Monday, April 11, 2016

North Carolina Latest to Demonstrate Why Public Policy Matters in Place Branding

Last week, PayPal announced they were cancelling plans for a new 400 employee operations center in North Carolina due to the passage of an anti-LGBT law. The law has brought rebukes from rights groups, business leaders, artists and entertainers, and led to more than a dozen canceled conventions. Meanwhile CNN reported that Mississippi’s tourism industry is facing a backlash in response to passage of a similar law. 

This public outcry should not be surprising to legislators in those states since loud objections and threats of economic boycotts were voiced when similar laws were proposed in Indiana and Arkansas last year.

The negative impact of these legislative efforts demonstrate why you cannot separate place branding from public policy. Legislation and rules, whether considered pro-business or anti-LGBT, impact how people view a place and their desire to interact with it.  Indeed some, like Simon Anholt of the Good Country, argue that place branding is only accomplished by policies and public diplomacy, not by marketing or communications.

Some public officials understand this. North Carolina's Attorney General Roy Cooper said he would refuse to defend the law in court. "We're talking about discrimination here," Cooper said at a press conference, according to CNN. "Not only is this new law a national embarrassment, it will set North Carolina's economy back." Governors in Ohio and South Carolina have denounced anti-LGBT laws, without a corresponding backlash.

Surprisingly, though, North Carolina’s top economic development official has chosen to stay mum on the topic even as companies threaten to leave.
Chris Chung, chief executive of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, was quoted by the Charlotte Observer as saying his organization recognizes “the wide range of opinions on the new legislation, but as an organization that performs under contract with the state government, the EDPNC does not take positions on matters of public policy.”

What?  Groups like the EDPNC spend millions of dollars annually to promote their place as a desirable location for business investment, travel and residents.  Many public officials claim that “economic development” and “job creation” are their number one priority.  When their actions threaten to destroy those efforts, someone needs to speak up and point out the inseparable connection between the two.

Places have images just as products and corporations do. Consumer acceptance of the product or place is dependent on creating a positive image. Those images must be built from within and based on something authentic, not constructed by a marketing or PR campaign.

In other words, actions speak louder than words.  If a product benefits from a great marketing campaign but it does not satisfy its user, then the product is a failure.  Likewise, in place branding, a state like Michigan, for instance, can have the best television ads in the world to support their “Pure Michigan” brand, but a failure of public policy around providing clean water to its residents in Flint can undermine the whole effort both past and future. 

Public policy and place branding must work in harmony with each other.  By passing legislation that is objectionable to some of the same audiences that economic development agencies are trying to reach, the policy makers in these states undermine their economic development efforts.  It will take many months – or even years – to overcome the damage caused to the brands of these states by their legislators.  If they are truly interested in "economic development", they must learn to focus on substantive measures that improve the competitiveness and image of their location, not symbolic actions that are intended to curry favor with a particular political constituency.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Where Regional Branding Goes Wrong

Where Regional Branding Goes Wrong

Where do regions go wrong when marketing their brand?  By focusing on a generic, one-size fits all brand rather than viewing their region as a portfolio of individual ones.   

Most regions look to create an umbrella brand, but this lends itself to dilution of the region’s unique characteristics.  By putting all of the region’s assets together under one brand, regions promote sameness rather than diversity.  For instance the “Detroit Region” may invoke negative images while ignoring the R&D strength of Ann Arbor, the hip sophistication of Royal Oak or the water recreation mecca of Mount Clemens. 

Imagine Crest toothpaste, Dawn dish soap or Charmin bath tissue all being sold under the generic Procter and Gamble (P&G) label.  Each of P&G’s brands serve customers in different ways—but all with a focus on making peoples’ lives a little easier. So should regions focus on positioning their individual places with specific markets or industries in a way that suits their target’s business goals.

Like these consumer brands, places have unique characteristics and attributes that deserve to be highlighted because of the varying needs and interests of their target audiences.  Regions are not homogenous and should not be pasteurized through bland, generic branding. 

Certainly, there is a need for an overarching brand identity within regions.  But, investment promotion agencies need to focus more sharply on the attributes of their individual communities. General Motors is comprised of several divisions (Buick, Cadillac and Chevy), GMC) that each have individual models (Malibu, Cruze or Volt).  Each model has its own brand as does each division and combined, they make up the entity known as GM. 

Likewise, regional economies are nothing more than the sum of their local ones.  The communities contained within a region represent a series of products that form the regional product line.   Each deserves its own marketing strategy. 

Regional groups can strengthen their area and generate more investment opportunities by building a branding campaign that views each community as an individual brand and has a strategy for each.