Destination branding in place St Louis
One American municipal leader precisely captures the challenge of those engaged in destination/place branding for cities, states and countries.
“We sell cheeseburgers, they sell screwdrivers,” says Mary Herndon, a spokesperson for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission in comparing her organization to the city’s economic development focused Regional Chamber and Growth Association.
In a nutshell, Ms. Herndon frames the value of effective destination branding; that of creating growth in tourism and convention traffic, while at the same time attracting business investment. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch further reports, community leaders express disbelief that one brand addressing both objectives is possible:
Hello St. LouisUnless you are a meeting planner from out of town, you probably wouldn’t know that a new marketing campaign is out to sell the Arch City. “Hello, my name is St. Louis” reads the tagline, fitted onto one of those sticky labels you usually attach to your lapel.
The “Hello” campaign is being launched by the Convention and Visitors Commission, and is aimed strictly at meeting planners…. Meanwhile, the Regional Chamber and Growth Association recently received nine proposals to “brand” St. Louis as a good place for businesses to relocate to or to step up their business activities.
Last week, a task force of the convention commission put out a report, recommending, among other things, a “genuine destination brand” for St. Louis.
It is the first of what looks to be at least three new “branding” campaigns for St. Louis.
Could they all work together, and give one coordinated image to all those seeking to visit or do business here? No.
…[One senior executive of the Chamber says] a coordinated campaign is “a wonderful idea that makes a whole lot of sense. But when you get into the specifics, it is very hard to do.” He said of the nation’s 25 largest cities, not one has successfully built a branding campaign that served both business planners and leisure travelers.
When leaders placed in charge of brand decisions fail to understand advertising is not branding, and public relations is not branding, it is easy to develop such a conclusion. But the fault for this lies not with such leaders, but rather at the feet of advertising or public relations firms often hired to formulate and guide the development of a brand.
With apologies to Virginia O’Hanlon and Francis P. Church, Yes, Virginia, there is one brand solution for St. Louis.
Just as advertising is not branding, nor is public relations branding, decision makers leave themselves open to criticism for the inability to demonstrate financial returns six, twelve and eighteen months after a new brand launch if relying upon an advertising agency to create effective brand strategy. The results are predictable: as if jamming a cheeseburger down the fuel tank of an automobile.
To create or reformulate a destination/place brand calls for a process discipline of which few are aware. For example, it is impossible to invest dollars wisely in the development of a new brand unless everyone on the team understands the answer to two fundamental questions: “What is a brand?” and “What is brand success?” Without such an understanding, the attempt to brand will fail.
What should an effective branding process look like? Any worthwhile, let’s not throw-our-money-away brand development process should include, as basic examples, a competitive analysis and market intelligence. There’s much more, of course, but let’s talk about these two key process components. Fail to include these steps and others, and your new brand is DOA.
Without a competitive analysis in which the tone and strength of competitor positioning strategies, key messages and surrounding contextual support are weighed, decision-makers in St. Louis will have little idea of the brand positions their competitors own, and what brand position St. Louis may uniquely claim within the mind of the market.
To develop a breakthrough brand requires breakthrough market intelligence. Many forms of consumer research offer results crafted to tell decision makers what they already know, instead of providing the new insight so vital to framing a compelling brand.
Unless the research construct enables subjects to speak freely, St. Louis will not uncover the fundamentals so necessary to effective brand development such as  the pain experienced by the market;  the cure for the pain the market craves to find;  the unique difference St. Louis may rightfully claim to the exclusion of all competitors;  a relevant expression of how people will feel when investing in or visiting St. Louis; and  how these same people want others to see them as a result of this affiliation with St. Louis. The answers to each of these fundamentals are similar for both tourism and business development interests, as each interest feeds into the other (think cheeseburger with an order of screwdrivers on the side).
Yes, a single brand can be developed to sell both tourism and business. The reality is, of course, it must be that way. Any brand must stand for one key difference, not three. Otherwise, the audience city leaders seek to engage does not have the time to listen to St. Louis go on and on about themselves, much like an irritatingly gabby aunt.
The St. Louis Cardinals would not sign a table tennis prodigy as their next can’t-miss prospect. Something for those brand decision makers down the street from Busch Stadium to think about.