Why do place brands fail? The human-centered mistakes. Part 3

This is the last installment of our three-article series: “Why 86% of place brands fail?” First, we talked about the mistakes consultants make. Then, we addressed some of the common misperceptions of places. Today, we will conclude by discussing the role of leadership, consistency, and honesty.

Let’s start with leadership. Needless to say, places need a powerful leader to manage the six factors that influence the perception of a destination. Leaders should keep in mind that especially the discovery phase of a branding project is a democratic process. While a place is determining its promise, values, and vision, the leader should consult all of his/her stakeholders. Everybody should feel involved. However, branding is more than brand discovery, it also includes brand management, which is an entirely different process. This phase is much more autocratic. One needs a powerful leader, who can set clear goals, measure progress and intervene when necessary. Within a corporation, this role belongs to the CEO, who has the authority to hire and fire people, shut down departments and buy and sell companies. However, the leader of a place (the mayor or the governor) has limited authority. At best, he can be a facilitator, a visionary or a catalyst. We should also keep in mind that local leaders are either politicians or bureaucrats. They are not business people. Therefore, they might have limited knowledge of branding and marketing. They might not intuitively know why and how to build a brand. That’s why local leaders need a little bit hand-holding, particularly at the beginning of the project.

Here is another problem: Local leaders change every few years. As Warren Buffett says: “It takes 20years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” With the best intentions and a great vision, a local leader could start the branding process. But halfway through the project, he might lose the elections and his newly elected rival might very well suspend the project, which is normal since every politician has different priorities. Moreover, such priorities are often tied to short-term gains. Unfortunately, a yummy logo or a catchy slogan can’t help a place to solve its chronic problems right away. The brand is a long-term investment that offers few short-term gains. That’s why place brands often have a consistency problem.

Finally, there is the problem of overpromising. Let’s remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” This applies in particular to place brands. The vision you commit, the words you choose and the images you use are all very important. However, what you do, how you act and how well you deliver on your promise profoundly affect people’s perceptions about your place. If you are going to run an ambitious tourism campaign, then you should be prepared to deliver on it. If the tourists arrive at your city with inflated expectations but leave with below-expected satisfaction, then you are in big trouble! Many places promise things they can’t deliver properly. Also, keep in mind the adage: “Nothing kills a bad product faster than great advertising. Everybody tries the thing and never buys it again.” That’s why one of the fundamental rules of a compelling brand promise is being believable. Always be honest about your place. Start by promising what you can deliver right away. Create a sexy critical mass around what you already have. Gain quick wins, build momentum. But needless to say, always be in forever beta mode and try to improve your promise.

That concludes our trilogy. I hope you enjoyed this little series. Why don’t you tell me what other common mistakes you know? Also, if you have liked what you read, please hit one of the share buttons below. Thanks!

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