Surveying Your Brandscape
Branding may be the most over-used, misused and misunderstood word in the marketing lexicon. I was reminded of this when I attended an Economic Summit last week hosted by the City of South Bend. During the course of the discussion, it became very apparent that the city had noble intentions and a good sense of what the problems facing our community are, but there remains a disturbing lack of clarity about what the city is, what it stands for, what differentiates it from thousands of other communities and what it could and should aspire to. This was underscored by the suggestion that community stakeholders put their thoughts in writing as to what the city’s elevator pitch should be. Again, a noble thought, but other than being a way to engage citizens in the process and maybe serving as a form of crowd-sourced research, I am skeptical about what it will deliver.
All too often, branding is viewed as a tactic. One’s brand isn’t a logo, tagline or elevator pitch. It is a strategic process by which an organization clearly articulates its essential qualities, core values, and how it is perceived externally and internally. My favorite definition of branding is that it consists of the accumulated expectations about a product or company. Using cities as simplistic examples, I have come to expect a quirky blend of art and technology in Austin, glitz and glamour in Las Vegas and sports of all sorts in Indianapolis. When expectations for a given brand are met, that brand is solidified in the mind of the visitor. When it is not met, for better or worse, the brand image may begin losing clarity –or at least start to evolve.
There’s nothing wrong with rebranding if it is driven by an objectives-based strategy. It won’t happen overnight, but when presented with clarity and consistency, it can be effective. The classic example is, of course, Target. Target was just another discount department store until it began differentiating itself as the retail destination of choice for “cheap chic.” The company had a clear vision for what it wanted to accomplish and delivered on virtually every level of operation from merchandising and marketing to people and performance.
Some thought leaders refer to this visioning process as brandscaping. I like that concept. Just as a landscape architect views a piece of property and envisions how it might look when developed to its maximum potential, marketers are advised to consider the true potential of their brands. Cities like South Bend have many assets upon which they can build a new brand. What is needed is an architectural vision of what that brandscape will look like in the years ahead.
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