I have one of the best marketing jobs I know. For much of my business, I get to work with cities and communities for the purpose of helping them identify the best branding direction that can grow tourism and economic development. As a result, I have clients in different areas of the country. I learn about each one from the people that make the community what it is. I visit the best eateries they have to offer and experience the best spots of local interest. Culturally, it’s really amazing.
Many people ask me, “What does it take for a city to brand itself successfully?”
I don’t have an easy answer for that one, mainly because I believe a city has a more difficult challenge branding itself than any public or private company. This is because unlike Apple, Disney or McDonald’s, a city does not own its name. It must share it with other businesses that use it, as well as every single resident (imagine how many businesses include the name Nashville). As a result, anyone’s efforts could positively or negatively affect your brand image. And unlike other brands, since no single entity owns the name, a city cannot take legal action against someone for misusing its name. Yikes!
So what’s the key to city branding success? It’s not a new ad campaign, it’s not a logo, it’s not even a cool line such as “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” The key is in a city’s ability to deliver authentic experiences and in how well its residents and visitors are engaged in evangelizing the city to others. In other words, pridewell spoken. Try crafting a marketing plan to make that happen. It’s not that easy. It takes buy-in and long-term commitment from local city organizations and private investors. This requires a deliberate process of collaboration with room for organic spontaneity. In other words, when everyone sings the same note, music happens.
Nashville does the above beautifully. Of course, it’s easy for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau to market Music City. Honky tonks, the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame are just starters for delivering this experience. But the reason Nashville “sings” is because doses of Music City are sprinkled everywhere. Here is a small starter list:
- The Nashville Technology Council gives out guitars as awards at their annual Technology Awards. By the way, they use the theme line, “Feel the Beat of Technology.”
- Bicycle racks shaped like giant microphones and musical notes are a public art project.
- The city serves as headquarters for Country Music Association, International Bluegrass Music Association, Gospel Music Association, the Americana Music Association and even the Barbershop Harmony Society.
- Vanderbilt Medical Center frequently uses imagery of guitars in its advertising.
- One downtown parking garage names its floors after iconic country music stars (yes there is a Johnny Cash floor).
- In a brilliant collaboration between tourism and the City Public Works, “live music venue” signs map out the countless number of locations that deliver a live music experience.
- And of course there are festivals, marathons, national TV shows (go “Nashville!”) and more.
So, what does it take for a city to “sing?” It takes a village. The more people that are united and proud of the place where they live, work and play, the louder one strong note can be heard. I encourage you to sing for your community. It will make your city’s voice stronger and louder, which creates more business for everyone.