I wrote a little while ago about how there’s been a recent resurgence in location marketing (or place branding, as it’s sometimes called) and why UK towns and cities are right to grasp the nettle.

I said I’d come back to how relevant bodies (typically local authorities, inward investment and tourism agencies) can undertake smart marketing to boost their area’s economic prosperity.

In simple terms, there are two fundamental courses of action facing such organisations:

  1.  upgrade your core product – i.e. what your area has to offer
  2.  improve the way you market what’s there.

Of course in an ideal world, you’d do both.

The former – upgrading your product – can be a huge task that needs major investment. And it’s essential for certain locations.

It may involve transforming commercial premises, business support services, housing, transport, local education, the shopping experience or tourist attractions – or all of these in a comprehensive regeneration programme.

Naturally, if you’re undertaking such a programme, you also need to promote this from the rooftops: there’s no sense in regenerating in secret.

We’ve been working over the last 12 years, for example, with the economic development programme for East Sussex on England’s south coast. It’s an ambitious, long-term programme to transform the area as a business location, aiming to generate 6,000 jobs and add £1 billion to the local economy. Marketing this programme to attract companies to the area is at the heart of the task in hand.

Whether regeneration on this scale is necessary and viable for any location depends largely on how it’s faring economically and the funding available.

The second option – promoting what you already have – is within easier reach and should be done by all locations.

Success depends on there being something worth promoting … but there always is, even if it’s currently unidentified or weakly articulated.

Since you can take huge steps forward relatively inexpensively through such marketing, why do so many places do it poorly, or not at all?

It’s often because the bodies in charge are too close to their own places to see them objectively, compounded by the communication issue I described in the past as afflicting many public bodies: a preoccupation with delivering information at the expense of inspiration.

Some location-based organisations are amongst the worst at this. British local authority websites are often awash with information for prospective inward investors – but it’s all as dry as dust.

The problem is: yes, company directors looking for a new location want data. But they’re also human beings whose decisions are emotive.  They need to feel a place is a desirable as well as scrutinise the facts. They want to be seduced by the big picture as well as reassured by the detail.

And if they start out with a negative perception, your place will never even make their shortlist and your data will never be reviewed.

The same goes for shoppers wondering where to spend their hard earned cash and visitors planning a day out or weekend away.

All this means Job One is to take a lucid, objective look at your place brand.

Is it vibrant, clear and irresistible, making people yearn to be there?  Or does it needs a big shot of inspiration?

If, like most, it would benefit from improvement, the good news is this can definitely be done.

Fresh, objective thinking, a robust process and commitment from the right people will bring your place brand to life – with all the long-term economic benefits that will follow.


See also my previous post: Place marketing: the time to start is now.

You can find information here about our work with economic development companies and local government bodies.