Last year, Milwaukee's chamber of commerce, visitors bureau, economic development office and a variety of other local institutions pooled their resources to try to sell their city to the rest of the world in a cohesive way. Rather than continue individual marketing strategies, with separate advertising themes, they hired Development Counsellors International (DCI), a Manhattan-based consulting firm specializing in regional marketing, to help them create the city's first integrated campaign. It is expected to be launched this May.
In the past, city tourism departments, economic development groups and other government and civic organizations â€” each with different priorities and separate budgets â€” rarely combined their marketing efforts. Today, many municipal leaders, like those in Milwaukee, are sharing resources to come up with sharper, more professional strategies to sell their cities to diverse consumer audiences, among them business decision makers, conventioneers and professionals. Whether making their market debuts, retooling their images, or repositioning themselves to reach new demographics, cities are beginning to regard themselves as the new brands, and everyone as their customer.
Choices of where to live, where to visit and where to do business have expanded over the past decade, as advances in communications technology increasingly enable individuals and companies to operate efficiently pretty much anywhere, almost regardless of geography. Sensing the opportunity, some local leaders were beginning to take an integrated marketing approach even before Sept. 11, promoting their communities as alternatives to big cities. But following the attacks, the apparent stability and quality of life offered by smaller and lesser known cities well away from the national capitals of commerce and business have become even bigger selling points.
Mark Zandi, chief economist for Economy.com, an online provider of economic and financial research and analysis, says that now might be the perfect time for some oft-overlooked cities and regions to advertise. â€œThings that were considered weights on some economies two years ago are now assets, like the fact that they are more removed from the hustle and bustle of urban areas,â€? he says. â€œNow that big urban areas are having major problems financially, and people are more wary about being there in general, it's probably a good time for many of these places to be aggressive in marketing and positioning themselves as alternative places to visit, do business and live.â€?
That's because smaller and lesser known cities are expected to be less affected economically by the tragedies than are the larger, flashier ones. For example, according to Economy.com's forecast of economic growth by metro area, prior to Sept. 11, Milwaukee's annual gross domestic product (GDP) was expected to grow 2.29 percent through the second quarter of 2002. After the attacks, the company reduced the city's growth projections by 2.6 percentage points. Meanwhile, Chicago, Milwaukee's bigger and better known competitor, was expected to grow 2.86 percent through the second quarter of 2002, and after the attacks, its projected GDP was lowered by 3.13 percentage points.
As American Demographics found in our December 2001 special report, Americans are undergoing a subtle reality shift in almost every fundamental aspect of their lives. As a result, quality of life attributes such as better commute times, access to public parks and clean air may play bigger roles in where people choose to live, says Steve Higdon, president of Greater Louisville Inc., an organization created to promote Louisville, Ky. and its surrounding regions. â€œWhat has happened to this country has really underscored the importance of Middle America,â€? he says. â€œOf course we will never take advantage of this tragedy in our marketing directly, but I do think our target audiences will look at our product differently.â€?
If it worked for Crest toothpaste, why not Milwaukee, Indianapolis or Philadelphia? The concept of branding â€” the idea that one product is made more valuable, has more â€œequity,â€? than an alternative because it is attached to a recognizable name and promise of authenticity â€” began about 200 years ago, when Josiah Wedgwood realized that stamping his name on his pottery and naming his dinnerware after English nobility made it more desirable. Fast-forward to the 1930s when Procter & Gamble's Neil McElroy, the company's promotion department manager, developed the â€œP&G brand management system,â€? an organizational structure that assigned groups of people to handle specific marketing strategies for competing brands.
By the 1970s and '80s, â€œbrand managerâ€? was a coveted job title for the typical business school graduate, and by the mid-1990s, branding began to be applied not just to products but to the retailers that sell them, with names like Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works. â€œWhat has happened since the turn of the millennium is that everyone else is discovering branding,â€? says Roger Blackwell, a marketing professor at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University. â€œIt was inevitable that the people who market cities would turn to a concept that has been so productive and successful for others.â€?
This push to integrate a city's disparate parts into one cohesive branding approach comes as competition among regions for tourists, conventioneers and skilled workers has increased dramatically over the past 50 years. Alastair Morrison, director of the Purdue University Tourism and Hospitality Research Center, estimates that the number of city or regional visitors bureaus has grown from about 250 to 1,600 since 1950. Among economic development agencies, which specialize in industrial recruitment, the competition is even greater. According to the International Economic Development Council, for any given business relocation or expansion, an estimated 15,000 cities, regions or communities are in contention, and that's only in the U.S. Says Ted Levine, chairman of consulting firm DCI: â€œIf you think about the fact that there are only about a half-dozen car manufacturers, it puts things into perspective. This is an extremely competitive field.â€?
Cities and regions are also vying for permanent bodies, especially those with professional heads on their shoulders. With an estimated 80 percent of jobs and wealth created by privately owned companies or entrepreneurs, there's pressure on cities to keep and attract more educated workers and young entrepreneurs. While only 16 percent of the total U.S. population moved house in 1999, better educated people are more likely to move longer distances, presumably for better paying jobs, according to the Census Bureau's 2000 Current Population Survey. Forty-seven percent of movers with a college degree moved to a new county, either within the same state or in another state, compared with 34 percent of those with less than a high school education who did so. And the younger folks are the most mobile: 34 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds and 22 percent of 30- to 34-year-olds moved, making these demographics the primary target for many cities and regions.
For those doing the moving, whether they are employees looking for new digs or CEOs expanding or relocating their companies, image has become an important deal-breaker. According to Arthur Andersen's â€œBest Cities 2000â€? survey of 1,433 senior executives worldwide, conducted June through November 2000, a city's suitability for business is no longer just about geographic location, tax incentives or cheap land. Instead, the top three factors mentioned are: â€œpro-business attitudesâ€? (20 percent), â€œlocal availability of professionalsâ€? (12 percent) and â€œentrepreneurial activityâ€? (10 percent).
â€œThirty or 40 years ago you just needed green grass by a railroad to set up shop,â€? says Shari Barnett, senior manager of global location strategies at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Now there are so many variables, and there is never just one city that's right for a business or employee. Barnett says she is working with several companies that nixed her recommendation of a city she thought perfect because decision makers had an impression that its economy was failing or its quality of life was poor, even though the city was actually thriving. â€œThings like geography and tax incentives will get you on the short list, but at the end of the day, if the client doesn't perceive your city well, they'll move on.â€?
Yet, lessons from the corporate boardroom extend only so far. Branding a city has its own set of challenges. The first is persuading city leaders, many of them with little or no marketing experience, that they need to do so. â€œYou have to convince city councils that they need to spend money on something they know nothing about, and that's a tough sell,â€? says Elizabeth Goodgold, CEO of The Nuancing Group, a brand consultancy in San Diego.
Deborah Knudsen knows that dance. As president and CEO of the Traverse City, Mich. Convention and Visitors Bureau, she spent 10 years trying to convince fellow civic leaders and small-business owners to participate in a branding effort before finally succeeding two years ago when she helped launch its brand â€” â€œA World Apartâ€? â€” targeting affluent tourists. Raised in a family of restaurateurs, Knudsen grew up understanding the value of a brand in maintaining consumer loyalty and ensuring repeat business. â€œI've followed what P&G and GM have been doing over the years and seen it work for them, so I knew we should be doing it too, at least at some level,â€? she says. â€œBut it's not easy when you're dealing with people from many different backgrounds.â€?
Even when most leaders concur on the need for such activity, agreeing on strategy is another story. Unlike a corporation with one CEO calling the shots as to how to proceed, a city has multiple entities with very different, and often conflicting, priorities and target audiences. Indianapolis is struggling with this step in its current branding process, says Mike Lawson, president of the Indianapolis Regional Economic Development Partnership. In the past, the region was marketed as nine individual counties, with nine individual budgets. Now they've merged, but that has simply increased the number of cooks in the kitchen. What's more, there are a number of other private and nonprofit organizations in the area, all promoting the city differently to various consumers.
â€œThe biggest challenge we face is coming to a consensus on an umbrella brand that will work for everyone's consumers,â€? says Lawson. â€œIt can be difficult to get people to see the big picture all the time, and there's a lot of â€˜protecting turfâ€™ going on.â€? But they're working on it. Representatives of six entities, including Lawson's economic development group, the city's Arts Council, the Indiana Sports Corporation and Indianapolis Downtown Inc., met all through last summer, and have hired an independent facilitator, a marketing professor at Indiana University, to help.
Another obstacle to branding cities has to do with turnover in leadership, especially in those cities and counties with term limits for elected officials. â€œOften, you'll have political leaders who agree that someone should put the region on the map, but then say, â€˜It's not my job, I'm out of here in a few years,â€™â€? says Rod Underhill, chief executive of Spherical Inc., the brand strategy consulting arm of The Richards Group, a Dallas-based advertising agency. That's why a good brand strategy has to be factually based and rigorously analyzed, he says. Otherwise, every mayoral election can bring a change in focus, resulting in a stop-and-start marketing effort that is ineffective. â€œThere has to be so much conviction among the other civic organizations and leaders that branding needs to get done that it can withstand a turnover in leadership,â€? he adds.
Underhill says that level of conviction exists in the Dallas-Fort Worth region â€” the Metroplex. The dual chambers of commerce hired Spherical to help brand the area. While details about their strategy are still under wraps, Underhill says that the biggest challenge has to do with reeling in and managing a brand that has been unmanaged for so long. â€œMost cities are a victim of their unmanaged reputations,â€? he says. â€œIn the absence of a brand strategy, Dallas-Fort Worth conjures images of J.R. Ewing and cheerleaders, but those cultural icons are not necessarily what the city would like to be known for.â€?
And then there's the opposite problem. DCI's Levine estimates that 60 percent to 70 percent of all cities in the U.S. have no image at all in the public mind. Thus, finding a core distinguishable asset, or â€œunique selling proposition,â€? as he terms it, becomes even more important. Nancy Koehn, marketing professor at Harvard and author of Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers' Trust from Wedgwood to Dell (Harvard Business School Press, 2001), recommends that decision makers turn to their city's unique histories. â€œAlmost every city or region has some interesting piece of history that everyone can relate to,â€? she says. â€œThat can be your connection point with consumers. In any kind of branding, connecting on a personal level is always a very strong motivator.â€?
But for some cities, history is double-edged. Leaders of nine public and private civic organizations in the Richmond, Va., region worked all through last summer, with Martin Branding Worldwide of â€œVirginia is for Loversâ€? fame, on an integrated branding effort. The region's rich ties to America's history were cited as a distinguishing asset in all its focus group sessions among all demographic groups, from tourists to business leaders to potential residents. Still, they debated as to whether or not that history was the best way to brand the area. Yes, the region is the birthplace of many U.S. presidents, but it was also once home to the country's largest slave port, notes Greg Wingfield, president of the Greater Richmond Partnership, the region's economic development organization. In the end, Richmond's leaders decided the positives about the area's five-century history outweighed any negatives, and in October 2001, it's new brand was unveiled: â€œThe Historic Richmond Region: Easy to Love.â€?
Still other cities continue to struggle with their identity crises. A nationwide study of 300 CEOs conducted by the Columbus, Ohio chamber of commerce found that fewer than 10 percent of respondents knew anything about that city. And its municipal leaders are worried about the bigger picture. Columbus has consistently been a good place to live and work, with continuous growth, says Sally Jackson, president of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. But as business becomes more global and people become more mobile, that won't be enough if no one knows about it. â€œWe need to get a lot better at projecting what we are all about,â€? Jackson says. Because, for today's consumers, image is everything.
MARKETING CHALLENGE: INTRODUCING A NEW BRAND IN AN OVERCROWDED MARKETPLACE
BRAND: Louisville, Ky., and surrounding region
POPULATION: 1 million
THE CLAIM: The Next Entrepreneurial Hot Spot
PRIMARY DEMOGRAPHIC TARGET: Young professionals and entrepreneurs
For cities, sometimes having no image is a good thing, since it is much easier to build a brand from scratch than to erase a negative perception, according to marketing experts. Good news for Louisville, apparently: its research uncovered that 7 out of 10 people who'd never been to the city had no image of it.
Steve Higdon, president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI), which represents the seven-county Louisville region, blames that lack of image for keeping young people away. â€œThe No. 1 issue facing Louisville right now is the brain drain,â€? says Higdon. According to his analysis of census data, Louisville had about 172,000 children under 9 years old in 1970. In 1990, just 20 years later, there were 143,000 residents between the ages of 20 to 29. â€œWe exported 29,000 young people,â€? he says.
Why does that matter? Higdon, who before his four years at GLI was a marketing and sales exec for UPS, explains it like this: Entrepreneurs account for some 80 percent of job creation, most entrepreneurs start their companies between the ages of 25 and 40, and, more often than not, they do it in the city where they grew up. â€œWe therefore equate young, smart, mobile professionals with increased growth. To reach our goal of becoming an economic hot spot, we need to bring back or attract more of these young people to the area.â€?
This long-term branding focus has been under way since the region's two economic development groups and the chamber of commerce merged to form the GLI five years ago. Understanding that professional, mobile people will not move to the area unless a strong entrepreneurial base and â€œcoolâ€? companies already exist, the GLI spent $15 million since its establishment on a campaign to lure entrepreneurs to the area. The effort pushed the city's rank on the Cognetics' list of â€œEntrepreneurial Hotspotsâ€? published by Inc. magazine, from 75 in 1995 to 16 in 1999. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Louisville has been able to attract almost 15,000 additional thirtysomethings to the area between 1990 and 2000.
Still, the city is faltering in its efforts to capture the attention of the much-coveted, fresh-out-of-college crowd. Between 1980 and 2000, the population of twentysomethings declined by about 10,000, while during the same period, competitors like Indianapolis, and Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., increased their populations of 20- to 29-year-olds by 20,000, 78,000 and 118,000, respectively. To stay competitive, Higdon says Louisville needs to work on enhancing its product. After about 130 civic leaders traveled to Austin, Texas, another city well known for its hip, young â€œtechieâ€? scene, Louisville officials realized it too needed a downtown entertainment centers. So the city made that a priority, and its new downtown district is scheduled for completion by year's end.
â€œWhy would these bright, young people want to move to a community that doesn't have the restaurants, coffee shops and music venues that they enjoy?â€? says Higdon. â€œWe don't have the mountains like Denver or the ocean like some coastal cities, so we need to make our product as cool as we can to get them here.â€? One of his other pet projects is to woo pro basketball to town, which he says will give the city a more youthful image.
To get the word out about what a fun spot the city is becoming,
GLI has dedicated about $1 million per year for its branding
efforts. So far, it has collected 40,000 e-mail addresses of
Louisville expatriates and has been sending them monthly
e-Postcards about the great things going on in their old town. In
addition, GLI hosted a cocktail party last April for former
residents living in Atlanta, where they collected 150
rÃ©sumÃ©s from one-time locals interested in returning.
They plan to host a similar party in northern California in March.
Other initiatives include the establishment of a networking club
called the Young Professionals of Louisville and â€œBulldogs in
the Bluegrass,â€? an all-expenses-paid internship program which
finds summer jobs for about 40 Yale University students with no
prior connections to Louisville. Last year, six students were
obviously impressed: after graduation, they moved on down.
ASSESSING THE DAMAGE
Large, tourist-driven metro areas were hardest hit economically by the events of Sept. 11, according to Economy.com. In fact, seven out of the top 10 most affected metros have populations over 500,000, while not one of the top 10 least affected areas has a population over 350,000. For example, prior to Sept. 11, Economy.com projected Las Vegas' gross domestic product (GDP) would grow at a rate of 5.09 percent through the second quarter of 2002. Post-Sept. 11, Economy.com lowered its projections by 5.56 percentage points. Green Bay, Wis., on the other hand, was expected to grow at a rate of 2.24 percent through the second quarter of 2002. After Sept. 11, its GDP is still projected to grow, albeit slower (1.16 percent), a loss of just 1.08 percentage points.
MARKETING CHALLENGE: EXPANDING AN OLD BRAND TO A NEW MARKET
BRAND: Philadelphia and surrounding region
POPULATION: 4 million
THE CLAIM: The Place That Loves You Back
PRIMARY DEMOGRAPHIC TARGET: Weekend travelers, specifically East Coast residents and Baby Boomers
Many cities today already have a â€œbrandâ€? in the sense that they conjure up an image in the consumer's mind. But often, that brand is one that has been sewn together by popular culture, professional sports teams and famous monuments. It's like the old Bill Cosby joke, says Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC), â€œA couple has a baby and friends ask what its name is. The couple replies: â€˜We're just going to let him grow up and see what the other kids call him.â€™ That's exactly what Philadelphia has done. We've let other people define our brand image, instead of managing it ourselves.â€?
Hoping to get out from under its reputation as home of cheesesteaks, Rocky movies, and the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia formed the GPTMC five and a half years ago with $12 million in public and private funds. Levitz was appointed as a sort of â€œbrand managerâ€? to improve the overall image of the five-county region to all consumers, whether it be visitors, students, residents, group travel businesses, CEOs or conventioneers. â€œWhen you look at any person, he can be any of those things all at the same time,â€? says Levitz. â€œSo segmenting the brand's message would be suicidal. With so much advertising out there, it's hard enough to get one message through.â€?
Philly's first objective was to shed its postindustrial image and be considered a fun, exciting, vibrant place. The more quantifiable objective was to increase the number of overnight visitors to the area. After surveying successful themes and realizing that those that stick â€” like â€œI Love NYâ€? â€” somehow connect the person with the destination, the tourism corporation adopted â€œThe Place That Loves You Backâ€? as a tag line. Advertising and public relations efforts have been directed primarily at Easterners since about a fifth of the U.S. population lives within 500 miles of the city.
Recognizing that reverberations from Sept. 11 still have many potential tourists looking for closer-to-home travel alternatives, and needing to recover from a major hit to its hospitality industry, the city launched a special $3 million â€œLoves You Backâ€? 2-for-1 hotel night promotion in November, called â€œPhilly Overnight.â€? The multimedia ad effort portrays bathrobe and PJ-clad visitors touring the city. Knowing that it is easier to get a return customer than a new customer in slow economic times, the city is sending direct mail advertising to former hotel visitors. There is also a convention retention component (â€œWe love you back so won't you stay just a little bit longerâ€?) meant to keep convention visitors in the city after their business is done.
One of Philly's main demographic targets are Baby Boomers, and the city's Web site, www.gophila.com, was redesigned with plan-your-own-itinerary features especially meant to engage this group. â€œBoomers don't want to get on a bus and be taken, they want to build their own experiences,â€? says Levitz. â€œAnd their interests are so well matched to our products, history and fine food. They are culture vultures who actively want to learn and enjoy new places, and they have the wherewithal to do it.â€?
To reinforce the brand to local residents, another effort called â€œBe a Tourist in Your Own Town,â€? will begin this spring. The program, funded with $2.5 million from the Delaware River Authority, aims to boost excitement at home and encourage residents to invite friends and family â€” who already make up about 40 percent of tourists â€” to visit. As an additional reinforcement, the city loves its citizens back with a Valentine's Day party every year.
According to independent research assessing the campaign between
1997 and 1999, the Philadelphia region was able to lure 3.2 million
additional overnight visitors, and another $335 million in revenue
to its coffers. Demand for hotel rooms rose 16 percent between 1997
and 2000, increasing total hotel revenues from $614 million in 1997
to $805 million in 2000. Some 40 new hotels with 6,500 rooms have
opened in the area since 1998.
MARKETING CHALLENGE: REPOSITIONING AN OLD BRAND
BRAND: Buffalo-Niagara region
POPULATION: 2 million
THE CLAIM: I Am Buffalo-Niagara. Available. Productive. People.
PRIMARY DEMOGRAPHIC TARGET: CEOs and site selectors representing information technology, medical manufacturing and health-care companies
Being the home of a pro football team has its ups and downs as a marketing tool for Buffalo, says Tom Kucharski, president of the Buffalo-Niagara Enterprise (BNE). On the upside, the area gets lots of free publicity on Sundays during football season. Unfortunately, that publicity always seems to be covered under three feet of snow.
Kucharski, a native of the area, moved back about two years ago â€” after 15 years working of for other cities' economic development organizations â€” to help his hometown area find and market its brand. For the first time, the eight-county region of Western New York and the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario are being marketed as one, through the efforts of the BNE, a regional development outfit formed in 1999 with $27 million in public and private sector funds. Its primary goal is to attract businesses in the information technology, medical manufacturing and health-care industries.
â€œIndividually, as very small cities and counties, we never had the resources to effectively distinguish ourselves in the marketplace,â€? says Kucharski. About a year ago, with the help of local ad agency Eric Mower and Associates, Development Counsellors International (DCI) and extensive research and analysis, they found the region's core sellable advantage: people. The area has one of the lowest turnover and absentee rates in the country, says Kucharski. It also has 30 colleges and universities, turning out fresh graduates every year. And according to a study conducted by the state, the region has 125,000 underemployed workers who could be trained for new or more advanced jobs.
One of the first decisions the BNE made was to change the area's brand name from â€œWestern New York,â€? to â€œBuffalo-Niagara,â€? to give potential consumers a better geographic perspective. â€œMost people don't know that Buffalo is closer to Niagara Falls than Orlando is to Disneyland, and 15 million people come to see the Falls every year,â€? says Kucharski.
Changing the name also provided consistency with government statistics, which already uses the Buffalo-Niagara designation, further reinforcing the brand. The BNE chose the new tag line, â€œBuffalo-Niagara: Available. Productive. People,â€? to call attention to the quality work force and build pride among residents. Its national multimedia ad campaign (which features residents and focuses on the region's quality of life assets), ran periodically in 2001 and will start up again in early spring with TV commercials on CNN and CNBC, radio spots on NPR and local stations, and local area billboard ads. Other initiatives include two Web sites, www.buffaloniagara.org, for business prospects and www.iambuffaloniagarajobs.com, for people looking to relocate or return to the area. The latter site received 1.5 million hits in its first six weeks.
The region's leaders decided not to change a thing about its branding campaign following Sept. 11, but they do believe their quality of life message may resonate more strongly with their target audiences. Says Leslie Hornung, BNE's marketing director: â€œOur â€˜close knit communityâ€™ and â€˜good place to raise a familyâ€™ type message may have more of an appeal now than it did before Sept. 11.â€? According to Economy.com, of all metro areas with populations greater than 1 million, Buffalo-Niagara's GDP forecast was among the top three least affected by the events of Sept. 11.
Since the branding effort launched a little over a year ago, the
BNE has received more than 1,600 inquiries from businesses, and
about 40 articles have appeared in national publications. Marketing
as widely as possible in general market media has impressed Shari
Barnett, senior manager of global location strategies at
PricewaterhouseCoopers. â€œThese days, you never know where
your next consumer will be,â€? she says.