I just returned from a weekend trip to Mont Saint Sauveur, a small mountain town north of Montreal where my husband was working on a ski race. It’s located in the Laurentian Region of Quebec. It occured to me while we were there that the personality, or the unique ‘flavor’ of the region, was in evidence everywhere I turned.
The Laurentians combine the international feel of Europe with the outdoor adventure and heritage feel of the Canadian mountains. There’s a distinct ‘look and feel’ to the architecture, the interior decor of the hotels and restaurants, and even the signage. Nice touches at the resort such as outdoor wood-burning fireplaces and a horse-drawn sleigh to carry skiers from the parking lot to the ski lodge only reinforce the local personality or brand.
Several weeks ago I spoke to a group of economic developers in Maine. One of the audience members asked me about branding. He said,”Frankly, I think it’s over-rated. We don’t have the time nor do we have the money to spend on branding our region. We just want to get out and promote it.”
How can you go out and promote something if you don’t have any idea what differentiates it from the competition? How can you tell a prospect about your region if you haven’t taken the time to identify its strengths and its weaknesses, its opportunities and its threats?
I think that if you are in charge of marketing a place, you need to get the players together from the community and do some group thinking about the place you are promoting. Bring together the artists, the authors, the photographers, the business people, the school officials, and maybe even some local kids. Figure out what it is that makes people love your region. What makes if different? How does the local heritage impact the place that it is today? What is it that defines your community, your region, or your state?
When I was in college, I took courses in “American Studies” where we learned a great deal about how the art and literature of a region are a reflection of that region, and how it helps to create the unique personality of the region. The communities in a region are all part of the intricate fabric of culture, heritage, and the economy. The food is part of that unique culture, as is the architecture and even the recreational activities. My professor, the infamous Charlie Bassett, told us that if we don’t preserve the unique personalities of the regions in our country, we are going to become a nation that is ”pasteurized and homogenized.”
So please, if you are marketing a place, take the time to identify your brand. It doesn’t have to be an expensive process, but it does involve some dialogue and some good hard thinking. Make sure you know what makes your community different from others and what you have to offer to a new family, a new business or a new organization that might want to move there.
I’ll talk more in a future post about the way we go about doing branding at Nancy Marshall Communications through our “Marshall Plan” process. A good book on the topic is “Marketing Places: Attracting Investment, Industry and Tourism to Cities, States, and Nations” by Philip Kotler, Donald H. Haider, Irving Rein” available through Amazon.com.