.

Produced by: Total Destination Marketing

Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

Oregon’s Ice Age Tourism Assets


P1100750My destination consulting colleagues and I often remark that residents of a city often don’t see what’s right in front of us when it comes to their city’s hidden tourism strengths. Well, on this occasion I must confess my guilt. A few years ago, I worked on a small project for the Historical Society in Tualatin, the small city where I live outside of Portland, OR. 

My assignment was to determine how the city can take advantage of the locally excavated remains of Ice Age animals such as mastodons and giant sloths, and promote how the great Ice Age Floods shaped the local landscape.

Despite having developed tourism strategies for nations, regions and cities, and even the Olympic Games, this is one of the most surprising and fascinating projects that I have ever worked on – and it’s right in my own backyard. And like much of the local population I had no clue about the Ice Age Floods. 

The Floods were one of the most cataclysmic events ever to happen in North America. They flooded Tualatin to a depth of about 350 feet and resulted in several geological phenomena that are still visible today.

A four state trail named the Ice Age Floods Trail has been established by Congress and will be administered by the National Park Service. As the Trail is developed over the next decade, I’m sure that Ice Age tourism will be a term that we will add to our tourism dictionaries.

The lesson for me is that sometimes you have to dig deep to find a city’s tourism assets, other times they come as part of a trend or as in Tualatin’s case, a small group of passionate scientists, academics and residents who have a great idea whose time has come.

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Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

Sponsored by Place Branding Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities


Fifteen Ways to Protect Your City's Identity


Durham- Duke Uni
Duke University, Durham

While many places can’t get past believing that their logo or tagline is their brand, Durham has done a stellar job in shaping and protecting its identity and image. The Durham CVB has paid close attention to the ways in which their city brand can be diluted and lose equity.

Total Destination Marketing developed the original brand strategy for the Durham and during the process we quickly recognized that the city had several unique challenges. For instance, the name of the city was frequently bracketed with the nearby Raleigh i.e. Raleigh-Durham and many important locations and organizations within Durham were frequently credited as being in Raleigh.

Reyn Bowman is the former President of Durham CVB and was extremely pro-active in addressing the key touchpoints that were essential to defining and protecting the Durham brand. Fifteen of these have been captured by Reyn in his blog Bull City Mutterings where he outlines steps that Durham NC has taken to protect and shape its identity and image.

Reyn says that his tips “involve some heavy lifting and they aren’t as much fun as just placing some ads or booking some conferences. But they are as much or more important."

"Think of it this way:  A little courage, determination and resilience can substitute for millions of dollars in promotion and advertising.  Think of it another way.  No amount of promotion and advertising can overcome the damage that inattention to these areas can create,” Reyn added.

I couldn’t agree more. It makes little sense to double down on marketing communications when there are serious leakages in brand equity that are going unattended.

Posted by: Total Destination Marketing

Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities


Top 5 Place Branding Books to Read in 2016


Books 2016


I was pleasantly surprised and very honored to recently see my book listed as a "must read". Just in time for Northern Hemisphere summer break, Place Brand Observer (PBO) has released a list of the Top 5 Place Branding books to read in 2016. Their list contains books recommended by place brand experts in PBO interviews.

The role of PlaceBrandObserver.com is to build bridges between place branding thinkers, shakers and doers, and to provide useful information, research insights and examples of credible, authentic place brands and responsible, sustainable branding, promotion and positioning of cities, regions, countries, nations, and destinations. In a nutshell they're a great source of information on place branding.

The books they listed are:

Top 1: Rethinking Place Branding: Comprehensive Brand Development for Cities and Regions. Edited by Mihalis Kavaratzis, Gary Warnaby, Gregory Ashworth (2014, Springer)

Top 2: Nation Branding, Concepts, Issue and Practice, Edited by Keith Dinnie (2nd Edition, 2015, Routledge)

Top 3: Destination Branding for Small Cities, By Bill Baker (2012, Creative Leap Books)

Top 4: Places: Identity, Image and Reputation, by Simon Anholt (2009, Palgrave MacMillan)

Top 5: Marketing Places, By Philip Kotler, Ronald Haider, Irving Rein (2002, Free Press)

Now to catch-up on my reading!

Posted by: Total Destination Marketing

Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

Chattanooga Leads with Frontline Destination Training


Hospitality Training 2016 (2)When we conduct a brand audit or tourism assessment 9 times out of 10 participants identify a destination weakness as being the lack of knowledge of the local area by front-line hospitality staff. Despite how many DMOs recognize this as a problem, so very few ever do anything about it.

This week I was delighted to see the great work being undertaken by Chattanooga Visitors Bureauand Phil Bruno at Treat ‘em Right.

Not only has Chattanooga recognized the importance of front line destination training, for 25 years the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau has sponsored a live training event for workers to kick off the summer season.

In early June, 2100 ticket takers, servers, desk clerks and more attended four 60 minute sessions presented by Treat 'em Right Seminars. That's 25% of the 8200 tourism related jobs in the city!

There are so many benefits to a program like this: more satisfied visitors, longer stays, increased revenue, wider dispersal of visitors, increased return visitors and not to mention a stronger cross-selling network between tourism industry partners. 

Well done, Phil Bruno and Chattanooga!

 Produced by: Total Destination Marketing

Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities


How to Avoid Being Anytown, USA Part 4


Street Steamboat 3 (2)

This is the fourth and final part of this series reviewing how your city can avoid being a bland imitation of other places.

Firstly, there is no one action or magic bullet that can save places from the Anytown, USA sameness trap. However, one thing is certain, and that is that it will take leadership and a holistic approach involving many local organizations, along with the support of residents. Among the considerations are:

  1. A clear vision that crystallizes the city’s competitive advantage and distinctive strengths.
  2. A brand strategy that embraces competitive positioning and is aligned with the vision. It should provide the guidance for compelling communications and delivering the city’s distinctive identity.
  3. A focus on what’s authentic and organic about the city.
  4. Develop a long-term tourism strategy that embraces Geotourismprinciples to focus on what sustains or enhances the character of the place – its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.
  5. Don’t settle for cookie-cutter designs and every development that is offered to the city.
  6. Identify, preserve and present the city’s heritage and stories. Tell the story in engaging ways for locals, as well as visitors.
  7. Invest in the city’s aesthetics and gathering places because these are focal points for both locals and visitors.
  8. Introduce development guidelines for buildings and signage that enhance heritage, streetscapes and viewing corridors.
  9. Urge hoteliers, restaurateurs and retailers to enhance the appeal of the community by developing sites that are sensitive to local heritage, materials and style.
  10. Protect and enhance community gateways and viewing corridors to provide a distinctive sense of welcome.
  11. Restrict or eliminate billboards because they can strip away scenic beauty and a community’s distinctive character faster than other factors.
  12. Encourage the development of experiences that provide opportunities to encounter the city’s authentic cultural and natural environment.
  13. Encourage residents, business, developers, and all relevant government departments to respect the city’s heritage and environmental context when considering new developments and restoration.
  14. Build community pride and ownership in what is distinctive and special about the city.

If a city is not clearly differentiated or remains in the shadow of its competitors, it will always be seen as a pale alternative, and proving that it is different, relevant and adds value will become increasingly difficult. The rewards for small cities that break out of the Anytown Syndrome are considerable. There are great opportunities for leaders to offer citizens a vision and policies that will retain and develop their city’s distinctive character and take the road away from being another Anytown.

Those that take the route away from Anytown status are rewarded with increased income, investment, talented new residents and a great place to live.

Produced by: Total Destination Marketing

Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

Recommended Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

How to Avoid Being Another Bland Place


IMG_1689 (2)This is Part 3 of a series on how to avoid being Anytown, USA.

There are many reasons why even well-meaning cities can end up being bland and uninteresting. The most common causes are that they lack bold vision, belief in themselves and don’t have a focus on their distinctive points of difference. On many occasions it’s because they try to be all things to all people and lack the will to stand for one thing around which they can build a competitive advantage. They may also be neglecting their natural, heritage or cultural assets. To get beyond this state takes vision, some good old-fashioned guts and stop trying to please and appease local interest groups.

Great place brands thrive when there is a touch of tension derived from making a stand around a singular brand concept that resonates strongly with customers and that competitors can’t easily match. It may sound simple, but achieving this takes courage, leadership and imagination – and a great amount of selfless teamwork.

Dare to be Different

To avoid the Anytown, USA syndrome a city cannot present itself as all things to all people, or claim that they “have it all” or are “the center of it all”. These platitudes simply dilute any competitive edge and the city ends standing for nothing and being a weak imitation of other places.

We rarely conduct a Brand Retreat or focus group for a community when someone doesn’t say, “This is the best place to live, work and play”. Further, many residents advocate that it should be the city tagline. 

While researching for “Destination Branding for Small Cities” I Googled the term, “a great place to live, work and play” and variations thereof. I found over 4 million results. So if you are considering joining the masses in building a community brand based on being “a great place to live, work and play”, you have simply identified an entry level ticket to play the game. There are tens of thousands of places in the USA and even more around the world that can match that claim. You simply have to dig deeper to uncover the heart and soul of your city and what will help it stand out and be valued.

It is easy for residents to overlook the appearance of their streets, the absence of trees, the poor lighting, trash and bad signage that may have evolved over the years. Visitors, however, are much less forgiving. When attention has been paid to the aesthetics of a place, including preserving or enhancing its natural qualities and environments, the city gains the reputation as a “special place” or a “fun place to hangout”, and this goes a long way toward supporting its brand identity.  

City Image Boosts Economic Development

Tourism is now one of the key drivers of the American economy. It’s a leading employer in communities across the country, and a highly efficient revenue generator for state and local governments. States and cities are increasingly treating their travel promotion budgets like strategic investments that will be rewarded with more visitors, more jobs and higher tax revenues. But gaining these rewards means not being seen as Anytown, USA.

When city leaders recognize that there is a direct link between their city’s image and reputation and its attractiveness as a place to visit, live, and invest it is off to a good start. If a city isn’t attracting more income, talented people, new residents and investment then it is slowly dying

A 2015 landmark study by Oxford Economics analyzed the tourism performance of more than 200 U.S. cities over 23 years and found widespread economic benefits from those actively promoting tourism. The study clearly showed a direct link between marketing expenditure of destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and long-term economic growth.

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Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

To avoid being Anytown USA schedule a TDM Brand Retreat

The final part of this series will be posted next week.


How to Avoid Being Anytown, USA: Part Two


DSCF0112 (2)This is the second part of the blog considering the need for small cities to clearly differentiate themselves.

We are living in the most competitive time in history, where cities of all sizes find themselves competing more fiercely for relevance, respect and reputation. In the USA alone there are approximately 20,000 incorporated cities, 3,400 counties, and myriad downtowns and suburbs clamoring for attention. Many are trying to compete with an image that is out of date, bland or inaccurate. These images, whether accurate or not are the reality for people who may be searching for a place to visit, live, or invest.

The biggest challenge facing many places is taking control of their identity and reputation which may have been unmanaged for a long time. Without a clear vision or a place branding strategy, a city may bounce from one set of messages to another without considering what the place should be known for. 

Place branding involves much more than a new logo and snappy slogan. It should provide a framework and toolkit for differentiating, communicating and focusing the location’s competitive and distinctive identity.  It must be grounded in truth and reality, and not wishful thinking and hype. This means that what cities are promising must be met or exceeded when people are actually experiencing the place. Ambitious places wanting to avoid being Anytown, USA should first resolve a few basic questions:

  1. What do we want to be known for?
  2. How can we stand out from the crowd and be more competitive?
  3. What thoughts and feelings do we want to come to mind when people are exposed to our name?
  4. How can we build and preserve our heritage and authenticity?

Great Leaders Lead to Great Places

Many communities are becoming increasingly conscious of the need to proactively shape and influence what the world thinks of them and not allow inaction, the media or competitors to define who they are. They must resist developers and corporations far removed from their communities who would like to plant their cookie cutter designs and architecture in their towns. An important starting point is for city leaders to recognize that there is a direct link between the city’s distinctive image, respect and reputation and its attractiveness as a place to visit, live, invest, and study.

An even greater realization for some is that inaction is not a viable option if they genuinely want to display their distinctive character and improve local prosperity. Unfortunately, while many cities and regions are attempting to avoid Anytown USA status, many simply settle for cookie cutter architecture, a new logo and new design for their website.  They totally miss the transformative power of differentiation through branding.

Part Three will be published next week.

Produced by: Total Destination Marketing

Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

TDM can help your city stand out from the other choices with a place brand strategy.

Best-selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

Google Trekker Brings Oregon Destination Brand to Life



I recently posted about how the importance of place brands has not diminished because of the myriad new digital communications platforms. However, the ways that places go about branding has changed. This is perfectly demonstrated by our client Travel Lane County (Oregon) in marketing their destination region, Eugene, Cascades & Coast.

Several years ago we developed the brand strategy for Eugene, Cascades & Coast. Since then, Kari Westland and her team have been really inventive in the ways they have gone about building the destination brand.  

The Eugene, Cascades & Coast brand is founded on the county having Oregon’s most accessible adventure experiences where you can easily find yourself hiking to spectacular waterfalls or endless public beaches, kayaking white water or ocean estuaries, cycling through wine country or on Oregon's best trails.

Travel Lane County is constantly introducing innovative ways to bring the brand to life. Their latest initiative is Google Trekker which harnesses the latest technology, similar to Google's "street view” to make the destination’s abundant pedestrian trails accessible to viewers around the world. The Google Trekker is a backpack system crowned by rotating cameras capturing 360-degree views. The images are stitched together creating a visually immersive experience. When backpacking wasn't an option, they strapped the Google Trekker camera to boats, horses and bicycles.  

Another new initiative is Pinot Bingo. This is a fun, interactive way to tour South Willamette Valley Wine Country. It's easy to play. Visit a winery. Ask them to stamp your bingo card in their numbered space. When you bingo card is full redeem it at the Adventure Center for your prize. I wonder how this can be combined with Google Trekker.

I can't wait to see their next innovations to bring the Eugene, Cascades & Coast brand to life.

Produced by: Total Destination Marketing

Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

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How to Avoid Being Anytown, USA - Part 1


IMG_1689 (2)Last summer I was relaxing in a small park in downtown Anchorage AK and watching a musical performance by local kids. I was immediately taken by the peaceful atmosphere, hometown feel and the distinctive precinct that surrounded the park with rows of independent businesses and traditional streetscapes. Crowds of visitors and locals alike were enjoying a sunny afternoon (yes, it was Alaska!) in an area that had not lost its soul to the sameness that shapes so many small cities today.

Many have lost their battle to cookie-cutter architecture and present an over-abundance of national franchises which give way to a blandness and homogeneity that lacks any distinctive character. Then there are the look-alike strip malls, car dealerships, and doppelgänger sub-divisions and suburbs that greet us as we approach many cities. Too many times it’s the result of unimaginative leaders and outside developers imposing their cloned thumbprint on the character of a place.

The downtown precinct in Anchorage was an unexpected contrast to many places I have visited in recent years. While places like Carmel IN, Galena IL and Fairfield IA have retained much of their independent character, local identity and distinctive sense of place, hosts of others have lost theirs.

Some cities are gaining bland Anytown, USA status long before people travel there. An online search quickly reveals many places that are not putting their best foot forward in an effort to stand apart but are relying on attributes that are common to thousands of other cities. If small cities and towns in Southern Michigan look and feel much like cities and towns in Northern Michigan, why would anyone spend the time and money to go there?

It’s Easy to be Anytown, USA

Ed McMahon, who holds the Charles E. Fraser Chair in Sustainable Development at the Urban Land Institute, first coined the term, "Anyplace, USA" in a 1997 article. He captured the city sameness sentiment when he said, “Today, if you were suddenly dropped along a road outside of most American cities, you wouldn’t have the slightest idea where you were because it all looks exactly the same. Over the past 50 years too many of our townscapes have gone from the unique to the uniform and from the stylized to the standardized.”

And as McMahon points out, this sameness can extend to just about every new bridge which is constructed using a Jersey barrier to facilitate the economical and fast movement of traffic, at the expense of everything else.

We can detect the degree to which a city is Anytown, USA through:

- Communications promoting the city, such as brochures, advertising, websites, social, etc.

- Interactions with residents and businesses

- The journey to the place and its setting

- The sense of arrival in the location

- Time spent in the place as a visitor or resident

- Music, movies, stories and books depicting the city

It’s not enough to simply say your town is different and special in some way, or that it’s the perfect choice for a visit. Your reality must match the promise you have made in brochures and advertising whether trying to attract visitors, new residents or investors. If the place isn’t distinctive or doesn’t measure-up they will quickly tell the world via social media – and you will be left floundering with thousands of other clone towns.  

Part Two will be published next week.

Produced by: Total Destination Marketing

Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

TDM can help your city stand out from the other choices with a place brand strategy.

Best-selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities


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