Think of a brand. For many people, the first thing that comes to mind is perhaps logos like the Nike “swoosh”, Apple’s “apple”, or McDonald’s “golden arches”. Now, think of what those symbols mean or how they make you feel. If you’re a sports fan, think of your favorite team and all of the logos, colors, mascots, koozies, etc., that go with them. Chances are, you’ve purchased at least one item from their franchise. Audiences develop strong loyalties to brands, and brands are built because of what people think of them.
One of the most popular brands relating to a place is the “I Love NY” campaign. In the 1970s, New York City was in rough shape. It was a dirty, crime-ridden, unforgiving place. Empire State Development, New York State’s economic development organization, hired a graphic designer, the late Milton Glaser, to create a design that harnessed the positive spirit of New Yorkers and provided a tangible representation of people’s love for their city. The long-standing logo induces a sense of pride in residents and communicates a culture to visitors.
The term “place brand” refers to the idea that cities and regions can be branded leading to further development via branding techniques and other marketing strategies. Success in branding a place depends on how well that place can position itself positively by effectively defining and communicating what it has to offer audiences. To truly stand out, cities need to find their unique stories, assets, and culture, and then broadcast those to their target audiences in an original, compelling, and believable way. The process of developing a place brand involves multiple phases including research, design, development, and execution. It is also multidimensional, incorporating linkages of products, spaces, organizations, businesses, and people.
All good marketing is rooted in research, so the first step in place branding is analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). The SWOT is developed with input from key stakeholders in the community as well as audiences outside of the community. Local participants can provide insight into an area’s unique offerings and culture while outsiders can provide an unbiased, fresh take on an area’s perception. Meetings, interviews, surveys, etc. with these groups and individuals help to create an inventory of, and identify gaps in, creative assets and resources.
Once this data has been compiled, the community message should become clear so the brand can begin to take shape, and decisions on logos, colors, symbols, and imagery are made. Then, a marketing plan can take shape to lay out the activation, tactics, and trajectory of the brand.
The goal of this type of marketing is primarily attraction. The main objective is to increase awareness, perception, and consideration of the city or region as a place to live and/or locate or expand a business. Also, ultimately, with an increase in investment in the area, the brand would continue to benefit all local stakeholders including government, businesses, and civil society.
The Auburn Industrial Development Authority (AIDA) recently issued a request for proposals (RFP) from marketing agencies for the development of a place brand for the City of Auburn. This would be a first of its kind project for AIDA and the City, and as such, the RFP is partly an exploration to figure out what a project of this scope might look like from a budget perspective and what agencies have the capacity to produce a comprehensive and quality effort.
Participation from our local partners and community during the initial research phase is crucial for the development of the brand. If AIDA engages a marketing firm for this project, lookout for invitations to join focus groups or complete surveys, and please accept and engage in the research and development effort. With input from our community and local businesses, we will be better able to hone an original, compelling, and accurate message to deliver to audiences.
This type of economic development marketing is relatively new. Traditionally, marketing efforts have been focused on government, industries, or economic development organizations. For example, a business looking for a new site might land on the website of the local government planning office. A place-based brand strategy allows Auburn to tell a story about what it is like to live and do business here, rather than just pointing to its institutions. This helps to position itself among other comparable cities and paint a picture for potential future businesses and residents. Over the past decade, Auburn, especially its downtown, has experienced a regrowth. Entrepreneurs are launching businesses in niche markets and using our community as an incubator. The City has several advanced manufacturing facilities that are expanding. Auburn is deeply rooted in arts and culture and nurtures a thriving specialty tourism industry. In order to stand out and continue this trend of regrowth, we need to define what makes Auburn unique, discover how we are perceived, and be open to change.