Engage the right consultant to create a brand strategy

August 3, 2016

We've recently encountered situations where advertising, web design, visual design and communications agencies pitch for, and win, the development of brand strategies for cities and regions with disastrous results. Unfortunately, few of these agencies had any tourism or place branding credentials.

Stay Focused on Objectives

Brand planning can be a very confusing situation for city leaders and marketers or panelists on a selection committee. In some cases, unsuspecting locals have been lured by the “glitter” of the advertising examples and designs presented by these agencies, causing them to lose sight of their original Request for Proposal (RFP), objectives and the role of advertising and designs in the development of a city brand.

We understand the need for ambitious cities to have great advertising, designs and communications. But those actions come after the overall strategic framework is established. Otherwise, it is like engaging a painter to design your home because you like the colors he chooses and how he will finish the job. The first step is to establish the right architecture for the house with a specialist architect.

It Takes Way More Than a Logo and Designs

At the outset, successful city branding requires awareness that branding is a strategic management tool and is much more than a logo, tagline or advertising campaign.  A true brand strategy will act as a beacon to guide all aspects of the city’s marketing, unify stakeholders to speak with one powerful voice and consistently present superior experiences.  Setting this strategy requires extensive research, stakeholder consultation, a lot of creative thinking and a thorough understanding of the nuances of city marketing and branding – for tourism and economic development.

Separate Strategy and Implementation

The first important consideration is to recognize that brand strategy development and marketing implementation are not the same thing. The project should be divided into two stages: (1) the formulation of the brand strategy, requiring strong brand research, analytical and strategic skills, as well as a detailed knowledge of tourism, economic development, experience development and placemaking, and (2) the strategy and marketing implementation, possibly requiring advertising agency, web design, public relations agency, and social media expertise. And it isn’t a marketing plan! While some firms will claim to do both strategy development and implementation, it pays to gain a clear understanding of the depth of their city and destination brand strategy experience. Recruit specialists appropriate to each phase. The place branding firm selected for strategy development must have the capacity to also consider organizational issues, partner relations, tourism and relocation dynamics, economic development, experience development and investment, as well as placemaking and wayfinding – and yes, they must also be creative and capable of designing a knockout visual identity system.

Hire the Right Type of Firm

Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) highlights this approach to managing your brand planning project in their publication, Destination BrandScience:

“Qualified, skilled brand expertise in strategic development is not easy to come by and even harder to identify. Typical RFPs use the words ‘agencies’. While agencies may provide some of the services required for developing a strategy for destination brands, it may be a conflict of interest for a company doing advertising or promotional campaigns to do the assessment and create the promise.

Many advertising agencies or graphic design firms believe that they are in the business of brand development, and indeed some are. However, the real question to ask is: What is the vendor selling – advertising, graphic design or strategy? Ask yourself, if you were developing an RFP for a large bridge project, would you solicit construction firms to do the engineering? Of course not. You want the expertise of an independent expert to design the critical elements for success. True brand (and destination) strategies require the same high level of expertise.”

The first step for any place is to distill a competitive brand platform as the foundation on which everything can be built using the best architect possible. Otherwise, it is like engaging a painter to design your home because of how he will finish the job without having established the right architecture and foundation with a specialist architect.

© Destination Branding for Small Cities – Second Edition: Baker

NEW: Destination Branding for Small Cities - Second Edition by Bill Baker is drawing praise from business leaders, place branders and practitioners worldwide. It’s a must read primer that demystifies city branding and provides affordable, proven tools, templates and checklists to build a successful destination and place brands. Worldwide sales via Amazon.com

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