Place marketing—the time to start is now
27 March 2012
By Tariq Khwaja
It’s funny how certain types of marketing behave like buses—with a period of low activity followed by a sudden surge in interest.
One behaving in a bus-like way right now is place marketing (‘place branding’ or ‘location marketing’ if you prefer). By this I mean the promotion of cities, towns, districts or counties to boost their economic fortunes, particularly by attracting businesses—sometimes visitors, students and residents as well ...
In reality, it’s doubtful this is as random as buses as I can see a good explanation for a new surge in interest. It goes like this:
Recession hits … budgets squeezed … local bodies batten down the hatches and wait for things to pick up on their own … three or so years pass … growing awareness that a ‘sit it out’ strategy isn’t going to deliver this time ... more enlightened organisations realise they need to act decisively to improve their location’s economic health.
It’s interesting to look at the types of organisations which are coming to this conclusion. Yes, it’s the more dynamic, forward-thinking local authorities. But it’s also business associations, inward investment bodies, tourism groups, colleges and universities. Those that work well together within an area will fare the best.
These organisations are wise to grasp the place marketing nettle now.
Firstly, competing places may still be sitting on their hands, so they can steal a march on them. Of course the converse is also true: if you’re not taking action, your rival locations may well be—and good companies deciding to invest there instead will be your loss for years to come.
Secondly, you can’t turn place marketing on by flicking a switch as soon as the business climate improves. Like any serious marketing effort, it takes time to build.
So places need to start today, if they haven’t already. If they do it well, they'll fare better in the tough times that still confront us. And emerge all the stronger when the economy returns to proper growth.
More another time on what organisations can do to marketing places with flair and effectiveness. In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear any views and experiences from this increasingly important field.
Added by Tariq Khwaja on 29 March 2012
Malcolm, thanks for your comments, which I fully agree with.
Despite the apparent upsurge in interest, it's surprising how many places still don't have a good brand strategy or even a co-ordinated marketing approach.
Fundamentally, some local authorities and other bodies don't consider their places seriously enough as 'products' when it comes to marketing, even though they are generally products on a grand scale with high stakes for the whole community. This is compounded by a lack of clarity over whose 'job' it is: everyone hopes someone else will do it!
In some bodies, one or two individuals see the bigger picture but have a tough job bringing others with them or galvanising any action. But at least increasing numbers seem to be starting to take definite steps. This may force the rest to follow suit as they realise they're being left behind.
Added by Malcolm Allan on 29 March 2012
I agree with your "waiting for the bus" analogy. For a long time cash strapped authorities and agencies cut back on or stopped marketing their place and then wonder why its not on the radar of their target markets as budgets ease. This is rather a simplistic description but has a lot of truth. The issue, in my experience, is that too many public bodies simply do not take a strategic view and a long view of both their place and their marketing of its offer and experience. Those that do usually have a well developed brand strategy (not the logo or the tag line) for their offer and the investment they plan to make in it over the years ahead. This helps them better position themselves in relation to their competition and to tell a convincing and compelling story to their target markets. It also demonstrates that they have their act together. The clever bodies have used recession to rethink the purpose of their place, the functions it best performs and how to improve their offer. The less strategic often just start off again where they left off and then wonder why their marketing is not resonating with their targets.
Add new comment