In a recent article from DeepDyve, Bi-directional Place Branding, the authors make a great yet often overlooked point: Place branding initiatives need always to position the sense of place with audiences who live in that state, province, city, town, municipality, before all else. You have multiple stakeholders, and your residents group is most vital to cementing your place branding strategy.
Many who undertake place branding strategies spend a lot of time and money researching the type of persona they want to draw from outside of the community, but neglect reporting on what will engage the local population, its history, its anchor associations, its authentic past. This is a salient point: When we brand companies we take a close look at how a new brand will resonate and be ‘taken up’ by internal audiences, viz., your staff. Best-practice branding strategy tells us that those closest to you are also your strongest evangelists; if you can convince them that your new brand means something to them, that it has depth, that it is real, the more likely they will be to spread the word. The same holds for your next place branding strategy: Care about the people who actually live in the place you’re branding as much, and more, than target audiences outside of the community. Once accomplished, it makes your ongoing brand marketing efforts much easier.
This seems like logical commonsense: How can you convince others to book their next trip to your state, province, city, town, or municipality, or convince a company to re-locate their business to your area, if you first haven’t genuinely convinced those who live in the community about the authenticity of a place branding or re-branding effort?
The authors note that “residents are co-creators of a place and its heritage”, and go on to say, “the people (residents) aspect of place branding is associated with their life stories, past experiences, feeling, and aspirations. When the place and people components are perceived positively, residents participate [and] involve themselves with the place and thus, in turn, become the place ambassadors.”
As a branding strategist, or civic leader, or economic or tourism developer or association, you might think you know all about the place in which you live. Assume you don’t. Assume instead that there is an entire population you need to listen to before you start making decisions around who and what you are. The people you’re actually trying to attract to and influence with your strategy are your residents, first, then everyone else. Without a bi-directional branding strategy in play, you can never hope to introduce successfully or maximally who you really are to the world.