On community branding

I have reviewed a lot of community branding and marketing efforts in the past couple of years. I won’t single any out because I don’t want to annoy residents of those communities and because they may be clients (or may be in the future?).

I once asked the CEO of a local economic development organization why he was running so many advertisments in En Route magazine. For his target market it seemed so strange to me. His candid reply was “because my board of directors likes to see city x being advertised when they fly to Toronto”.

I asked another Executive Director of an ED organization why he was advertising the “invest in city x” message in local magazines. That sounded counterintutitive to me. He said the reason was to raise awareness of the organization in the local market.

Then I could name you a number of communities that are blatantly self-aggrandizing in their branding and promotional activities. Again, the audience for this seems to be internal, it would seem.

My point here is that I am not convinced that local economic development folks understand their market and how to promote themselves to it (I am talking about attracting industry).

It seems to me that the overwhelming majority of effort – from logo creation through to advertising is focused on what would look good to the local audience.

All this crap about best city for this and best city for that – if it is not independently verified – is just over the top mumbo jumbo.

I have no problem if a community promotes winning some award or recognition that is third party. I do have a problem with arrogant branding and promotion.

New Brunswick is a province that is struggling. The pervasive theme that should thread through all of our promotional activity provincial and local should be that we are trying to improve ourselves and that we will work harder to gain your business.

Let’s face it. New Brunswick is the underdog. It has to be more aggressive. More focused. More down to earth.

If Lada or Yugo started branding themselves as “The Best Car in the World, Bar None” it would come across as downright silly. I think the analogy holds for provinces/states and cities.

If New Brunswick is too over the top it will come across as silly externally (while maybe trying to mask over insecurities locally).

Ultimately, the problem with preaching to the choir this message of greatness is that eventually we will start to believe it and will have no real appetite to change.

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0 Responses to On community branding

  1. mikel says:

    THere are two different issues there, I’d like to comment on the latter. Provincially the government DOES have a lot to crow about. While the corporate tax is similar to other areas, there are all kinds of loopholes which lead, again, to the NB government getting the lowest percentage of its revenue from corporations.

    Under Lord you had that extremely low small biz tax, a rarity in Canada and even the world. Manufacturing enterprises are not charged property taxes, while numerous think tanks and organizations routinely show that NB is the ‘best place to do business’. In mining, its off the charts, the province gets better marks than most third world countries.

    So for the business community there IS lots to crow about. The PROVINCE may be struggling, but the business community certainly isn’t, and for ‘crowing’, the province DOES have the stuff to show that it is ‘business friendly’-like I’ve said before, its TOO ‘business friendly’-but of course only to very specific kinds of businesses.


  2. Anonymous says:

    These one-time impressive claims about being the best at whatever are old news. It is similar to the over-used, “we have a skilled workforce” arguement that you can see on most economic development promotional materials throughout the world.

    We need to focus; we need to zero in on a few key areas then we need to exploit advantages, and/or create some truly differentiating criteria.

    For example, Summerside promoted their runway, hanger and manufacturing space, established an on-base college for training workers and backed it all up with funding, including convincing ACOA to fund business, that is aerospace manufacturers, rather than the government projects and universities that normally get prioritized.

    So, building on your idea, maybe we target the data storage market, offer 10 year guarenteed energy rates (based on the cost-stable nuclear power we are generating), combined with employment incentives and whatever else our research indicates is important to this sector.

    As a (generous) taxpayer, I would like to see the 150 people we employ at BNB, the 100 at the Enterprise Network, the 200 at ACOA, who knows how many at CBDC, 100 or so at NRC, and all the municpal ED people we employ work together with an ED focus. If the 600 or so professional ED people we have on the payroll in NB spent a couple weeks working together researching and developing an ED strategy for New Brunswick, something good may come out of it.
    …don’t worry David, these people travel most of the time so they’d still need to hire local ED consultants to get the work done:)

  3. Gawain says:

    You’re right about the message of greatness dulling the appetite to change. Look at Fredericton, which is the 2nd most intelligent city, and about 4 other top ten awards — the city has been lulled into inactivity as a consequence of this, where only the development of a convention center gets cheerleaders from all 3 levels of government into a frenzy of self-congratulation.

    Every new award seems to provide the impetus to ratchet back on real activity elsewhere, and we never really get out of low gear.

    Contrast this not with Toronto, Boston, London or Paris, but with very motivated and hungry jurisdictions such as Bolivia, Romania, Pakistan, and Poland, where a substantial amount of development is going. And not only because of labor arbitrage, and lower cost, but now because of greater creativity, management expertise (even though this may be in short supply), and operational speed and productivity.

    A wake-up call is absolutely overdue.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have seen the following things work well for us. I am talking about a under 25 High-Tech/Back office company in F’ton.

    1. NRC-IRAP
    2. SR&ED Tax Credits
    3. SR&ED-NB turned to refundable credits

    I don’t see a lot of publicity from these folks. (1 & 2) are Federal initiatives and (3) was implemented by the Lord government

    When I see City of Fredericton, patting itself in the back, reminds me of how teachers hand out stickers to children when they do what is expected of them.

  5. David Campbell says:

    They should promote these more: 1. NRC-IRAP,SR&ED Tax Credits, SR&ED-NB – even NBT would support tax breaks/credits, I suspect.