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What’s in a Name? The Power of Community Branding

Photo Credit:  Soilse, Flickr CC License, https://flic.kr/p/fU4EFi
Photo Credit: Soilse, Flickr CC License, https://flic.kr/p/fU4EFi

The most compelling reminder that community branding matters is a simple question: Would you rather have a bachelor party in Las Vegas or Des Moines? No offense to Des Moines, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most people will pick Las Vegas. Des Moines just isn’t famous for its late night party scene—and it probably doesn’t want to be!

The strongest community brands create associations that seem painfully obvious. You say “Kentucky.” I say “Derby.” You say “Maine.” I say “lobster.” And, even if we’ve never been to Austin, it’s likely we both know that Austin is “weird.”

Place branding isn’t just about associations. The benefits of a positive and unified image impact many aspects of community. Here are a few examples of what branding can do:

Attract and retain strong talent. Glasgow, Scotland’s new brand—People Make Glasgow—acknowledges the skills and talent in the city, highlighting Glasgow as a place that’s great for business and tourists alike.

Shift negative perceptions. Newark, New Jersey was named the unfriendliest city by Conde Nast Traveler in 2013. Branding is aiding efforts to erase the negative and emphasize the positive, starting with the downtown Newark neighborhood of Washington Park. Strategies go beyond graphics and logos to include beautification of public spaces, cultural events in local parks, and food truck rallies.

Support economic recovery. When Oakridge, Oregon’s population dropped to 3,200 people, the community banded together for a branding project. Focusing on Oakridge’s natural resources and recreational opportunities, the town self-identified as “The Center of Oregon Recreation.” The brand promotes existing recreational offerings while providing focus to economic development tactics. Targeted support for outdoor-related businesses is now a top priority.

Stimulate demand. A small town in England is branding its local products and services. Shrewsbury’s “One-Off” campaign showcases the local handmade and artisanal culture. The campaign logo is intentionally flexible so that any business can adopt it.

Strengthen civic pride and a shared identity. Kentucky’s new brand—Kentucky Kicks Ass—was created with input from local residents. It seems the slogan is something every Kentuckian can get behind: 

But what about those places where community identity hasn’t been crafted? How can small towns stop feeling invisible or change negative perceptions? What works in creating a well-loved community brand?

On May 8, Ben Muldrow, Partner with Arnett Muldrow & Associates will join CommunityMatters® and the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design™ for an hour-long webinar on community branding. Ben will share his experience in working with small towns and rural places to create a strong brand that builds civic identity and supports community and economic development goals.

Register now.