Strategy Takes Center Stage as Greater ROC Gets the Gold
In the theatrical world of marketing, creative is the showstopper. The headliner. The name on the marquee that gets people in the door and the performance that keeps them talking, for better or worse. Other tactics can steal the show from time to time, but some aspects of a campaign rarely get the spotlight.
Get ready for your close-up, Research + Strategy.
Create and introduce a brand. But not just any brand—a place brand. Greater ROC needed to be representative of a nine-county region that’s as diverse as it gets. It needed to be flexible enough to reflect a city lifestyle and a rural livelihood but structured enough to deliver on consistent themes of passion, potential, growth and gains. Build it so it speaks for the people—all of them—in an authentic and relatable way. And then once that voice is crafted, use the tactics necessary to reach them all. No biggie.
From Day 1, the success of this campaign hinged entirely on the strategy that built the brand, not just on the strategy to promote it. So much so that we opted to partner with the talented team of Laura Nespoli and Michael Tracy of Meshin Movement to lead the way. Laura and Mike prioritized research, and that research focused on hearing from as many voices as possible across Greater ROC. It started with stakeholder interviews (business leaders, government voices, economic development professionals, etc.) and broad-reaching surveys. From there, focus groups to represent various audience groups. And then? More than 100 in-depth interviews with some of the most civic-minded, engaged and opinionated individuals across the region.
This research impacted everything, but particularly guided the brand’s tone and language. And then COVID happened. And then civil unrest and protests for social justice consumed the talk track of daily life. It was obvious that we needed to be intentional with every decision we made about the brand, its message and the way we delivered that message.
The Greater ROC place brand was launched in a big way: TV, radio, paid social media, digital, public relations and more. Despite the level of intent that went into creating Greater ROC, it was not without criticism—the same criticisms that those we’d interviewed warned us about. That they themselves had felt disenfranchised when seeing single-minded “marketing” attempts to tell our region’s story in the past. They stressed the sensitivity of getting this right in a way that feels as authentic as possible. And that no matter how close we’d get, there would be people who would still feel on the outside looking in.
Instead of hiding or deflecting, Greater ROC embraced the criticism and welcomed it as a shared passion to do right by this region. We engaged with those who called us out. We encouraged their engagement and supported their ability to point out our weaknesses, question our motives and demand more. This approach helped make Greater ROC what it is—a living brand that can have a real conversation.
“A place brand isn’t just a marketing wrapper, it is a palpable sense of place that is lived through the behaviors and actions of the people themselves,” Nespoli said. “Creating an authentic narrative for Rochester required inviting the participation of the people living it every day to be the voices telling it. Our research process became the first step to creating a platform for those voices and the first step to rallying energy around shaping the story together. And the strategy for our brand, Greater Rochester, shifted from being an end state instead serving as a shared intention. Less about what we stand for, and more about what we stand up and act for together—to be greater.”
When it was all over (Side note: It’s never over), the work earned a Gold at the Rochester Advertising Federation’s annual American Advertising Awards in the Integrated Campaign category. Research and strategy normally don’t get to share in the spotlight, but it was clear that in this case, they were the spotlight.
Paul Gangarossa is a marketing strategist who is focused on identifying insights that pave the way for successful campaigns. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.