Why is it when someone says Paris, we think of fashion, fancy champagne and fine dining? Or when we hear Las Vegas we think of late nights, gambling, adult entertainment, and drinking? And Portland, Oregon brings to mind a slightly weird, environmentally friendly, and politically correct city. While one might say that these cities are famous, the real answer is that these wonderful cities have figured out branding and how that relates to their geography, how they advertise, who to target, and what they stand for. For these tourist destinations their image, or brand, brings visitors, residents, and resources. One should not think that building a brand is just for large, well-funded locales, areas small and large can leverage the principles of branding to attract visitors, residents, and resources to their town.
So, what is a brand, and how can towns and cities in Colorado leverage the principles of branding to advance their own objectives, bring in revenues, and build a community? At its core, branding means personality or image, it is what the visitor, the resident, or the passerby thinks about when they hear the name of a town. Researchers Anderson and Carpenter (2005) offered the view that externally, a brand conveys a message or image to consumers and internally, a brand directs activities and focus.
Now one might ask, how does a town or city establish a brand image? There are both internal and external factors that influence a brand and its image. Internally, location history, vision of founding fathers, concerns of the citizens, ideology of the locals, unique features, and resident talents can all help build a community’s brand and personality. Externally, the image of other towns and cities, cultural forces, market trends, and tourist interests can influence brand elements and strategy towns and cities take when developing their brand image. Many researchers believe that the consumer desire is the central driver of creating a strong area brand image, but brands must also understand what images and personalities are already owned by other communities. For example, every town cannot be the food destination, every community cannot be the hikers dream, and every city cannot be the cowboy history center. In addition to knowing what the tourist or residents want, communities need to know what others are doing to create a unique brand.
Building a community’s brand image is only half of the journey; once a brand image is established, cities and towns need to be sure that the brand image is considered in every community action, when creating internal and external promotions, as events are planned, and when new ventures are implemented by a locale. For example, marketing lore holds that Las Vegas toyed with trying to attract families to the city of sin. Advertising was created to speak to families, amusement parks built, and promotional programs created to entice families to visit. After the programs ran for a short time, the image of Las Vegas was starting to become muddled, was the gambling capitol of the United States for adults who wanted to play, or families looking for a vacation? The mixed message confused tourists and the number of visitors to Vegas fell. The smart folks who are responsible for bringing tourists to Las Vegas quickly figured out that they could not be everything to everyone, they needed to center on one image, promote to one target, and ensure their brand was aligned. Most of us now think of Las Vegas as an adult-only playground and as the ads say, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Creating a community’s brand image and personality is not easy, but the creation must involve everyone, should consider the visitor, and take into account what others are doing. Done right a community’s strong brand image can help it achieve its internal and external goals and objectives.
Beth Ann Parish Ed.D. is an expert on branding and promotion and believes that a strong brand image should drive everything a community does. Dr. Parish teaches at Regis University and serves as Executive Director for the Boulder Chorale, a 49-year-old group of singers committed to enriching and inspiring the community through music. Beth Parish will be speaking at DCI’s annual conference on Thursday, September 11th.
Anderson, J. C., & Carpenter, G. S. (2005). Brand strategy for business markets. In A. Tybout & T. Calkins (Eds.), Kellogg on Branding (pp. 169-185). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.