A recent Twitter friend of mine, David Olinger, who is the Manager of Marketing and Communications at the small Alberta City of Grande Prairie (population 50,000) has just announced the winning bidder for a branding project for Grande Prairie: a company from Seattle that specializes in tourism destination branding Great Destination Strategies . Was there great rejoicing in Grande Prairie? Um. Not exactly.
This was the grumpy and YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) response to the project from the editor of the local newspaper The Daily Herald Tribune:
FULL EDITORIAL HERE: Shop local doesn’t always apply to city
A few quotes to give you the gist:
The old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” can sometimes be even more important when it comes to picking just one image that is supposed to identify an entire community. Such is the challenge the City of Grande Prairie finds itself in right now as it embarks on a new “branding” campaign.
So with such a sensitive job one would think it would be important to consult with people from this region, lifelong residents and newcomers alike. But instead, Grande Prairie’s brand will be made in the U.S.A. in some Seattle offices 1,304 km away.
Will an American company know who Alexander Forbes was? Will they know what the Stompede is? … Will they know how to spell Muskoseepi without having to look it up everyday?
The Muskoseepi dilemma
Now, without knowing anything about the company in question or very much about Grande Prairie (I thought it was in South-Eastern Alberta, not North-Western), and certainly having no clue what a “Muskoseepi” is (?) this debate raises an interesting question for brand managers everywhere:
Is branding better done by insiders (people who live, breathe, and bleed the brand every day), or by outsiders (people who come in “cold” and learn about the brand)?
I’ll let you think about that for a moment.
[pause, soft music plays]
My own take on this: neither one. You need both insiders and outsiders for a great branding campaign to succeed.
The process and outcome have to be driven and owned by insiders – and particularly by leaders with enough 1) power (and courage) to make the big changes that a whole-brand approach will require, and 2) humility to truly listen to the voices of outsiders (by which I mean customers). If the insiders abdicate this responsibility, the brand will be defined by outsiders, and not necessarily with the best intentions or proper perspective.
Because a brand is a promise that is actually owned by its customers, successful branding can’t ever be an internal exercise only. Otherwise it’s just an exercise at best (like an orchestra rehearsing without an audience), a time-wasting navel-gazing as middle ground (executive retreat anyone?), or at worst, a spectacular public blunder (like Pizza The Hut or last week’s Syfy debacle).
That’s not to say you need to hire an expensive American firm to do your work for you. A sensibly priced Canadian firm would be better, but even that isn’t strictly necessary. This role could be played by your Board of Directors or a panel of advisors, or if you have a really active customer base, include some real customers in the process.
The most important things are 1) to make sure somebody at the table is speaking for the customers. That is, they give themselves permission to challenge you, ask “dumb outsider” questions, and maybe even tell you that your customers don’t care about things you hold very dear (e.g. Is the “Stompede” really that important? Really?), and 2) to make sure somebody on the “insider” side of the table is listening.
Bon Courage Grande Prairie!