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Month: February 2015

Anatomy of a brand campaign

Today we talk to Kerstin Steglich and Christof Biggeleben from branding agency Ketchum Pleon. Our goal is to delve further into the details of their brand campaign for the Saxony region.

How did they make sure the campaign was people-focused? How did they address the needs of all the stakeholders? In what way was storytelling integrated into the campaign?

Placesbrands: How did you define the ‘unique selling point’ of Saxony?

Kerstin Steglich: For the Simply Saxony campaign we didn’t focus on a single highlight, particular aspects or services from Saxony – but instead we focused on an attitude. It is pragmatism, innovation and a doer mentality that has always made a Saxon.

This is precisely the attitude that we put in the centre of the campaign – and we tell exactly the stories that reflect this attitude. Simply Saxony may be interpreted individually by every inhabitant of Saxony. Thereby every Saxon can become a part of the campaign.

What differentiates Simply Saxony from other advertising campaigns?

Christof Biggeleben: On one hand, we deliberately kept the claim very open. It doesn’t postulate a classic brand promise but invites you to take part and try out. We entered into dialogue with the Saxons from the very beginning.

We added the stories of the people to the campaign and then engaged them in concrete terms (as an individual, via sports clubs, cultural institutions or companies). No other German federal state campaign has achieved this to the same extent.

Secondly, we started with the communication in Saxony itself. Effectively, that was agenda setting in the direction of the inhabitants.

Only after the campaign was approved by the Saxons, did we open it up to other parts of Germany and abroad. With this strategy, we have made sure that the campaign is supported by the people. Saxon artists and sportsmen are on the road as ambassadors of Saxony and the campaign. Saxon companies implement the campaign when marketing their products. And the claim has already become a dictum.

How would you define good place branding? Is it always about logos and slogans – or does it involve more?

CB: Logo and slogans are important, beyond doubt. The logo is almost a kind of visual identity card for a state. The slogans summarise the strengths of the state and put them in a nutshell. But a campaign must also be lived by the people, because they are a country. People, slogans, and logos must go hand in hand.

What role does storytelling play in a good place brand strategy?

CB: In the ‘Age of Digital’, storytelling plays the key role. We made our strategy more in line with the Brothers Grimm, their fairy tales and the nation-building processes from the 19th century than with the nation-branding textbooks. Stories, myths, and festivals led to a national consciousness and national identities in the 19th century across Europe.

In Germany, for example, the collection of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm was an eminently political process. They served as evidence of cultural unity of the Germans, in a country that was not politically unified. This shows the power of storytelling. People remember. And they continue to tell the stories.

Basically, we do the very same thing today with the campaign by giving the Saxons a stage for their stories. It’s still an ‘invention of tradition’ as the historian Eric Hobsbawm once said. Only today, this principle is stated in the sign of branding processes.

You mentioned that the Saxony brand is supported by ‘all of Saxony’. How did you manage to engage this wide and diverse range of stakeholders?

KS: The stage is again the keyword: we worked together with Saxon ambassadors, especially Saxon artists, presenting their state. For instance, we made a PR stunt on Times Square with the Thomaner Boys Choir from Leipzig. Some of the musicians of the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra played a spontaneous concert on the street in New York on the day exactly 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell.

Another example is the video artist Sebastian Linda, who brought his unique perspective on the state into a film. I think that again the issue of attitude and identification is in the foreground.

Because the Saxons identify strongly with their state and with the attitude the campaign is based on, they like to be on the road as ambassadors. Of course, with the campaign we have also offered a stage for artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs.

The video shows different scenarios, from urban to nature elements, and various cultural angles, including skateboarding, urban fashion, and a mosque. Who in particular are your key target audiences?

KS: The campaign doesn’t have one single target audience. As a classic location campaign it’s both thematic and broad in terms of the target groups. It uses the topics of business, innovation, education, art, culture … and therefore addresses investors, tourists, and professionals with tailored measures.

The aforementioned film by Sebastian Linda is primarily aimed at a young, creative target group in Germany and internationally. Here, the aim was to draw attention to Saxony as a state to visit, but perhaps also to study and to live.

After all, there was little knowledge of Saxony, there were few concrete images in the minds of the target audiences. Where knowledge is lacking, prejudices and stereotypes tend to enter in its place. Therefore, the film is intended to convey a modern, Saxon lifestyle.

According to a recent survey, 42% of Germans now know the brand Simply Saxony. Do you think this means they have actually formed a whole new set of associations around Saxony, or does it just signify that they are aware of the logo and slogan?

KS: In the best case scenario – both! We would wish for that. Therefore, a second survey last fall requested more details. Compared to 2011, there was a 20% increase in positive spontaneous associations (with landscape, landmarks and cities) in all German regions, but especially in the western provinces. We were particularly pleased by positive developments in tourism, industry and education.

In this period Saxony’s perception has increased by 29% due to the support of our campaign. However, there is still plenty of work to do because many West German workers cannot yet imagine a move to Saxony. Fortunately, this east-west difference is no longer an issue for young people, 25 years after reunification.

How did you leverage social media as part of the campaign? What value in general would you say social media has in helping to develop new associations with a place?

CB: Social media is the catalyst of good stories, especially when they break with the usual stereotypes, and when the story is told differently from what is expected. Actually, this is just as the filmmaker Sebastian Linda did with the project ‘Travel where you live’. We can reach international audiences via social media that we never would have reached with traditional TV spots in three to five destinations 15 years ago.

One can almost speak of a ‘digital nation-branding’, because photos of places and countries are transported much faster via social media. In the 19th century it was the principle of the world exhibition buildings such as the Eiffel Tower, which expressed the image of a country. Today, good YouTube clips can achieve this. Or one big film project, such as the Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand.

But we must also remember: a major event is still central, as the Football World Cup 2006 in Germany has shown. This is the perfect stage for the people of a country. And it has changed perceptions worldwide.

Does the Simply Saxony campaign tie into a long-term vision for the development of Saxony? 

CB: I would rather answer in general. At first, campaigns can only be icebreakers. You can correct distorted images such as in the case of Saxony, and break stereotypes. But then you need to add that special momentum. Does the campaign exactly hit the lifestyle and attitude of the people?

If place-branding campaigns succeed, the long-term strategy can only be people making the campaign into their campaign. Because they are the best ambassadors of their country. If that succeeds, then the campaign did a good job.

Residents on the frontline

Canadian branding agency Trajectory is convinced that place brands can only be successful if they’re considered authentic by the people who live there. This has become a central tenet of Trajectory’s work on place and it has stood them in good stead. Placesbrands talks to Jeannette Hanna to find out more.

Placesbrands: Trajectory focuses strongly on engaging with stakeholders. Why did you decide to make this a central feature of your approach?

Jeannette Hanna: Ultimately, the work is done on behalf of the stakeholders. We’ve always felt they must have a real voice in the process. The logistics of how to engage, as well as synthesise, the information we get can require some creativity, but it’s an essential part of building legitimacy for a shared vision of the future.

Your work focuses on encouraging dialogue between the community, between ‘ordinary’ residents of places. Why do you choose to focus in particular on the residents? 

JH: Residents are the real heart of any community. They embody its values and its ‘genius loci’, so they’re vital to shaping the long-term aspirations of a place. We also recognize that an effective place branding engagement process can surface useful ideas and opportunities that may not be priorities for our work but that others might want to pursue together. We think providing a platform where like-minded people can find each other and self-organise to address local needs is a great added benefit of broad engagement.

Could you talk us briefly through a typical FutureCast workshop session?

JH: The actual structure and content is driven by the assignment, but the core principle is to focus people on future possibilities. Through FutureCast, we’re essentially facilitating a broad conversation about: “What kind of place do we want to grow together?” That can involve large-scale ‘World Café’ style group meetings as well as mobile and web-based interactions. They don’t all have to be workshops. We’ve learned a great deal from collaborating on large-scale appreciative inquiry projects like Bermuda’s Performing Arts Centre Project. That involved having a team of volunteers conduct almost five hundred hour-long interviews and then using software to help us analyse the results.

What role do ordinary residents play in the success, or otherwise, of a place brand?

JH: A recent example is our work with Mississauga, Canada’s sixth largest city. As part of developing the narrative for the city’s brand, residents were very active participants not only in shaping the positioning but also validating it. That’s key for a municipality. One of my first place-based projects was for Washington’s ‘Destination DC’. We solicited ‘DC Insider’ tips on the city’s most authentic experiences. That content became an integral part of the advertising and marketing. It was powerful because it really reflected what residents loved best about their place, not a marketer’s best guess.

Why do you think communities tend to be sceptical of proposed place branding initiatives? 

JH: I think a healthy dose of scepticism is a good thing and to be expected in any place branding process. How can anyone from ‘away’ tell us what our place is all about? Good question! There are two parts to answering that. Place branding is not only about today’s realities but also tomorrow’s opportunities.

No one can say what a place aspires to become except the people who have a stake in its future. That’s why the engagement process is so important. It’s critical to surface their values and priorities. At the same time, it’s often hard for those who are emotionally, financially or otherwise invested in a locale to see it objectively.

As Marshall McLuhan said: “I don’t know who invented water but it wasn’t a fish.” In other words, sometimes it takes outsiders to identify assets and characteristics that are so tightly woven into a place’s identity that locals lose sight of them. So it’s important to acknowledge that very natural skepticism at the outset of a project and reinforce that we’re here to help them tell their story.

At the same time, we bring the advantages of fresh perspectives and the ability to ask basic questions: So what? Why does that matter? What if? There’s a healthy creative tension in ensuring all of those perspectives inform the works.

Apart from strong stakeholder engagement, what other factors would you say are vital for a successful place brand?

JH: Besides a core team of believers who want to do something, you need three basics to succeed:

1. A compelling story – one that local stakeholders can see themselves in – is a must.

2. Malcolm Allan of PlaceMatters developed the concept of ‘experience master planning’. We think it’s a very powerful concept. It’s a meaningful corollary to the idea of master planning spaces – what developers and planners have always done. But this is about who do we want here and what should they be able to do in this place – whether they are residents, students, visitors, businesses or their employees. We used this strategy in our work with Mississauga and it was helpful in identifying opportunities for different kinds of partnerships and initiatives.

3. The other critical piece is having some simple rules around governance. When I worked with the region of Niagara in Ontario, they created some simple but smart guidelines around who could adopt the very successful Niagara Originals brand. The goal was to encourage collaboration as well as adoption and it worked extremely well.

How do you handle conflict of opinions among stakeholders?

JH: Major conflicts usually arise when people feel it’s a zero sum game – if you win, I lose. That’s a false dichotomy. Very often we see regional players squabbling over the same bits of turf until they realize that they’re all losing out to other places that are pulling together to attract big investment, tourists, creative class workers etc. A prime example is a major manufacturing business that was considering relocating to a specific region. All the local towns put in competing bids to attract the factory. The CEO called their representatives together and soundly chastised them saying he wouldn’t dream of moving into the area unless they could figure out a way to put together a joint proposition. That’s when the gloves came off and the ‘How do we tackle this together?’ conversations began. We structure our FutureCast engagement around the idea of shared futures where everyone sees they have a stake in long-term success for just that reason.

How does Trajectory use the latest web/mobile tools for better stakeholder engagement?

JH: In addition to using the well-known social media platforms, we’ve collaborated with several engagement-specific technology partners including Neighborland.com (co-founded by community activist Candy Chang) and SoapboxHQ.com. It’s not enough to simply ask people what they like or don’t like.

Real engagement gives them the ability to post their own ideas; respond to ideas that others have generated; track the development of an initiative over time; and self-organise by finding like-minded people in their area who want to collaborate. But online and mobile tools are only part of the puzzle. Highly visible community installations where people can publicly write their views are also powerful.

Find out more about Trajectory on the company website, or follow on Twitter.

Does place branding need a rebrand? Part 2

This is part two of a mini-series debating whether place branding needs a new name. The issue arose from the fact that use of the term ‘branding’ carries the risk that the uninformed will equate the discipline largely with advertising. We wanted to explore whether giving it a new name would help to overcome this.

Last week, in part one, Günter Soydanbay spelled out the key difference between ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ – one which is so often misinterpreted.

He said: “If we are under the illusion that our objective is to create ‘a brand’, then all we get would be a yummy logo, catchy tagline, and an over-promising campaign.”

Bill Baker, president of Total Destination Marketing, shares another viewpoint…

“I agree with the sentiment that there are many misunderstandings relating to the branding of places. I also think it’s true that far too many places start out with the idea of branding and mistakenly have a narrow view of what branding is. They don’t fully engage it as a powerful strategic guidance system.

Many set out on their brand journey because they think it’s time for a new look or a snappy tagline or slogan. I think that an even more common pitfall is to consider it as a new campaign. I think that many states and nations are particularly guilty of this. They then proceed to announce a new ‘brand’ every few years.

But despite these challenges, I don’t believe that there’s a need to rebrand the concept of place branding.

We have to keep in mind that many on the client side who are involved in place branding projects may be encountering the concepts of branding for the first time in their careers.

Hence, so much of our everyday work at TDM has always been education and building the capacity of our client communities. I believe this is where the emphasis needs to be. Rebranding or introducing a new vocabulary may simply add to the confusion and will still require intensive educational focus.”

The final post in this series will be published next week.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments – or tweet us!

Does ‘place branding’ need a rebrand? Part 1

Ironically, by using the term ‘branding’, we may be making life more difficult for ourselves by reinforcing a negative image of the discipline. We constantly have to explain what ‘place branding’ really means.

By using this term, we’re inadvertently misleading people into thinking our work revolves around advertising – the exact view that we work so hard to counter.

No wonder so many people are sceptical, sometimes even hostile, towards the idea of ‘rebranding’ their country or city. They see the place as their home, not just another product to be marketed or advertised with a flashy campaign – even though that’s not our intention!

Simon Anholt coined the term ‘nation brand’ over ten years ago. By his own admission, he later regretted the choice of wording for the very reasons described here. So he attempted to solve the problem by proposing the alternative term ‘competitive identity’.

But, so far, this term hasn’t really caught on within the industry. Practitioners (and clients!) continue to use the term ‘branding’, extending it to incorporate activities aimed at cities and regions too.

Placesbrands asked some place brand experts to share their views, to be published in a series of posts on this topic.

Günter Soydanbay, an independent brand consultant, pointed out the critical differences between the terms ‘brand’ and ‘branding’.

“The first is an accurate way to describe our aim to shape a unique identity for a place. But the second could be where things start to get confusing. ‘Branding’ sounds too much like a process that can be applied to a place to superficially change its image. Only we all know that this doesn’t work.

In my opinion, however, the two terms are far too similar. We need something completely different to accurately describe what we seek to achieve by discovering and making known the unique existing qualities of places.

If we look at the origin of the word ‘brand’, we can see that it originates from Old Norse. It used to mean ‘to identify – to mark something by a hot iron’. Back in the day, farmers used to ‘brand’ their livestock, ‘marking’ what was theirs. It seems as if marking (differentiating) is the key role of a brand. After all, the French call a brand ‘une marque’.

At the nation level, ‘the act of marking’ is exactly what banner-men used to do during battle. They would literally mark the captured territory with their banners. Think of it for a second. It’s still unimaginable for a country to not have a flag! Flags act as the ultimate agents of differentiation and meaning.

So, yes. I think technically you can ‘brand’ a nation. But most likely, that process won’t take place at a conference room of an office tower!

It’s paramount to separate ‘brand’ from ‘branding’.

The former is a noun, whereas the latter is a ‘process’. The ultimate value a strategist, designer, communications consultant or a change management specialist could offer to a nation is to introduce a proven branding ‘process’.

In its essence, every branding project is a ‘change management project’. It’s made up of an endless cycle of learning, unlearning, and relearning. You constantly entertain different hypotheses, such as: Do tourists like this? Would investors like that? Should we offer this to our habitants?…and so on.

Then you go ahead and implement your idea. You measure the impact, and recalibrate your approach. That’s the branding process. And in my personal opinion, any nation would benefit from such a learning cycle.

I often think the relationship between ‘nation brand’ and ‘nation branding’ is similar to that between ‘the pursuit’ and ‘happiness’. The legendary psychologist James Hillman once said, “I think it’s the pursuit that screws up happiness. If we drop the pursuit, it’s right there.” You can’t achieve happiness by directly pursuing it. But society tells us to do it anyway!

The same goes for nation brand. If we’re under the illusion that our objective is to create ‘a brand’, then all we get would be a yummy logo, catchy tagline, and an over-promising campaign. That type of consciousness zeroes in on ‘what’ it gets. Right there, that screws up branding! Instead, if we switch to a process-driven consciousness (the how instead of what), then success is right there!”

In the next post in this mini-series, we’ll hear a contrasting view from another experienced strategist…

Feel free to share your own views in the comments.

Cuba through a Jamaican lens

In this guest post, Dr Hume Johnson reflects on Brand Cuba from the perspective of its closest neighbour, Jamaica, and discusses what may be next for the small island nation in the wake of its revitalised relations with the United States.

Dr Johnson is Assistant Professor of public relations at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, founder of the Re-Imagine Jamaica Project, and a scholar of country branding and public diplomacy.

What does Brand Cuba consist of?

Cuba is a giant in the world. Despite decades of international isolation and sanctions designed to cripple this already poor nation, Cuba has managed to build a powerful and enviable international nation brand image anchored on successes in healthcare, sports, education, exports and for better or worse, revolutionary socialist ideas which became a model for much of Latin America.

Cuba’s medical brand is the key to its strong global image. The island boasts one of the best medical services in the world, as well as medical expertise, technology, superior facilities and standards of care which are models for other countries to follow. Cuba is also busy sharing this medical expertise on the international stage and is celebrated even by Western media for this. For example, Cuban doctors were at the forefront of the battle against the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, sending the largest contingent of foreign medical professionals to combat the disease.

The strength of Brand Cuba also lies in the fact that despite being a poor Third World society, crippled by international sanctions, it has nevertheless made significant developmental strides. Cuba ranks very highly on the Human Development Index in education and literacy – having the 4th highest literacy rate in Latin America, and in terms of life expectancy, and infant mortality and so on.

Cuba’s sports brand is also well- known, fielding strong players in baseball and boxing at the Olympics and World levels. In terms of export products, Cuba’s brand of tobacco has elevated Cuban cigars to become the most sought after in the world.

What do Jamaicans think of Cuba?

Jamaicans are not easily propagandised and have generally not bought into historically misleading and biased notions about Cuba and Fidel Castro purported by the West.

Jamaica has had a longstanding and positive diplomatic relationship with Cuba since the 1970s under the leadership of former Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley. Jamaica’s position has always been one of respect for Cuba’s sovereign right to its own ideological and political policy positions.

In Jamaican society, where inequality is a major concern and the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ is so vast, Cuba was a model for radical change and for policies that favour equal access to social goods, and rights for the poor.

Jamaicans have also largely celebrated Cuba for its contributions to education, sports and healthcare in Jamaica. Secondary schools such as Jose Marti High and GC Foster College – which train many of Jamaica’s outstanding athletes and coaches – are gifts from Cuba to Jamaica. Many of our young doctors are trained in Cuba, and the country benefits from Cuba’s medical expertise, so Jamaicans have and will remain unwavering in our support for Cuba.

What does the future hold for Brand Cuba?

After Obama’s historic decision to normalise relations with Cuba, people’s perception of Cuba will change. Mind you, there has always been a mystique and magnetism about Cuba, based on its history, culture and the appeal of its natural environment. Yet, after five decades of communist rule over this small Caribbean society with ancient infrastructure, outdated modes of transportation, electricity and communication, the curiosity and wonderment about Cuba will be heightened.

Cuba also has the chance to open up to the world, and truly enter the global market and compete for tourists, investment, students and capital. Its prime location in the Caribbean Basin, its proximity to Panama Canal and large markets such as the United States, as well as its skilled and educated workforce make it a magnet for foreign direct investment.

A new dawn for Cuba has arrived, and, as one Jamaican commentator remarked, a sleeping giant has been awakened.