This is the fourth 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 instalments here and here, and here.)
Problem #6: Overlooking the change management side of the project
Whether you are launching a new logo or introducing a new strategic communications plan what you are doing, in its very essence, is presenting a change. That’s why we always repeat that “every branding project is a change management project.” Accordingly, every place branding project is a “change management” project. Thus the road to success for cities and countries goes through understanding how to change people’s opinions and behaviours.
Every place branding project is a “change management” project.
When the officials of Guadalajara launched the city’s new brand identity, they introduced a change. They conveyed the message to the locals that “henceforth, this is the symbol that is going to represent us.” But as we discussed earlier 86% of place branding projects are prematurely abandoned. Luckily, there might be a way to increase the odds of success, and that’s called change management.
According to the five-step ADKAR Change Model, the first condition of change is the AWARENESS of the need of change. We briefly addressed this step earlier in Problem #3 when we talked about the need to sell the problem. Before embarking on a branding project, officials are better off letting people know how other places achieved success. So, let them be informed about what’s going on in rival destinations. Let them understand that unless things change, their quality of life would eventually deteriorate. At this stage tapping into the power of both conventional and social media would be wise.
The second condition is to have the DESIRE to change. Keep in mind that change cannot be imposed on people. It is -and will always be- optional. That’s why, to gather the support of the masses, a place branding project should address people’s real motives. It should mitigate their fears. Ask yourself what do your citizens really want? Recognition? Wealth? Respect? Reviving the place’s glorious history? The answer might be different for every city. But finding that emotional trigger is a vital step.
The third condition is to have the KNOWLEDGE of how to change. People need to know what to expect. They must be fed information regularly. Here, transparency is the key. At this stage, social media could come to the project team’s rescue. For instance, it is such a missed opportunity that very few cities start a blog at the beginning of the project. Publishing weekly updates is a wonderful way to share authentic, valuable, and timely information with the press as well as with the man on the street. Occasional town halls would help too. If for whatever reason, you do not want interaction, then you can always create a wiki page.
Next condition is to have the ABILITY to change. Many people believe that a place branding project is mostly over once the logo is successfully rolled out. Ironically, for a foreigner, the logo is just the beginning of the visitor’s journey. Here is the thing: you can have the yummiest logo ever. Or you can launch an award-winning promotional campaign. But, if your promise is not backed up by action -in this case, people’s behaviours- then your success would -most likely- be temporary. As the branding legend, Wally Olins used to say, “Behaviour is almost always the most significant element in service brands.” That’s why successful branding projects identify desired behaviours, then provide people with resources for self-improvement. To give a very simple example, a place that wishes to be perceived as a global tourism hub has to make sure that all of its airport employees speak English, period. Or a place that wants to promote its azure seas has to convince local mills to make waste management a top priority. Let’s remember Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous saying: “What you do speak so loud that I cannot hear what you are saying.”
Behaviour is almost always the most significant element in service brands.
The final condition of ADKAR is to provide REINFORCEMENT. The laws of physics say that entropy (the Second Law of Thermodynamics) is a fundamental characteristic of the universe. Long story short, it decrees that gradually, everything declines into disorder. In other words, left to its own devices, everything decays. That’s why reinforcement is vital. Successful places establish a desired pattern of behaviour by using encouragement or reward. They measure their success. They set realistic goals, then use both positive and negative reinforcements to get there. Also, by repeating the same messages over and over again, they reinforce their point. In the absence of all those, it is very tempting for people to go back to their old ways.
So, if I were an official of Guadalajara, before launching the city’s new logo, I would have consulted a change management professional. I would have trained my project team about how to manage transitions. I would have embedded change management into my project plan. And finally, I would get PR and social media people involved in the process right from the get go. That way, I would have proactively steered the conversation.
Problem #7: Lack of clarity over ownership
Have you ever heard of the term foundling wheels? Basically, during the Middle Ages, if a mother wanted to abandon her unwanted baby, she could anonymously drop the newborn in a safe place -usually at a hospital or a temple- knowing that the child would be cared for. Believe it or not, the concept of the “baby hatch” is somewhat universal. Germans call it Babyklappe, Italians Culla per la vita, and Japanese Akachan posuto. You might be wondering, why are we talking about such a sad issue? Because many place branding projects, find themselves in the foundling wheel! Unfortunately this problem -like the concept of baby hatch- is quite universal.
Many place branding projects, find themselves in the foundling wheel! Unfortunately this problem -like the concept of baby hatch- is quite universal.
Personally, I ran into this issue not once, but twice! Both projects started with great enthusiasm. They both sailed smoothly. And finally, both brand identities were launched with considerable success. Throughout the entire process, the project teams on the client side (usually communication specialists from the mayor’s office) worked very hard. The city brand projects became their primary focus and objective for about six months. That said, once the projects were over and the identity was launched, then they had to go back to their everyday jobs, orphaning the newborn brand. Both cities did not (could not?) hire additional resources, whose sole responsibility would be to manage the brand. In the absence of a dedicated brand manager, the voices of the both brands were muted. No one was responsible for updating their Twitter and Facebook handles. The city blogs got deserted. The reactions to the ad campaigns were unfollowed. In a nutshell, both brands were put in the foundling wheels.
Looking from afar, the brand Guadalajara “might” be put in a baby hatch, because it is tough to figure out who is managing the brand. The name of the organization who is in charge of the project could be found neither on the brand’s website nor on its social media accounts. Unfortunately, not having a clearly identified sponsor is a major red flag for the wellbeing of the brand.
When it comes to managing a place brand, arguably the best practice is ProColombia, which is the institution in charge of the commercial promotion of non-traditional exports, international tourism and foreign investment in Colombia. Although ProColombia is a government agency, it operates as a private corporation. Through its 18 overseas offices, it provides consultation as well as educational information about Colombia, all the while minimizing bureaucracy and promote the Colombian brand. ProColombia also measures the success of brand Colombia periodically. That’s why it is the Gold Standard in place brand management.
So, if I were an official of Guadalajara, before launching the city’s new logo, I would have created a separate entity -probably within the mayor’s office- which would be in charge of managing the brand. I would have hired experienced professionals who could handle the brand. Also, I would have set aside a budget for research, so that the health of the brand Guadalajara would constantly be checked.
To sum up, brand Guadalajara has so much potential. Sadly, though, it seems like the project is suffering from seven systematic problems of place branding. These are misconceptions about what a brand actually is, failure to communicate objectives, inability to sell the problem, focusing on the wrong feedback, conflicting vision and action, ignoring the change management side of the project, and finally lack of clarity over ownership.
Granted, none of the problems above are unique to Guadalajara. Many place branding projects suffer from them. Also as deadly as they are, none of those obstacles are hard to overcome. They just need to be acknowledged and taken care of. It is my hope that this article series will help the officials of Guadalajara (and other cities) to achieve success.