What Is Branding?
When people think of brands, they tend to think of instantly recognizable names and logos and the products associated with them. They also think about the reputations these products have. Names, logos, reputations: All are important features of brands. For our purposes, we think of a brand as something even bigger. We think of a brand as a story we tell about something—in this case, Dearborn—to help people to think about it in a specific, positive way and to help them to choose it as a place they want to visit or be.
Brand building is the ongoing effort to shape the story we want to tell and then share it with the audiences we want to tell it to. Brand building involves many different steps and activities. All of these boil down to understanding a few important things:
What do we want to accomplish?
For Dearborn, this means identifying the strategic goals the city and others have established, and aligning our work to help achieve those goals.
What is the story we have to tell?
For Dearborn, this means taking stock of key assets and features of the city that might be of interest to others.
Who are the people we want to tell it to?
This means identifying the audiences who are important to achieving our goals and then understanding their needs and priorities.
Why might they find our story interesting?
This means matching what we have to offer with what our audiences want.
What has the potential to make our story different and better than somebody else’s?
For Dearborn, this means researching other, nearby cities to identify what’s uniquely appealing to our target audiences about what we have to offer.
Where and how should we share our story?
This means understanding where and how our audiences like to receive information and then building a communications plan that takes this understanding into account.
What’s the most exciting and interesting way to tell our story?
This means developing powerful messages and an eye-catching look and feel for our communications, and then using these to create exciting promotional campaigns.
How can our audience let us know what they think?
This means developing ways to stay in touch with our audience and keep engaging them in a conversation about the story we’re telling. Ultimately, we want them to feel like they’re a part of it, too. This web site is one of the ways we will stay in touch.
How can we know if our story is achieving our goals?
For Dearborn, this means identifying specific targets tied to each of our goals as well as sound approaches for measuring them.
At its most basic level, a good brand is interesting and enjoyable to engage with. Going a little deeper, a good brand meets three criteria: It is differentiated. It is focused. It is well constructed. Differentiated means it is distinct from other offerings that are generally like it. (For Dearborn, this means other cities in metro Detroit.) Focused means the brand revolves around one key strength or idea rather than relying first and foremost on a laundry list of appealing features. (A good brand never promises something for everybody.) Well-constructed means the various parts of the brand fit neatly together rather than feeling mismatched. (Who’s likelier to get you excited about buying a donut, a donut shop or a burger joint?)
A good brand-building initiative is thoughtful and well-researched, for starters. For a city, we think a good brand initiative must also be more. We believe it must also be inclusive and transparent.
An inclusive brand initiative is one that strives to hear from and engage with every stakeholder. Listening to lots of different voices in a community isn’t only the right thing to do. It also yields a richer variety of insights for the branding team to work with. An inclusive approach also helps the brand team to see important similarities and differences in the way different individuals and groups view the city. These distinctions help to fine tune the branding effort.
A transparent brand initiative is one that is set up to keep members of the community informed about who’s involved, how they’re involved, what process has been established, and what progress is being made. In the spirit of transparency, any community member should readily be able to know exactly what’s going on at any given time. Transparency is a key to accountability.