5 Tips to Ensure Your Place Brand is Of the People By the People For the PeopleAbraham Lincoln’s unforgettable 1863 Gettysburg Address speech ended with the words “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” I assert that this notion also applies to place branding for your neighborhood, community, or city. Here, I provide 5 tips for people-focused branding, which is vital for destination branding success and for ensuring your branding initiative does not perish.

Place branding is not about coming up with a catchy logo or slogan. Ultimately, destination brands are about PEOPLE. Every single visitor and the population that lives and works there now—those are the people who make your destination what it is.

Involve ALL key stakeholders who can impact your brand identity.

At a minimum, your key stakeholders should include your destination’s local residents, local business owners, current loyal visitors, cultural/special event organizers, DMOs/local tourism groups, economic developers, and other local government entities (because of the potential economic impact of branding your community). While the great diversity among stakeholders makes the all-inclusive approach more complex because of probable fragmented stakeholder relationships, questions such as who are we, and what are other people’s perceptions of us, what promises do we make, and what sets us apart from other places are questions that have to be answered by and agreed to by your place’s core stakeholders.

Two critical principles are Partnership and Shared Vision. The stakeholders need to work together using a partnership approach, to ensure buy-in and brand credibility. They must also share a vision, be committed to it, and take co-responsibility for the future of the place in order to formulate a clear brand strategy.

Don’t just view your place and your brand from your own internal perspective.

Avoid just promoting a perception that YOU have of your place. Consider how you view your place versus how your target market views it. Through market research, have potential clients (both internal and external) identify in their own words their most important motivational factor(s) for visiting, residing in, or setting up shop in your community. Gain an understanding of any issues they think currently exist for your brand. Get tourist/visitor perceptions of your destination, and opinions on what your brand stands for in their minds.

Include stories and experiences from visitors, residents, and local businesses, and embrace the experiences shared by others about your place on social media and travel rating sites.

Ask both locals and visitors to help shape the story of your place and your brand image, crafting a story about the reality of your place’s reputation, and making them an equal part of the story…because today destination authenticity is designed organically on the street. It’s the collective stories that make-up the experiences of the people in a community that are the real, enduring brand essence…the ones that people will build a reputation monument to.

Greg Robeson, in his article Destination Branding: Find Your Unique Voice, suggests having locals and visitors wander the streets with a camera/video recorder, getting lost like a first-time visitor might. Have them record what they see, and not necessarily in the usual visitor spots or hangouts. This will tell a deeper and richer story of your place.

Also, collect written and audio/video testimonials and pictures from insiders and outsiders that can help sell your place and its hidden gems by demonstrating authenticity and differentiation. Get connected with social travel review sites, such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc., which allow clients of your destination an opportunity to spark authentic conversation about your place based on their perceptions and experiences. Be sure to monitor these conversations and respond to the people who review your place to foster real engagement and to build trust with your brand.

Make sure that locals live the brand and take pride in your place.

Don’t underestimate the value of locals in co-creating a brand identity that matters to them. Involve them as much as possible and they will become ambassadors for your place, spreading the word and making your place more attractive to outsiders who you wish to draw in.

Internal selling of your brand is necessary to ensure they are 100% behind the eventual brand vision and are enthusiastic supporters of their own brand. Also, make sure that the community (its people and businesses) use similar, consistent, and compelling messages to deliver the brand promise. Finally, be aware that outsiders visiting your place are attuned to the behavior of your current citizens and the way they treat the non-locals in their home community.

Make an emotional connection with your target market, which should include the local residents and businesses you want to stay to maintain your place’s distinct identity.

It’s all about delivering an exceptional experience that is memorable and emotional to the proper niche. It’s also about crafting a unique picture of your place at every level of interaction with the people you target. Destination branding initiatives often fail because leaders try to turn a place into something that is everything for everyone.

In his book, Destination Branding for Small Cities, Bill Baker suggests that it’s better to target and attract the right people from the beginning, as opposed to trying to attract everyone and not delivering for some of them. Identify markets (visitor, resident, business) that fit the existing destination experiences and align with existing community values. Create a brand that truly uncovers what makes your destination special, so potential clients feel the emotional connection both in the marketing messages and through the experience they have when they’re in your place.

The actions of people speak louder than words – and speak louder than any logo or slogan.

Do you agree or disagree with the principles of any of these tips about who to include or why? Do you have any other suggestions for making a place’s brand people-focused?

[This article was originally published on PlacesBrands.]