After decades of developing brand strategies for cities of all sizes, I recognize that, in order to be successful, they are fundamentally an exercise in change management. A successful place brand often requires changes to regulations, laws, systems, budgets, processes, resources, and recruitment. Above all, it may call for a change of attitudes and relationships.
The first casualty may be the old “that’s the way we’ve always done it” attitude. For many people, the prospect of innovation, along with new focus, concepts, priorities, and partnerships causes extreme resistance. It removes them from their comfort zone and challenges entrenched attitudes. In these situations you must expose key partners and stakeholders to the benefits that come from alternative approaches so they can gain confidence and trust in the project and its outcomes.
A genuine mandate for branding success may require a change of mindset within, and between, many organizations. It calls for a collaborative approach and may involve the need to overcome long-held disagreements and turf protection. Tearing down unhelpful barriers, attitudes, and processes are major steps forward. Collaboration, networking, and integration are the signatures of a healthy brand. This certainly takes more than the efforts of the tourism or economic development offices alone. It should engage the people responsible for wayfinding systems, urban planning, parking, parks, education and business licensing. Some of them may have no idea of their daily impact on the identity of their city.
One of the unexpected benefits of a collaborative approach toward brand planning is that it provides an unprecedented opportunity for the lead organization to showcase its role as a community and industry leader. Time and again, we have seen the branding process become the rallying point to re-energize the lead organization, its constituents and the marketing directions of their city. The challenge is to sustain this heightened enthusiasm and use it as a catalyst to consolidate the organization’s position as one of the city’s most valuable leadership organizations. It’s an ideal time to move people beyond turf building, internal politics and the dated opinions that may have prevailed in the past.
Lead organizations rarely have a better opportunity to display their value than through this process. The process gains credibility and support when there is a genuine effort to reach beyond “the usual suspects” and canvass the views of a wider range of constituents.
The progress and outcomes first from the planning, and then the launch and implementation, are greatly improved when participants are knowledgeable about place branding. Offering educational opportunities to those who will be actively involved in the planning process creates not only a more rewarding experience for them, but garners support and confidence in the long-term. However, in order for the brand strategy to gain traction with the community, the lead organization must adopt many of the principles of change management, otherwise things might never leave “the bad old ways!”
© Destination Branding for Small Cities – Second Edition: Baker
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