Community Branding is Economic Development

By Jim Walton, CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc.

More often than ever, we are called upon to develop a community brand. In many cases, the request is simply for a new logo. The most common desire is that the community be known. “Our town is the ‘best kept secret'” is a line we often hear. “Nobody knows us” is another.

A big challenge that we often face is that the community team gets so focused on the design of a new logo that they forget what they want to have happen. When pressed, they often talk about wanting people to move there, work there, pay taxes there, and be part of the community. Sound familiar? That’s because those are all goals of economic developers, too.

We sometimes find, though, that what they want is for the media to run stories about the area. “We’re never mentioned in the paper or on television,” they say. “The only time we’re mentioned is when there’s a drug arrest or a murder.”

While the lack of positive media coverage is a legitimate concern, a new logo won’t fix the problem. Although we’d be glad to design a new logo, the best thing that community leaders can do is to continue to build a great community where people want to live and work, and then tell their story to area media.

If you’re like many community leaders who call us, you probably have a strong desire to attract and retain millennials, those young workers and professionals who are so misunderstood. Our best advice, as it pertains to this group, is to do some solid research to understand what motivates them to love being there. If you think a bunch of gray-haired community leaders are going to have the answers, you may be in for a big surprise. Try this instead; form a Young Professionals (YP) group, or maybe even a committee of high school and college students. Schedule regular listening meetings with them. But, young people should lead the meetings. Don’t hold meetings where the young people, seen as kids, are quizzed by the older people, seen as parents or teachers. They’ll clam up. Let young leaders run the meetings, seeking input about what the young people love and want. They can then submit a report or video to the community leaders. We’d also suggest working hard to get young people to run for elected office. That must scare a few of you.

Do you see what I mean when I say that community branding is economic development? They’re not exactly the same, but if you want your community’s reputation to soar, you need to align your goals. A simple logo won’t do that.

Happy 2017. Make it a great year.