The Value Of Place Branding For FDI

by Edward Burghard,
CEO The Burghard Group LLC,
www.strengtheningbrandamerica.com


Navy Federal
Navy Federal Credit Union has become an employer of choice in Pensacola, Fla., a city that has successfully branded itself as a haven for firms seeking to reach customers in the military market.

One question that always seems to get raised is — Does place branding provide any real value? It often arises because of a misperception that place branding is about advertising and promoting your location as the ideal place to do business. Unfortunately, that definition of place branding is very superficial.

Over the years, I have come to define place branding as managing your community's, Region's or State's desired identity. In that context, it is a strategic exercise rather than a tactical one. It differs from marketing, which I define as communicating today's reality (or image). In my experience, I have found the difference to be far more than semantic.

Identity is what economic development professionals and elected officials are working to transform your place into. Think of it as a "future state". As a consequence, branding includes creating a 5-10 year strategic plan that guides choices on asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy reform. It also includes making certain the brand promise is consistently delivered across a complex set of touch points that involve educating and holding constituents accountable for its authenticity.

Successful place branding requires four things:

  1. Strong collaboration between private and public sector leadership.
  2. A clearly articulated brand promise that differentiates the place in a relevant and competitive way.
  3. An aligned set of where to play and how to win operational strategies that are then deployed through specific Action Plans with committed deliverables.
  4. A disciplined process for both monitoring executional performance and keeping the strategic plan evergreen.
Chicago
Chicago may be known as the Second City, but it finishes second to none when it comes to attracting high-tech talent. World Business Chicago successfully uses the city's technology assets in its branding campaign.
Image courtesy of River Point

A common challenge to successful place branding is the hurdle of creating an effective partnership among the public/private leaders. It is often the case that politics and business interests at cross-purposes. Reaching alignment on development priorities almost always requires compromise. You need real agreement on what to and not to do.

Another challenge is the conflicting planning horizons. Political objectives tend to be limited to the election cycle time while CEOs will be operating on a 10-20 year business plan. This creates tension in identifying strategies that must be capable of delivering both short and long-term success.

Successful place branding relies on the ability of leadership to create a compelling vision of what the place identity should be. And, then the creation of a strategic plan that acts as a blueprint to bridge the gap between the location's current image and its desired future state.

But, the benefits for overcoming these challenges can be significant particularly in attracting inward foreign direct investment. An effective place branding initiative helps answer 3 critical questions for CEOs of companies looking to establish an operation the United States.

  1. What is the near and long-term business benefit of selecting this location?
  2. Is there a good working relationship between the public and private sector?
  3. Is the direction the location is evolving consistent or in conflict with the business vision for my company?

The ability to address these three questions provides a distinct competitive advantage for your location in its FDI attraction efforts and create accelerated economic growth and vitality.

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