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Community branding more important than ever

JOHN NEWBY • Apr 14, 2020 at 10:00 PM

While communities certainly have more on their minds these days, it is never too early to start thinking how your community is going to position yourself moving forward post virus. If your community has never really focused on its brand, now is the time to start thinking about that.

With the whole travel market undergoing a massive shift, your local brand will be more critical now than ever before. How others view your community will be the difference between prospering and struggling in the future.

Why do we need a brand or what good does it do for us? Compare your community to a ship; a community without a brand is much like a ship without a rudder. Your brand is critical if you wish to compete in the ever more increasingly competitive community job and tourism attraction game.

What is a brand? A brand is a perception; it isn’t a cute slogan or logo. It is what people think of you, it is not what you think of yourself, unless of course those two go hand in hand. Too often, communities create brands upon how they view themselves. This can cause disconnects with the very people they are trying to attract to the community. The most successful brands promote emotion, excitement and feeling. Brands create the why, not the location or the activity.

Let me start with this. When potential visitors search for what they will be doing on their next vacation, they rarely search by location first. They search by activity first followed by a potential location. A great example might be if someone is looking to go boating or fishing, they are going to search boating or fishing hotspots etc. They don’t search location and then hope they find fishing or boating. Nearly all communities get it backwards when marketing and branding their community as they concentrate on the location. What their community has to offer is promoted secondary.

Brands need to be very focused to be effective. The broader the focus; the less effective. You can’t try and be everything to everybody. You will fail with this strategy. While marketing is important; understand that successful brands rely on much more than marketing. Great branding relies upon a viable product. Too many communities piece together their brands only to disappoint. They think their brand is one thing; when visitors come expecting that, they are disappointed. This sets your community back many years as it is difficult to rebound from false advertising of your brand.

Creating successful brands are difficult at best. Brands need to be created with both inside and outside perspectives. Focus groups are the absolute worst way to create brands. They usually lead to localized thinking and typically get watered down to keep everyone happy. Just as bad as focus groups can be, local politics can produce equally bad results. Local politics have killed as many great ideas and brands as focus groups. While focus groups and political opinions do have a place in the community, branding isn’t one of those places other than to possibly help align efforts. While local input is critical, often brand creation is best done with an outside perspective guiding the inside thinking.

Patience can serve a great role in branding. You may have a great branding idea but are not quite ready as a community to present or offer the impact needed to succeed. Be sure whatever brand you settle on you can deliver. If you fail to deliver, all your advertising, marketing and efforts will be for naught. When building your brand, think beyond the now. Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years as a community? Build your brand for the long haul, not for just today.

Make no mistake, branding is one of the most critical elements for a community to get exactly right. You can’t afford to get it wrong. The world is becoming much more competitive, and this includes communities. If you are going to compete in the world of tourism and job attraction, your brand will be a vital element in that competition. Don’t cut corners on this element of your community’s message, for without this portion of the message, you are a book without a plot, one that will get put down never to be picked-up again.

John A. Newby is author of the “Building Main Street, Not Wall Street” column and Facebook group dedicated to helping communities and media companies work together allowing both to not just survive but thrive in a world where truly local is lost to Amazon, Wall Street chains and others. His email is: john@360MediaAlliance.net.

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