By David Capece, Managing Partner
Earlier this year, we conducted a survey of emerging leaders and presented the results in our America State of the Union 2009 report. We covered the ideal traits of America, including opportunity, innovation, diversity, and generosity. Since that time, Brand America was ranked #1 in FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index and President Barack Obama has been characterized by some as the new Brand Manager for Brand America. While it appears that we are on the right track, there are significant challenges to strengthening Brand America. We interviewed branding expert Ed Burghard of The Burghard Group to gain new perspective on the challenges and best practices for place branding.
Q: Hi Edward. Please tell us briefly about your current initiatives in place branding.
A: There is an opportunity to elevate the branding efforts in the public sector by transferring knowledge from private sector branding experts to help economic development professionals. Branding can play a strategic role in helping local leaders make better choices about where to focus their product development efforts. To help address that need, I have created the Strengthening Brand America Project. It is a community of practice for economic development professionals.
Q: In your current work, what do you see as the opportunity for branding among communities and states?
A: It’s imperative that economic development professionals recognize that branding is about a lot more than a logo and a tagline. With a strategically defined branding platform, you can focus on a clear vision for the medium to long-term. That enables you to make better product development decisions specifically as it relates to public policy, infrastructure renewal, and asset creation. You can also optimize your investment decisions and do more to build and manage a diverse set of initiatives that all point to the same goal.
Q: Why is community branding important?
A: In my work, the goal is to create a productive business climate that attracts growing companies, and to enable those companies to be successful on a global basis. I believe that community branding is very important from an economic and business perspective. DCI did study in 2008 that concluded 71% of capital investment deals did not involve an initial contact with any development organization until a short list of potential location options for investment had been created. That means that 71% of the time, community image is the way to get you on a shortlist.
Q: What are some of the challenges to place branding in US communities?
A: Our political system is led by politicians who have an administration term focus. That means that they are interested in what they can accomplish while in office. In a 4 year term there are typically 2 strong years of productive progress (years 2 and 3) surrounded by an up-front orientation and immersion process (year 1) and campaign period for re-election (year 4). This is a tough dynamic for successful branding because it is difficult to get continuity on initiatives that often take longer to come to fruition.
Q: What are some examples of successful place branding?
A: Dubai is a great case study. At one point, Dubai was nothing but desert. This gave the advantage of a clean slate for a pre-planned development. Leaders established a vision, determined what assets they needed to create, and coalesced an active community into an amazing success. Northern Ireland is also a great example. In this case, they didn’t have clean slate, so they looked into the future, developed their ideal identity, and reverse engineered what needed to be true. They became one of the hottest locations for capital investment. Spain also keeps coming up as a successful example. A little closer to home, Branson, Missouri has developed into a hotbed for country music, with a place on the map next to Nashville. They set a vision and methodically went after it. As they could afford expansion, they grew, even building a lake. Of course, the challenge is that we’re talking about a 100 year time frame in the case of Branson. And sustained development efforts over long time horizons are always a challenge.
Q: What are the key next steps to elevate the American brand and local community brands?
A: If we can get better “place” branding, then we can attract more foreign direct investment. That can make an economic difference. We need a critical mass of communities moving in the same direction. For example, the largest 20 states represent 80% of GDP and the largest 80 cities represent 70% of GDP. We must consider emotional drivers such as “work-life balance” that impact decision making and we need to do a better job of measuring where we are today, with metrics on performance against specific goals. Ultimately, with the right vision prioritized across key stakeholders, there can be a huge economic win and we can change the dynamics of the country in a short period of time.
Image by Zsuzsanna Kilian from Stock.Xchng