10 Commandments of Community Branding – My Take

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“10 Commandments to Community Branding – My Take” is the latest posting in the Branding for Communities series. Understanding the need for the development and implementation of a brand is important for every community. Check out the first post in this series, “Why Branding“, for a refresher as to the importance of branding to your community.

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Source: Rural Resurrection

A while back I read a post from Roger Brooks entitled “The 10 Commandments of Community Branding“. Roger is the President, CEO, and Founder of the Destination Development Association, he’s also an energetic keynote speaker. If he’s speaking near you, I’d go check him out.

As for the post, it is a good read and I encourage you to take the time to read it yourself. I agree with the commandments (he has 40+ years of experience in branding for gosh sakes). However, I have my own thoughts to add…as usual.

The 10 Commandments

1. Logos and slogans are not brands.

This is significant and there’s a reason why it’s at #1. Logos and slogans are just marketing tools to help express the brand. If you are concentrating on the logo, you’re likely not entirely understanding the brand.

2. Brands are perceptions.

They are what people think of you, good or bad,” states Roger. Nearly everything you do, or don’t do, affects the overall brand of your community. If your brand’s tagline is “Best little town on the Missouri, in Missouri” and you have pothole-infested roads, a decaying downtown, and lackluster community events, you may have a good brand, but a bad brand perception will follow. Residents and visitors alike may mock the tagline saying, “Worst little town on the Missouri, that’s in misery.” The mocking isn’t the result of a bad brand, it’s because of a bad brand perception.

3. Brands are about differentiation.

I’ve been working on a separate posting entitled “Be Different, Be Different, Be Different“. Not to be a broken record, but to emphasize the need to be different in nearly everything you do. Communities that lean on their “small-town feel” as part of their brand focus aren’t different. I cannot count the number of planning-related public meetings that I’ve been in where residents state “our small-town feel” as what sticks out for their community when compared to others.

4. Brands have a narrow focus

Roger comments, “Find your niche.” The small town of Verdigre, Nebraska doesn’t hang its brand on its Czech heritage alone, as many communities do. They’ve found their niche within that heritage as “Kolach Capital of the World”, relating to a Czechoslovakian treat. They’ve found their niche and it has worked for them.

5. Brands are about ownership

What do you think of when someone mentions going to the Napa Valley? What about Nashville? How about the Wisconsin Dells? What they “own” is pretty clear. When you tell someone you are going to the Napa Valley, often the response is something similar to, “are you going to visit Pine Ridge Vineyards?” When you type in “The most famous winery in” into a Google search bar, check out the first auto-complete prompt. That’s ownership.

6. Steer clear of focus groups

Roger mentions that “a “group-hug mentality” will give you a watered-down generic “one size fits all” brand“. You also need to accept that your brand can’t please everyone. The selection of a brand that’s bold, impactful, and exciting is not going to appease the C.A.V.E. people. Citizens Against Virtually Everything (C.A.V.E.) are probably not even going to like a watered-down brand either.

7. Successful brands are built on product

As Roger states; Brands are a promise that you will deliver on the perception created by your brand.In other words, “if you’re going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk”. Most of the actions that your community takes (not just the government entity) should have the brand in mind. For instance, let’s go back to the Verdigre example. If you’re pushing the “Kolach Capital of the World” brand and there’s an annual festival that helps market that brand. Then the streets leading up to (and through) the festival area should be well maintained. It all affects the perception of that brand.

8. You never roll out a brand

I agree with this “commandment”…partially. Roger pushes that brands are earned and developed by word of mouth. But people often need to be led to that brand. After all, why make a new logo, tagline, or other marketing material than to express

9. Great brands evoke emotion

Roger states that “Disney’s advertising is a perfect example of how to evoke emotion.” This is an excellent example as when you see Disney’s advertising, you are easily reminded of the movies, cartoons, etc. that have been part of your life. It’s a little harder to evoke an emotion out of a community brand. But pride is one common emotion that a successful community brand evokes from those who’ve bought in.

10. Brands require tireless champions 

Roger states a quote, “A by-product of brands ‘for the people’ is the committee that compromises and kills a potential brand home run. This is why you never see statues of committees in public parks; you see brave leaders.” As stated elsewhere in my rants on other subjects, you need someone to take the lead to get things done.

But also always keep in mind a backup. In Civil War movies you’ll often see the soldier carrying the flag getting shot and falling to the ground, with Old Glory at his side. But usually, someone comes up from behind to grab the flag and carry it forward into the fight. Have someone in mind to take the reins in case your brand champion leaves.

If you are about to go through the branding process, or even if you’ve completed the branding process, take these commandments into consideration. They provide a good baseline for your community to carry out a brand.