community branding

  • What is your Unique Selling Proposition? see more

    We have the world at our fingertips in a fraction of a second and so you MUST stand out from the crowd if you hope to succeed - when attracting visitors, investment, or as a place to live. What sets you apart from everyone else? In tourism, always promote that one activity that makes you worth a special trip and a repeat visit. You must either be different, clearly better (by third-party endorsement), or you must have more of something so that people will skip over a similar activity closer to home, making you worth a special trip. Finding your Unique Selling Proposition has been around since the 1950's but in this Internet age, is more important now than ever before. 

  • A Brand is a Perception see more

    Every person, product and place has a brand - a perception. When you tell people you’re from a certain city, town or neighborhood, what is their initial reaction? What do they say? Whatever that initial reaction is, that’s your brand in their mind. If they say “I’m so sorry,” then perhaps it’s time for some “re-branding” or “repositioning.” If they say, “I know you for those great trails!” or “Wow! I wish I could live there!” then you’ve got a solid brand - a solid reputation - a solid perception.

    Want some tips and tricks to assist you with your brand? Visit our Resource Center to access our videos and how-to guides on branding here.

  • Action Plans are for Action! see more

    Want to learn more about creating a community action plan? Head to the Resource Center to watch the video "Big Success Starts With a Plan: Creating Your Own Action Plan" here

  • Logos are not Brands see more

    Logos and slogans are NOT Brands! Want to learn more how to brand a community beyond a logo or slogan? Access our 2-part, "The Art of Branding Series" here.

  • 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.

    WHAT TO DO

    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.

  • Jordan Pogue posted an 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.

  • Jordan Pogue posted an article
    When someone mentions your community’s name, what is the first thing that comes to mind? see more

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

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

    • Salem, Massachusetts

    • Hershey, Pennsylvania
    • Anaheim, California
    • Williamsburg,Virginia
    • Scottsdale, Arizona

    What community or county is synonymous with these brands?

    • The country music capital
    • The home of Elvis Presley
    • The wine capital of the U.S.
    • Amish

    These community-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? Maybe not.

    Aren't these the brands that first come to mind for you, for these destinations?:

    Salem: Witches

    Hershey: Chocolate

    Anaheim: Disneyland

    Williamsburg: Colonial History

    Scottsdale: Upscale Golf and Spa Getaways

    Country music capital: Nashville

    Home of Elvis: Memphis

    Wine Capital: Napa Valley

    Amish: Lancaster County, PA

    Each of these communities has much more to offer than just country music or chocolate, but there's generally just that one particular thing that puts each of them on the map and sets them apart from everyone else.

  • Jordan Pogue posted an article
    What sets you apart from everyone else? What’s your brand story? see more

    1. Logos and slogans are not brands.
    They are merely marketing messages used to reinforce, support and strengthen your brand. Logos, slogans and tag lines make up only 2% of a brand, yet local politics usually give 98% of their attention to these elements when developing their brand.

    2. Brands are perceptions.
    They are what people think of you—good or bad. Sometimes communities need an overhaul: a “repositioning” or a “rebranding” effort.

    3. Brands are about differentiation.
    What differentiates you from everyone else? What sets you apart?

    4. Brands are narrow.
    Narrow your focus, then narrow it some more. Brands are specific. Find your niche and promote it like crazy. Pontiac was the muscle car brand until they broadened it to include wimpy four-cylinder compact cars. Where is Pontiac today? Gone. They are a history lesson in branding gone bad.

    5. Brands are about ownership.
    Napa Valley owns the wine country brand. Nashville owns the country music brand. Branson, Missouri owns the music theater capital brand.

    6. Steer clear of focus groups.
    You never build a successful brand using focus groups. The “group hug mentality” will give you a watered-down generic “one size fits all” brand. Apple, the world’s most valuable company, doesn’t use focus groups. Steve Jobs once noted that “customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The iPad is a perfect example of that.

    7. Brands are built on product.
    Brands are a promise that you will deliver on the perception we have of you. And those perceptions are built on product and communicated by marketing—not the other way around. For decades Volvo was touted as the safest car. Their product backed it up and today they are still seen as a very safe car.

    8. You never roll out a brand.
    A brand is earned—good or bad. It can take years, even decades, to build a strong brand. Brands are largely developed via word-of-mouth: publicity and social media. After all, brands are built on of what people think of you. You build your brand through public relations, then advertising is used to maintain your ownership position.

    9. Great brands evoke emotion.
    They hit you in an emotional spot. They make you want to go there. They are memorable. They have strong “top of mind awareness.” Disney’s advertising is a perfect example of how to evoke emotion.

    10. Brands require tireless champions.
    One of my favorite quotes is “A by-product of brands ‘for the people’ is the committee that compromises and kills a potential brand home run. This is why you never see statues of committees in public parks; you see brave leaders.” Politics is the number one killer of any branding project, and it’s worse with membership organizations than with elected officials. The desire to be all things to all people is so overwhelming, but it will kill a winning brand.

    If branding were easy, everyone would be doing it! What sets you apart from everyone else? What’s your brand story?

  • Jordan Pogue posted an article
    Why focus groups are not the way to choose your winning brand. see more

    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 ever sees it?

    If a logo, slogan, or key marketing message has to be explained, toss it. If it’s generic, toss it. If it’s more than seven words, toss it.

    Focus groups invariably come up with slogans that are generic and designed to make everybody happy. “We have some- thing for everyone.” And, by the way, you cannot do branding by public consent. Period. You will never reach a consensus.

    This is why you build your brand on feasibility, not just local sentiment. Isn’t the goal to separate yourself from the other 60,000 communities in North America? You can’t do this by being all things to all people. You MUST find your niche and promote it like crazy.

    How to do this? You ask locals what they think the brand should be (once they understand what branding is) and then you run those ideas through the “Feasibility Test.” (See Feasibility article) This takes the politics out of the branding process and bases your brand on feasibility. At the end of the day, isn’t your brand about marketing your community? As a great place to live, work, or visit?

    Beaumont, Texas uses “Rich With Opportunity” as their brand tag line. While this might make locals feel good for a week or two, does it say anything about Beaumont that doesn’t apply to virtually every other community in North America? Isn’t your community Rich With Opportunity?

    Simply say no to focus groups and “feel good” slogans and tag lines.

  • Jordan Pogue posted an article
    Avoid these words and phrases in your marketing efforts see more

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

    In this age of fast and easy information, the world is at people’s fingertips. With more than 1,200 marketing messages bombarding us each day, we tune out everything that does not directly appeal to us. An effective community brand can cut through all that clutter and grab our attention. When the brand promises us the experience we’re looking for, we definitely take notice.

    This is the age of specialization—being known for something specific. Branding is often misunderstood, and frequently communities spend too much time and money attempting to create a brand that is too generic and could fit virtually anyone, anywhere.

    Here is the first thing you need to know about branding a destination:

    1. You MUST Jettison the Generic™

    Avoid, at all costs, the generic in your marketing. If your marketing messages can be applied to virtually any other community, it won’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.

    Anyone can say “Experience Us,” “Four seasons of fun,” “Fun for the whole family,” “Unique by Nature,” or “Pure and Simple,” or even worse, “We have something for everyone.” Do those tell you anything about the community? What you might experience? Do they give you any reason to visit?

    Carefully read through your marketing materials. If you can take out the name of your community, region, county or state and insert anyone else’s name in that space, and it still rings true, then it’s way too generic.

    Words & phrases to avoid

    You MUST jettison the generic. Ninety-seven percent of all community-based advertising is ineffective because virtually everyone is saying the same things.

    So, avoid these words and phrases in your marketing efforts:

    • Explore
    • Outdoor recreation
    • So much to see and do
    • Historic downtown
    • Center of it all
    • We have it all
    • Naturally fun
    • Close to everywhere
    • Your playground
    • Purely natural
    • A slice of heaven
    • Life pure and simple
    • The place for families
    • Recreational paradise
    • Take a look!
    • Discover
    • Unlike anywhere else
    • The four season destination
    • Where the seasons come to life
    • Best kept secret
    • Experience..
    • Gateway
    • Right around the corner
    •  So much history
    • The place for all ages
    • It’s all right here
    • The perfect getaway
    • Start your vacation here
    • We have something for everyone!
    • A great place to live, work & play

    This list could fit just about any community anywhere! 

    Pick a town a three-hour drive from you, then add one of these slogans to their name. Would it make you want to go there? Does it set them apart from your community? We didn't think so!

    Avoid this list. It’s not easy is it?

  • Jordan Pogue posted an 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.

  • Jordan Pogue posted an article
    If you can avoid these three killers, you are well on your way to becoming an outstanding destinatio see more

    In this video blog, Roger presents the 3 killers of any community branding effort. If you want your community to stand out from the rest, you must narrow your focus. This is not an easy strategy to undertake. If you can avoid these three killers, you are well on your way to becoming an outstanding destination. Watch out for those killers!

  • Jordan Pogue posted an article
    You always build your brand through public relations; advertising is used to maintain your position. see more

    You always build your brand through public relations. Advertising is used to maintain your position—only once you “own” the brand.

    Remember, brands are perceptions—what people think of you. That happens when articles are written about you, through word-of-mouth, and always through a third party. Communities are sometimes dealt negative brands via the same vehicles: word-of-mouth, bad news, or articles that all paint a negative, but are often true, perception of the community, whether fairly deserved or not. The same methods hold true for well-branded communities and the same tools must be used if you need to reposition or redevelop a brand. It all starts with a strong PR effort.

    Public relations, intertwined with third-party endorsements, is absolutely critical to developing a strong brand. These days, social media has become a primary ingredient and tool to “brand building.” Perhaps no community in North America has done a better job at branding than Asheville, North Carolina. Check out their website at http://www.exploreasheville.com. Cool. Hip. Artsy. Funky. And the must-visit place along the 500-mile Blue Ridge Parkway.

    Advertising is what you think of yourself. Branding is what other people think of you. To win, you must have those third-party endorsements that only an effective PR effort can provide. Then when you “own” your brand, advertise it like crazy to cement that ownership position into the minds of the people you hope to attract.

    No matter how many “wine countries” we develop in North America, Napa Valley will always “own” the wine capital brand. There are Amish communities throughout the central and eastern U.S. states, but Lancaster County, Pennsylvania “owns” the Amish brand. No matter how many casinos and gambling destinations we develop, Las Vegas will always “own” the gambling and adult-fun capital brand.

    Brands are always about ownership. And that happens through PR, followed by advertising to cement that ownership position.