“Whoever tells the best story wins.” – John Quincy Adams

Story Power
There is a non-stoppable and growing trend of collaboration between places and their “fans” who help create stories for and on behalf of the brand to promote awareness and growth. Stories are among the most powerful brand elements that must be present to establish your place’s personality and reinforce your brand’s promise. Through storytelling, people share their experiences related to your place, those experiences trigger emotions from and a connection with other people, and the snowball effect of that connection invites and draws more people to your place.

While this may not be a new revelation for you, are you really doing all you can to make the best use of truly valuable storytelling in your Placemaking initiatives?

  1. Let the people tell you WHY. Destination marketers must play a pivotal community leadership role by collecting and sharing the best stories of WHY, not just WHAT. Rather than focusing on telling your target market what make’s your place so great through your own marketing messages — on your website, in your marketing collateral, or in your social media postings — let them tell you THEIR stories. This will allow you to connect with people through your shared passions about why your place is special, their personal experiences with your place, and will ultimately help you build lasting relationships with them. It can also create ideas and momentum to drive your marketing campaigns.
  2. Co-create new stories about your place with the people. According to Mark Lightowler, site author of Storytelling To Create Impact Brands, the best way of creating relevance for your brand is to ensure your brand plays a part in your target audience’s personal story. It is not just about you creating a great story for your brand, but about knowing your audience and their story and how your brand fits into that story. He suggests that you engage with your clients [residents, visitors, businesses] to create a new story together. This new co-created story is the one that gets told by the people in your target market to their networks, getting your brand closer to even more people.
  3. Let peoples’ stories drive innovative Placemaking. Build resident and visitor communities on your website and social media sites to encourage the exchange of stories and ideas from the people. Post polls/surveys to get their opinions about the positive and not-so-positive aspects of your place to generate discussion and reveal the areas on which your Placemaking efforts should focus. Establish contests to invite residents, visitors, and businesses to propose projects that can boost the image of your place as a whole or of a particular ‘hidden gem’ that just needs some creative attention.
  4. Listen and respond in your social media channels. Encourage all stakeholders to participate in the discussions about your place, its activities, and what it offers. Let them know you care about their personal experiences and ideas and how you can apply them to improving your brand and building a destination of choice. This will result in establishing the critical emotional connection with the people who matter most, enable you to achieve likeability among them, and strengthen their loyalty to your place brand.
  5. Harvest the enthusiasm of local hearts and minds. Many places have experimented with “community journalism,” with publications and local news outlets encouraging and even hiring locals to help develop and serve their communities. Some of these initiatives have not been as successful as hoped, but I believe community-member ‘journalists’ are capable of capturing the true essence of a place and what’s going on there. Places just need a well-established plan for managing these news sources, and ensuring the appropriateness, credibility and accuracy of the information reported. They also need well-developed and reliable public relations and risk management plans for addressing public response to these home-grown stories that can potentially either portray the positive realities of a place or otherwise tarnish its brand identity.

Do you agree or disagree with the potential value of any of the ideas I’ve presented here? Do you have other suggestions for using story power to connect people with places?