I was recently fortunate enough to one of the judges on the PlaceBrander of the Year awards in Sweden. The ceremony event was held at the very modern and stylish Copperhill Mountain Lodge resort in Åre, Sweden. The very worthy winner of the event this year was Umeå, which is the European Capital of Culture.
It was interesting in reviewing the various entries from around Sweden and to reflect on what made for an outstanding entry.
The official criteria, which are extremely valid, were a Place Branding project that led to the growth of the destination in terms of tourism, inward investment, residential growth or an increase in activity such as congresses and exhibitions.
The three things I look for
But what more was I looking for as a judge? What else was important to see that went beyond these initial worthy criteria?
1. Long-term focus.
One of the striking things is that too many place branding activities are 'campaign focused'. Campaigns in my mind tend to be too short term. Places are difficult things to market and create strong brands for. Branding takes time and a campaign tends to be a shorter term, one off, event. I think part of the issue is that traditional advertising agencies themselves are very campaign oriented. Traditional advertising agencies aren't terribly good at dealing with the greater complexity that Place Branding really demands.
Equally the place or destination itself needs to clearly identify goals with definable long term strategic objectives. What is the place trying to achieve? What are their goals in terms of either inward investment, tourism or residential growth? Too often these are missing and even when present, tend to be expressed in generalities. Each place is different and demands a different, long term, set of objectives.
2. Distinct positioning.
Once these longer term goals and objectives are identified the focus should be on creating a really distinct positioning. The art of marketing is the art of branding. The art of branding is the creation of a distinct positioning. Being number one in your chosen category. It is the hardest thing to get right. We did it wonderfully well with the work we did for Stockholm - as The Capital of Scandinavia. A simple and clear proposition. A distinct positioning means being just that - distinct. You can't be all things to all people. You need to stand for something and that will probably lead to some people not liking it. But if you produce wallpaper that doesn't stand out, odds are you won't offend anyone- but equally you won't stand out either.
3. Communication that really communicates.
Beyond the branding elements I obviously look at the communications thinking and increasingly a good mix between traditional media and activities and social media use. I think nearly all places and destinations engage in some form of social media activity nowadays, but unfortunately too much of it is disjointed and sporadic. The world of marketing has been turned on its head in the last ten years and nowadays customers are in control of what they want to see and experience. They can get more information, and form opinions about places, and brands, without ever looking at your website or following your social media posts.
The whole focus nowadays should be built around attracting the right customers to seek you out and the way you do that is with great quality Content and strong Inbound Marketing programmes. If you are not using this approach in your marketing yet, odds are you are producing lots of content but it is probably being wasted, and measurement of results is not being utilised to refine messaging and campaigns. The key is creating great quality content, without it being overly sales oriented. It firstly needs to be great quality content on a topic. Approach it as you would a relationship with a person. On the first date you don't normally offer to get married and have kids. You get to know each other and gently build the relationship. It's like that with marketing and especially content and inbound.
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