Monday, July 13, 2009

AuthentiCity: The Secret of Place Branding

Place Branding. Man, that's a crapshoot. Here's how I've seen it approached in the past:

Step 1: Hire a six-figure firm (from out of town)
Step 2: Give the "experts" access to your community
Step 3: Review a few logos and tag lines
Step 4: Hold a press conference
Step 5: Order new letterhead
Step 6: Live with regret because the "brand" never took hold in the community

The Fresno region has struggled with an identity crisis for a number of years. Recently, I joined my buddy, Suzanne Bertz-Rosa of Bertz-Rosa Design, to work with the Fresno County Convention & Visitors Bureau to develop a brand for the region. Here's the kicker, we decided to create a brand platform without a logo or tag line. Dear God, what would we show off at the press conference?

The region is nearly one million people strong, it is at the base of three national parks, and there are multiple audiences. Is it foolish to believe that one logo or tag line would do the trick. There are other agencies and organizations that also are tasked with communicating the benefits of the region. Everyone needed a platform from which to work. A platform is what they got.

After doing extensive research (thanks to the help from The Fresno Bee and Decipher, Inc.), authentic pillars were discovered. The brand for the Fresno region is based on the following six pillars:
  • Land Stewardship
  • Authentic America
  • Big City Amenities
  • Small Town Ease
  • Diverse Culture
  • Spirit of Innovation
Now organizations can use the Fresno Brand Platform Workbook to create audit brand alignment. The premise is that if multiple organizations speak and behave in a fashion consistent with the overall brand, then the brand experience will be more positive. Research also showed that these pillars are very authentic.

So, is it taking off? Well, it has changed language and some behaviors. People are using the workbook as a guide. Heck, one designer, Katrina Neufeld of Neu Design, even created Fresno Brand wallpaper for the iPhone. Local blogger, The Fresnan, wrote a great piece about it. The college radio station, KFSR 90.7FM, devoted an episode of The Pulse (download MP3 here). to discussing it. It is taking off because it is authentic.

We cannot be an Authentic City without AutheniCity.

Here's a link to the iPhone wallpaper designed by Katrina Neufeld.

iPhone,Fresno Brand,Neu Design

Take a look at the Brand Platform Workbook:


  1. This is very interesting indeed. Clearly all interested stakeholders have to work together and I'd include residents here. Maybe too many of us sit back and wait for someone else to "label it" - then it can be criticized much easier. How about a shared experience right from the get go?

  2. I agree, residents are key stakeholders in the both the initial development and processes of such strategies. It's a shame that the 'internal aspects' of place branding and issues concerning collaborative planning with the inclusion of many stakeholders still seems to be under researched and infrequently used in practice.