31 Mar 2013

The Hoax of Rebranding Communities

Anatalio Ubalde is an economic developer, entrepreneur, and inventor. He works with organizations throughout the nation to foster enhanced economic development strategies using Internet technology. His work in geographic information systems, economic development and the Internet has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times, TechCrunch, and Inc. In 2009 he was named a Fellow Member of the International Economic Development Council for achieving exceptional stature in the field of economic development.

Rebranding of communities is a popular hoax on economic development organizations (EDOs), as it is sold today by advertising agencies. As Ed Burghard of Strengthening Brand America shared with me, the agencies recommending rebranding to communities and the local leaders wanting to rebrand themselves both don’t understand what rebranding is. Rebranding is often confused with the act of creating a new campaign, logo or tagline.


In branding consultant Ed Roach’s 1/9/13 “Weekly Branding Tip,” he explains that rebranding a company involves disassociating your new brand from the one you are replacing. With rebranding, your community risks losing any brand value you have already built.

Take Re-Branding Seriously

Communities can’t hire a consultant to rebrand them. A brand is what people think of a community. It is the promise of what will be delivered. The only way to rebrand a community is to change it, and that requires a lot more community work than just a marketing campaign some advertising agency comes up with.

Economic development advertising agencies don’t actually change communities, they come up with strategies to promote what you are or – if you’ve hired a bad consultant – promote an inauthentic impression, which would be deadly for your community. If they are promoting what your community already has in a more compelling way, they are repositioning it. But this is not branding and it is definitely not rebranding.

If they tell your community/EDO that they will rebrand you through a new campaign, organization name, logo, or tagline, then you know they don’t even know what rebranding is, and you shouldn’t hire them.

As Ed Burghard shared with me, “rebranding is extremely difficult and costly. It is the exception rather than the rule because you have to essentially walk away from millions of dollars and years of time already invested in building [the] equity of the current brand and important company culture.” He also shared that the concept of rebranding is seductive to economic development pros because “‘redoing’ anything suggests a change for the better,” but “the fundamental problem is communities have no sense of what their brand promise is. As a consequence, they are willing to invest behind any campaign work that captures their imagination.”

The loss of value through rebranding a community is especially important if the Internet’s power matters for your community success, and economic developers know it is extremely valuable. As best selling author and WIRED Editor-In-Chief, Chris Anderson says, “Your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what Google says it is.” Because rebranding involves disassociating yourself with your existing brand, you also lose all your “Google Juice from your online identity and the existing value of search engine optimization. And if your organization has been around a long time, that means you will lose a lot.


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