Launching a place brand was always going to be a challenge. It’s not easy to capture the essence of a 9-county region in a way that resonates with every resident living in it. But launching that place brand with the goal of transforming how key audiences view that region—during 2020? That felt impossible at times, but here we are.
More importantly, here’s Greater ROC.
Greater ROC is a place brand we helped create to promote the 9-county Greater Rochester region with its various partners in the economic development and tourism sectors. Myriad concerns weighed heavily from the get-go, not just about how to bring this brand to life (the look, feel and voice), but how it was going to inspire a unified perspective from such diverse points of view.
Here are four key takeaways to help build a brand that moves people:
It’s not new, but it is true: successful outcomes start with setting goals that serve as your guiding principles for strategy. This was a process in itself, working with a team of more than 40 people representing nearly a dozen invested entities, each with a unique POV on what the Greater ROC brand should and shouldn’t be.
Open-air discussions allowed for organic conversation to bubble to the top, while surveys and one-on-one interviews provided the connective tissue to bridge gaps. Over weeks, the collective perspective on the brand sharpened to a point where we could comfortably, if not universally, identify the overarching goals.
We learned through this early phase that flexibility was going to be important, and it took a pandemic and a social rights movement for us to realize how true that was. A transformative brand has to have room to transform itself along the way. Brands can and should evolve, and this is achieved by understanding that the goals are more important than the path.
Countless hours should be put into the identification of goals for a new brand, so it makes sense to invest just as heavily into the strategy needed to achieve those goals. For this, attention must turn from the goals of the brand to the goals of your audience. Often brands will look at their audience through the lens of their goals, but the better approach is to look at the goals through the lens of the audience.
In the case of Greater ROC, we developed broad-reaching surveys and held numerous in-depth interviews to find out how different people from different parts of the region viewed their personal goals for the place they called home.
What did they value? What were they looking for? What did they want to see that wasn’t already there?
This invaluable data provides the framework for what the audience needs the brand to be in order to be considered valuable and worthy of its attention. It serves as a reminder that brand is not defined by marketing, but by the consumer.
The message of a brand won’t mean much if customers don’t enjoy the experience of interacting with it. It’s critical to think through the ways your audience(s) will come into contact with the brand and play out how that experience might be perceived.
Individual tactics like social media ads, TV commercials and public relations all hit different audiences in different ways, but they do not happen in a vacuum. Depending on which tactic someone is exposed to first, think about what they realistically can do in that moment to extend the experience.
For Greater ROC, we focused on overarching powerful brand messages that touted optimism for the future of the region. These were reinforced with actionable tactics to drive people to the website for more information and, hopefully, to join the cause as a Champion for Greater ROC.
Additionally, we created low-investment options for people to engage through social media. For a brand that had no awareness or equity, we sought to intrigue, inspire and invite each audience member to be a part of it on their own terms and in their own time.
No matter how many people you interview and how thoughtful your brand messaging is, there will be members of your audience who don’t see themselves represented. “Who do you think you are?” and “You clearly don’t get it” are sentiments you will undoubtedly see.
Do. Not. Ignore. Them.
Your brand is brand new and it’s entirely possible that you missed something or, at the very least, could’ve done something differently. A brand seeking to be transformational better be able to have tough conversations.
Build out those FAQs and answers to tough questions for media members and general audience members alike to have at the ready. That said, expect to have to go deeper with people. Your canned response won’t be enough for the most passionate people out there, so open your brand up to a real conversation, show them you’re listening, and then find ways to incorporate what you’ve learned into your brand. Transformation is ignited by passionate people, so do what you can to get those individuals in your corner.
Once your brand is finally launched, the real work begins. This is not the time to celebrate or slow down. Reconcile the differences between how you are trying to present your brand and how audiences are perceiving it. You’ll likely have to do some combination of (1) an audience education campaign to clear up misconceptions, and (2) pivoting to what your audience is telling you they want.
Get a behind-the-brand look at how GreaterROC came together in a recent webinar featuring Joe Stefko, President & CEO of ROC2025; Laura Nespoli, Co-Founder of Meshin Movement; and our very own Chief Creative Officer, Mark Stone. You can watch it on-demand --> here.
Paul is a Public Relations & Content Supervisor who likes to tell a good story but really loves when that story is told to the right audience at the right time.