Quality of place, ranging from cost of living to school ratings, is an important component of economic development from a business attraction standpoint. Communities with quality of place and available real estate assets may make the site selection short-list, but why not selected? What is it that sets other communities apart when all traditional site selection factors are similar? It’s the oft misunderstood ‘x-factor’ we like to call authentic brands which falls under the broader marketing function of economic development. Creating or having an authentic brand is not a difficult endeavor per se; simply play to your strengths. Successful communities identify their inherent qualities that make them truly unique and a brand is naturally born. A potent and authentic brand is a powerful weapon in the business attraction arena. Quick note; as Cleveland, Ohio natives, we feel pretty qualified to write on this topic (i.e. “Mistake On The Lake”).
Economic development departments and visitors’ bureaus around the country have fallen victim to thinking this place-based authenticity can be created by simply hiring an outside marketing firm. These branding exercises can often be expensive endeavors, by the way. Sure, having an outsider’s perspective can be important in how a place is viewed, but we have witnessed too many communities invest in soul-searching marketing campaigns. While some are successful, most finished products leave these places seeming more generic than ever. Here is our favorite: “Live, Work, Play.” This has become the official slogan for Anywhere, USA. Nothing says “we’re boring” like the “Live, Work, Play” sub-text beneath a community’s logo. We understand the intention was to brand places as one-stop shops for all lifestyle needs, but it is PLAYed out, conceptually vague, and lacks identity. It has been used at varying levels too, ranging from small community adoption to state-wide use. Do you think Michigan prompted 4.6 million trips in 2015 with “Live, Work, Play?” No, it was Pure Michigan that became their authentic brand. While this was a tourism campaign, it certainly has economic development implications. Admittedly, the Michigan campaign was created by a marketing firm, but they live and breathe the brand as a firm based in Birmingham, Michigan. Bottom line, whether for real estate or tourism, strong place brands can impact the perceptions of site selectors and executive decision-makers.
A slogan cannot save your economy and not every community can brand its way to prosperity with a catchy, t-shirt-worthy slogan, but remember to be authentic. Is the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan its x-factor? No, it’s the city’s weirdness, however that may be defined. Either way, this brand came naturally to them. The slogan was coined by an Austin Community College professor and later adopted by the Austin Independent Business Alliance to promote small business. So we say to communities across the country, just be yourself and the virtue of authenticity will come naturally. We all live, work, and play somewhere – so tell them something unique about yourself. As they say in Peculiar, Missouri, “…the odds are with you.”