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city branding

  • Roger Brooks posted an article
    Your job is to match the state to the right slogan. see more

    “Jettison the generic” is really what the word “branding” is all about. Branding involves finding that one thing that differentiates you from everyone else in your marketplace. And this is true for businesses as well. We are in the age of specialization. Attorneys, medical practitioners, real estate agents, architects, consultants now specialize and communities need to do so as well.

    For years Arizona has promoted itself as “The Grand Canyon State.” Of course, Arizona has a lot more to offer, but the foundation of its brand is the one thing no one can get anywhere else on earth. Smart. Very smart.


    1. Think about some of the best-branded communities. I’ll mention the name and you fill in the their brand:

    • Napa Valley: __________________________________
    • Nashville: ____________________________________
    • Hollywood: ___________________________________
    • Silicon Valley: _________________________________
    • Green Bay: ___________________________________
    • Calgary: _____________________________________
    • Colorado Rockies: ______________________________
    • Memphis: ___________________________________
    • Hershey, Pennsylvania: __________________________
    • Branson, Missouri: _____________________________
    • Lancaster, Pennsylvania: _________________________
    • Your town: __________________________________

    Other than the last three, I didn’t even need to note their state or province. Their name has become synonymous with their brand. That’s your goal.

    By the way, if you’re not familiar with Branson, Missouri, it’s a town of 6,500 residents that hosts nearly 7.5 million visitors a year and is known for its 50 music theaters. Is there more to do there? Lots more, but music theater is what puts them on the map.

    2. Take the test. I’ve posted a list of all 50 U.S. states (click here for the download) in the left column and in the right column listed their marketing slogan in a random order. Your job is to match the state to the right slogan. Few people can make it past 11. It’s easy to guess which state goes with the Grand Canyon or The Aloha State.

    In defense of the states, they are in a tough position. They really are trying to promote everything the state has to offer, and in that context just about every state DOES have “something for everyone.” But at a local level you MUST find your niche and promote it like crazy.

    3. Start thinking about what it is that really puts you on the map and differentiates you from everyone else in your market. Make sure it’s an activity, not just something to look at. A statue of Paul Bunyan will quickly become a “been there, done that” attraction. Once everyone in the market has seen it, you’ll be out of customers. Activities attract customers, plus they bring them back and keep them in town longer.

  • Article
    A brand is what sets you apart; it is people’s perception when they think of your community. see more

    How does a community, town, city, state or province make the top of the list for visitors, new residents, and new business and industry? Most importantly, they need to stand out from their competition.

    In this age of fast and easy information, the world is at people’s fingertips. With over 1,200 marketing messages bombarding us each day, we tune out everything that doesn’t directly appeal to us. An effective community brand can cut through that clutter and grab our attention. When that brand promises us the experience we’re looking for, we take notice. A good community brand can attract new business, residents and visitors, helping to diversify the local economy and enhance the quality of day-to-day life for the entire region.

    This is the age of specialization - being known for something specific. A brand is what sets you apart; it is people’s perception when they think of your community. But branding is often misunderstood, and frequently communities spend too much time and money attempting to create a brand that simply won’t work.

    Here are the 10 things you need to know about branding:

    1. Brands are perceptions

    Logos and slogans are NOT brands. Your community’s brand is what people think of you - their perceptions. It is what people expect they will see and experience when they are in your area - good and bad. Logos, slogans, graphics and ads are just marketing messages used to support and promote the brand.

    2. Brands are built on product

    A brand makes a promise, and that promise is built on product. You must have the activities, amenities and ambiance that fulfill your brand promise. Would Napa Valley be the winery capital of the U.S. if they didn’t have a large number of excellent wineries and other activities and amenities to back up their claim? You have to BE what you say you are.

    3. Brands are earned: sometimes good, sometimes bad

    You never just “roll-out” a brand. You must earn it and build it over time. Since a brand makes a promise, it’s essential that the promise is fully realized, obvious, and pervasive. Often communities need to focus on a repositioning or rebranding effort in order to change the perception of the community, which can be an arduous and time-consuming process that MUST start within the community.

    4. Brands are developed through PR and word of mouth

    You always build your brand through public relations; advertising is used to maintain your position, once you own the brand. Remember, brands are perceptions - what people think of you. Advertising is what you think of yourself. You need the third-party endorsement that effective public relations can provide. Start with the web - blogs, YouTube, reviews, etc.

    5. Brands must be experiential

    Community brands MUST be experiential or activity-driven, not just based on something to look at or a warm and fuzzy feeling. Geography, historic downtowns, scenery and “feel good” slogans are very rarely effective brands. They are part of the ambiance, the stage. People are looking for experiences, things to do. Static attractions that are simply things to see quickly become “been there, done that” experiences, and thus not sustainable brands.

    6. Branding is the art of differentiation

    Your brand is what sets you apart from everyone else. When someone mentions your community’s name, what is the first thing that comes to mind? The name must become synonymous with the brand.

    When we mention the following communities, what comes to mind?

    • Salem, Massachusetts

    • Hershey, Pennsylvania

    • Anaheim, California

    • Williamsburg, Virginia

    These cities’ brands are well known and easy to identify. But would you have ever heard of Salem, Massachusetts if it hadn’t been for the witch trials that took place over 300 years ago? A brand sets you apart from everyone else and puts you on the map.

    7. You must jettison the generic

    Avoid, at all costs, the generic in your marketing. If a slogan can be applied to virtually any community, it is too generic, and doesn’t make you stand out from the competition. The days of “A Great Place to Live, Work and Play” are over. That’s what everyone says about their community. Remember - differentiation. Any community can say “Experience Us,”“Four Seasons of Fun,”“Fun for the Whole Family,”“Unique by Nature,” or “Pure and Simple.” Do those tell you anything about the community? What you might experience there? Do they give you any reason to go there? Does yours?

    8. Say no to focus groups

    You NEVER build a brand using focus groups. Period.

    If creative services come into your local focus group and sell you on a logo or slogan by explaining what makes it so great, are they going to be there to sell it to everyone who sees it? If a slogan has to be explained, toss it. Focus groups come up with slogans that are generic and designed to make everybody happy. “We have something for everyone.” You need to set yourself apart, not try to be everything to everyone.

    9. Find your niche, your specialty

    Communities need to understand the difference between their primary lures and their diversions. The primary lure is what people can’t get closer to home, and it makes you worth a special trip.

    Diversions aren’t the primary attraction that brought the visitor - people could do diversions closer to home, but they will do them while visiting you as well. Golfing, bird watching, trails, parks, local museums, historic downtowns, wineries and outdoor recreation are usually diversions. (They are sometimes the primary lure - if they’re the biggest, the best, or the first.) And it’s OK to be a diversion! Eighty percent of visitor spending takes place on diversions. Why do you think Disney built Downtown Disney?

    It’s critical to promote your primary lure first, diversions second. What makes you worth a special trip?

    10. It takes a village

    It takes a village to build and own a brand - everyone must be on the same page and pulling in the same direction. Can you imagine what would happen if every Coca-Cola bottling plant designed its own Coke logo, label and ad? The Coke brand wouldn’t exist. You are much more powerful as one loud voice than a number of small voices. It is vitally important for the local government, chambers of commerce, business groups and destination marketing organizations to work together to bring a brand to life.

    So, what do people think of when they think of your community? What sets you apart from other communities nearby? Is that what you’re promoting? Embrace what is unique about your community and promote it - and make sure you’re ready to deliver on the promise so visitors will get the experience they’re looking for, and want to come back again and again.

  • See how Squamish, BC is catching the attention of investors see more

    Located midway between the City of North Vancouver and Whistler Resort in Western British Columbia is a town that, not very long ago, was as red-neck as it could be. Once a home to logging and mining companies, this town of 20,000 residents is now the youngest city in Canada and is on the cutting edge of “recreational technologies.”

    Just ten years ago, most of the waterfront was used for logging operations, but now this land is being marketed to investment firms and businesses for the creation of an incredible mixed-use village.

    To market it, the city produced this video, which is one of the best we’ve ever seen. For the first time in North American history, jobs are going where the talent is – or wants to be. Squamish is one of those places and this video shows that, making it obvious that this is a great investment opportunity.


  • Article
    How do you find a slogan that truly represents your community’s brand? see more

    Your slogan can be the message that cements your brand in the minds of locals and visitors, or it can be a colossal waste of money that leaves people scratching their heads. With competition for new industry and tourism at an all time high, cities and towns across America are attempting to brand themselves with a catchy slogan in the hopes that it will lure new visitors and new money.

    But how do you sift through the piles of redundant and overused catchphrases to find a slogan that truly represents your community’s brand? All while making sure it sets you apart from everyone else? So, how important is a good slogan anyway?

    Bad slogans are easy to find, and they can cost you. In 2006 Baltimore paid $500,000 to come up with “Get In On It.” Get in on what? one might wonder. And what does “it” have to do with Baltimore? Seattle spent 16 months and $200,000 and the end result was “Metronatural.” Really? Sweden spent $250,000 to come up with“Visit Sweden.” This says nothing about the country, nor does it give us any reason to visit.

    Big cities aren’t the only ones trying to jump on the branding bandwagon with questionable slogans. A myriad of rib ticklers can be found in small town America. Keister, MN obviously has a sense of humor - they dub themselves “The Hind End of Minnesota.” Marlin, Texas goes with the honest approach, “Spend your money in Marlin, darlin’.” San Andreas, California tries for some humorous irony, using the slogan, “It’s not our fault.” And one of our personal favorites is from Hooker, Oklahoma - “It’s a location, not a vocation.”

    But what do these slogans really say about the communities they are intended to represent? And are they doing their job, drawing visitors, businesses and new residents to the area?

    The problem is, when a community decides to come up with a brand, they often focus most of their attention, and money, on the logo and slogan. But a slogan is not a brand. Neither is a logo.

    Let me repeat that - logos and slogans are not brands. They are merely the marketing messages used to communicate and support your brand. A real brand is not to be found in a round table focus group, or at the desk of a graphic designer. A community’s brand is what comes to mind when people think of the community or business. This might be planned, carefully orchestrated to lure visitors and give the community a sense of place and identity. Often a brand is “earned” by reputation, sometimes a negative one. Many times communities require a “rebranding” or “repositioning” program to change the perceptions people have of them.

    A brand is built on product—on the experience people expect to have when they arrive. If your community lacks the product to support their intended brand, the brand will fail, even with the wittiest slogan in the world. Your community must “deliver on the promise,” to actually be what you claim to be. This is what your community should focus on when building their brand—building the product necessary to deliver on that promise.

    Product sells itself. Then you can work on the marketing messages necessary to communicate the brand to the world.

    Once you’re ready to move forward with a new brand, when the product development is underway and you can deliver on the promise the brand represents, THEN it’s time to come up with a good slogan. There are a few key things to remember when developing a tag line:

    1. Jettison the generic. If it rings true for just about any community, anywhere, it’s too generic. Anyone can be “Unique by nature,” “The four season destination,” or “Fun for the whole family.” You need to focus on what is unique about your community, what makes you stand apart from the crowd. Promote activities, not just places.
    2. Say no to focus groups. You NEVER build a brand using focus groups. Focus groups inevitably come up with slogans that are too generic, attempting to please everybody. Feel good slogans designed to make people in the community feel warm and fuzzy won’t do anything to promote your destination to outsiders.
    3. Build your brand on feasibility, not just local sentiment. You cannot be all things to all people and win in this age of specialization. Focus on that one thing that puts you on the map and sets you apart from everyone else.
    4. Differentiation. With thousands of communities vying for the same set of visitors, you must be original, offering something to visitors that they can’t get closer to home.

    Building a brand is not a shallow exercise. Rather, it’s an involved process, one that requires much more work than simply designing a logo and catchy slogan. But a good slogan is a useful tool in your community’s marketing arsenal, helping to solidify the brand in the minds of locals and visitors and conveying what your community is all about. When your slogan is supported by a winning product that delivers on the brand promise, you have the foundation for a successful brand.

  • What does it take for a community to become a “festival city” – a place known for its events? see more

    What does it take for a community to become a “Festival City” – a place known for its events?

    Not long ago, I was chatting with a business owner in Gilroy, California, home of the world famous Garlic Festival. She wanted to know what I thought of their brand. She told me the festival lasts three days and draws 100,000 attendees. Impressive, but my question was, “What’s your brand the other 362 days of the year.” Her response? “Got it.”

    There are two sides to an event based brand:

    1. It puts you “on the map.” People around the world have heard of Gilroy because of the Garlic Festival. If it weren’t for the festival, most people in California would probably not have heard of Gilroy.

    2. The challenge, however, is that being known for something is one thing, but turning that into cash through tourism spending is a whole other matter. And isn’t that the goal? If you want to hang your brand on a single event, will it generate enough revenues for your businesses to last the other 362 days of the year? Probably not.

    So what does it take to own an event based brand, to be a “festival city”? Here are the seven things you must do to make it work.

    1. You need at least 200 “event days’ per year. That’s right, 200. Not five, ten or twenty.


    Now, that doesn’t mean 200 events, but 200 days with something happening. You could have 50 four-day events. A public market with daily entertainment would be considered an event day. More than 14 million people descend on the Pike Place Market in Seattle (yes, the place where they throw the fish), and every day there is an “event” for every visitor.

    This still leaves 165 days with little going on, but the point is, for that 52 weeks or weekends, people will ask, “I wonder what’s going on this weekend.” It creates top of mind awareness.

    2. Your events must be worth a 50 mile (80 km) drive. Why would someone drive for an hour for a pancake feed they can get closer to home? For every event ask the question, “If this were taking place in a small town an hour from here, would I go?” If the answer is no, cross it off the list.

    3. Being a festival city doesn’t mean you have to produce every event. You can recruit in classic car clubs, motorcycle rallies, quilt shows, pottery guild exhibitions, etc. and as long as they are open to the public and worth an hour’s drive (for the visitors with an interest in the genre), then you’ve got yourself another event.

    4. Rural communities have to go big. If you want to become a festival city and you’re in a rural area hoping to attract visitors from your metropolitan primary markets, then add up how many events they host a year. If you want to own the festivals brand (and brands are all about ownership), you need to hose MORE events AND significantly different events than what they are hosting. Once again, if they can do the same thing closer to home, why head your way?

    5. You need to have places to host these events that won’t disrupt your community’s traffic and daily flow of people. My favorite “event city” is Rapid City, South Dakota. They built Main Street Square, a one-acre plaza in the heart of their downtown and have a staff of four people who work full-time to program the square. There is always something going on and downtown Rapid City has become as big a destination as nearby Mt. Rushmore! The point is, they created a spectacular venue that allows them to have events like ice skating, Movies on the Square, car shows, concerts, food festivals and more. Check it out at

    6. A Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) should NOT be the organization to manage an event brand.There should be a stand-alone festival and events organization charged with recruiting and managing the events brand.

    7. There should always be a common thread through all of your events. If you want to be known as an events destination for families with young kids, then you should make sure your events are ALL focused on that demographic. The common focus is what your brand is all about.

    The bottom line? Being a festival city is an awesome brand, but it is NEVER as simple as “let’s promote our five local events and call ourselves the event destination!” Many towns have tried it and I ask a very simple question: “How’s that working for you?”

    You already know the answer.

    How does your community stand out from the rest?