This is the second instalment of a series of “systematic problems of placebranding projects” illustrating the roadblock faced by the brand Guadalajara. These essays are intended to help practitioners -both city officials and consultants- to launch more successful and resistant brands. (Read the earlier instalment here and the subsequent ones here and here.)
Let’s recap what we have discussed so far. Mexico’s second largest city Guadalajara launched its new brand identity. Although the project was pro bono, the new logo did not receive a warm welcome. On our last post, we listed seven systematic problems, which contributed to the poor start of the brand Guadalajara. The first issue was the officials’ misconceptions about what is a brand. Let’s pick up from where we left off and analyze two more problems.
Problem #2: Failure to communicate objectives
The second foreseeable problem of the brand Guadalajara is the public’s lack of understanding of the project’s goals. While the city officials did the right thing by creating a website and audiovisual explanations, they left the “why” of the initiative a bit vague. What is the primary objective of this project? What does brand Guadalajara try to accomplish? How is success defined? As a rule of thumb, when launching a place branding project, the objectives of the project need to be as clear as day. Is the real goal to attract more tourists? Or is it to boost the habitants’ pride? Or to attract investors?
The “why” of this initiative is a bit vague.
The official website says that the goal is all of the above. Unfortunately for the officials of Guadalajara, these are three completely different goals, all of which requiring a specialist brand. If you want more tourists, then you need to create a destination brand. If you need to attract investors, then you need an investment brand. And finally, if you want to charge a premium for products originating from your city, then you need a place of origin brand.
Such specialists brands could be fairly successful in achieving clearly-described goals. For instance, every year almost 6 million Americans and Canadians visit Mexico for leisure purposes. But they often go to Cancun or Mexico City. A destination brand could focus on positioning Guadalajara as a must-see stopover for any tourist visiting Mexico. That said, the same destination brand cannot realistically hope to convince an international corporation to invest in Guadalajara. A brand that is built on the messages of culture, nature, and leisure could make potential investors cringe, for their decision would be based on hard work, efficiency, and cost savings. Likewise, the same tourist-driven messages would cast a shadow over the products originating from the city. After all, often the image of fun and fiesta contradict with the perception of quality and engineering.
Based on my experience, when the key stakeholders are not on the same page about the city’s priorities, they end up creating a place brand, which aims to position the city as a place to visit, live, and work. While this is an honest attempt to keep everybody happy, such a trifocal objective could be a fool’s goal. Unfortunately, by stating that, “The brand will serve to foster a sense of belonging and care for the city, to strengthen the identity of its inhabitants, while also helping to position Guadalajara in the world, to promote it as an attractive destination for tourism and investment”, the officials of the city implied that they have not prioritized their objectives. As the cliché goes, being the Jack of all trades means being the master of none.
When the key stakeholders are not on the same page about the city’s priorities, they end up creating a place brand, which aims to position the city as a place to visit, live, and work. While this is an honest attempt to keep everybody happy, such a trifocal objective could be a fool’s goal.
If I were an official of Guadalajara, before launching the city’s new logo, I would have gathered all the key stakeholders and gotten them agree on the top priority of the city. If that is to attract tourists, then I would have tried to convince them to create a destination brand and a comprehensive marketing campaign. This way the city could have focused on achieving realistic goals such as increasing foreign visitors by 10%. Next, I would have shared those goals with the public. In case I couldn’t have gotten the stakeholders to agree on a common purpose, then I would have tried to convince them to sign off on creating multiple specialists brands.
Problem #3: Failure to sell the problem
This one is very simple, yet insidiously detrimental. William Bridges, the world-renown organizational development consultant, call it: “Selling the problem, not the solution.” He says that when change is introduced, usually 90% of leaders’ energy and time is put into selling the solution. However, most people are not in the market for solutions to problems that they don’t see or understand. They first have to realize that there is a problem. Once the awareness of the issue is established, then people need to be empowered to come up with their solution. If you do that, you don’t have to sell your solution. It is theirs already!
So, how does this apply to Guadalajara and place branding projects in general? In Guadalajara’s website, there is a section named: ¿Para qué tener una Marca Ciudad? (Why have a City Brand?) In this section, the officials of the city explain the need for the project as (I am slightly paraphrasing): “Having a brand helps highlight the positive values of Guadalajara: its atmosphere, its flavours, colours, and rhythm. A brand serves to foster a sense of belonging and care for the city, to strengthen the identity of its inhabitants. It also helps to position our town in the world, to promote it as an attractive destination for tourism and investment.”
When change is introduced, usually 90% of leaders’ energy and time is put into selling the solution. However, most people are not in the market for solutions to problems that they don’t see or understand.
As Simon Anholt says, different cities work on their brand for various reasons. Some need to be introduced to the masses, some need to focus on the right audience, and some need to correct their images. While I don’t know much about Guadalajara, I speculate that the real reason behind the creation of this brand is the lack of global awareness about the city. I could be wrong on this but, probably the officials of the city believe that the town is not known as much as it should. They might have wanted the world to know “what a secret gem Guadalajara is.” If that’s the case, then creating awareness first about the problem could have made a huge difference. Had the citizens of Guadalajara known that their beloved city is not well-known abroad, then they might have reacted differently to this initiative.
If I were an official of Guadalajara, before launching the city’s new logo, I would have shared with the public a credible third-party research about how little known Guadalajara is. That would have informed the habitants of the town and put the problem into their mental maps. For instance, Izmir -Turkey’s third largest city- pursued a similar tactic. They conducted a worldwide research and found out shockingly that 94% of tourists who visited Turkey(!) don’t know anything about the city. That piece of information became the rallying cry for the key stakeholders of the city. As a result, Izmir embarked on an image campaign, one of which’s leg was the city branding project.
As a general rule, before kickstarting a city branding project, the officials should take a step back and acknowledge the information asymmetry, which exists between them and the residents of the city. The officials might have access to up-to-date data, latest research, and surveys. The residents, on the other hand, don’t know anything about those. They only know what they read in the newspapers. That’s why it is always better to first sell the problem so that the desired solution can be deemed as useful, and not as a waste of taxpayers’ money.
On the next article, we will talk about problem #4 & 5, which are focusing on the wrong feedback and having a conflicting vision and actions. Comment below and let me know what you think!