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Although the classic and simple “I Heart NY” tagline remains culturally significant, things in place branding have changed a lot since the 1970s when this slogan first appeared.
Back then, place marketing revolved almost exclusively around tourism: destinations, exotic experiences, local celebrities, and big attractions. Logos, slogans, and iconic imagery abounded, and ads messaged fun and adventure to broad audiences. The Incredible India campaign is another great example of this classic branding concept executed to perfection.
Over time, however, the need for a more expansive conception of place branding began to emerge. India might still be incredible, and you may still “heart” New York City, but these days the focus in place branding has shifted away from this one-story-fits-all approach.
The New Place Branding
The focus now is on community engagement and local pride, economic development, and growth that attracts business development and external audiences via a compelling story of local life. It’s in some ways both more nuanced and yet more clearly defined than the old style. Let me explain.
Economic development agencies have always competed with each other to attract new business, but these days they recognize that businesses only relocate to areas that provide an educated and/or trained workforce. Because of this, the marketing of place has begun to target potential new residents over business itself, offering education, community, culture, and society. But to target potential new residents you have to have something more for them—and that something more is usually local institutions, night life, affordable living, and other lifestyle drivers.
As a result, messaging has evolved from emphasizing overall quality of life like good public schools and a nice or safe neighborhood, to a strong emphasis on the quality of place: amenities, culture, and easy access to both.
Suddenly, the place itself has become a major driver in fostering the outcomes that cities and communities desired: attracting new residents and businesses to expand the tax base. By creating more vibrant and walkable mixed-use districts, not only do you attract people who wanted to live and work there, but you also create environments that attract more businesses, visitors and more tourists altogether.
The focus on place is a win-win or, as my colleague Judi Friedman has written, a “virtuous cycle.”
A major new facet of this approach is the notion of elevated resident engagement.
The local community must be central to your branding of place. Pride in one’s community is a critical feature of telling a great place story, because when you foster local pride, that sentiment gets out and speaks to external audiences, reinforcing the story you seek to tell, and drawing in more audiences.
Branding of this sort is foundational to marketing. Why should someone visit or move to your place? They need to have a good reason—and you need to provide it for them. Giving the people who already live there a good reason to love their place is the perfect way to start. After all, any quality brand narrative must be rooted in an authentic story.
The “why” of place has to explain the ways in which a location serves the needs of various audiences, evoke local pride and appreciation, and also maintain a compelling brand narrative that is clear and consistent to outsiders.
It is because of this transformation in place branding that we are witnessing an evolution in how cities, towns, districts, and even developers market themselves. What was once a cool, simple slogan focused on bringing in tourists has become a way of telling a more complete story rooted in the range of experiences of a place. Less “I Heart New York” and more “New York Is Where Diverse Communities Thrive Together” or perhaps “New York is Where My Life and Business Thrive.”
Let’s circle back to where I began: with the I Heart NY tagline. Because it’s a bit more sly than you think!
In a way, this bit of NYC marketing actually foreshadowed the evolution I’ve just described. It gestured toward a more comprehensive and strategic place branding by having its own value proposition written in the very words: a viewer of that slogan, after all, is not being told anything specific about New York City—the vibrant arts scene, the museums or concert venues, restaurants and entertainments. Instead, they are being told “New York” is where things happen, and then allowed to fill in the gaps themselves. I Heart NY resonates because we are each allowed to imagine ourselves in the city, experiencing its story firsthand, making New York’s story a part of our life and making our life a part of the narrative that becomes the story of that place and will resonate with a range of audiences: New York, it’s a pace we love to visit, live, shop, work, etc. It’s all of that and more. It’s anything you want it to be.
Of course, that’s New York City. Your focus will be quite different if you’re doing branding for Peoria, Illinois, or Saskatchewan or Indonesia. After all, a brand must be rooted in the consumer experience, which in the terms of place must represent the history and current culture of that locale.
Regardless, if you’re a municipal leader, economic development agency, city planner, or just a proud local resident, you must start doing your research, discovering the story of your place, asking residents about their home to discover what it is that is the authentic story about where they live. What compels them to live and work there, experience what that place offers? Once you can answer that question you have the beginning of a compelling place brand.
If you’re curious to hear more from me and other brand leaders, register now for the upcoming place branding webinar. Then sign up for the TopRight blog. You can also visit me on LinkedIn. And if you still want more marketing insight, think about picking up a copy of one of TopRight’s latest offerings: Strategic Analytics and/or Marketing, Interrupted.