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posted: 5/15/2019 1:00 AM

A competitive edge in municipal marketing: Planning for strategic growth

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  • KAYLA PORTILLO

    KAYLA PORTILLO

 

When I think about public sector organizations, I remember the scene in Ghostbusters when the main characters are fired as university researchers. Dan Aykroyd's character comments to his colleagues, "You don't know what it's like out there! I've WORKED in the private sector. They expect results."

While the terms "private sector" and "public sector" are often discussed as opposites, public organizations are increasingly expected -- by their elected officials, residents, funding entities, and businesses, among others -- to produce results that benefit all interested parties. At Red Caffeine, a growth consultancy, we've worked with several municipalities to identify areas where "private sector" growth strategies can provide an advantage, particularly in marketing and branding efforts.

Understand business objectives

Complex municipalities often have well-defined goals. What sets some in the public sector apart is the ability to think and operate in terms of business objectives -- to understand the "why" behind their actions and communicate that to internal and external stakeholders.

Some examples that might be relevant to your organization: Our biggest pain point is aging infrastructure, so we need to look at revenue-generating activities and strategic community partnerships to fund repairs and maintenance. Or, we're losing key tax revenue with businesses moving to other locations, and have a high volume of vacant property, so we need to better support our economic development team.

Know your stakeholders

With our corporate clients, we push back when a company says their target audience is "everyone." Municipalities, on the other hand, have a high number of stakeholders -- residents, business owners, workforce, tourists, elected officials, and municipal staff. Also included are influencers like real estate brokers, community partners, educational organizations, advocacy groups, and more.

Identify the key stakeholders who would be impacted by your plan. Understand what matters to them and how you can best meet their needs. We recommend developing "buyer personas" that document stakeholders' key challenges, what helps them meet those challenges, and how they receive communication. For example: someone who works in your municipality is frustrated by traffic congestion extending their commute and appreciates timely updates on road construction through social media. Any time you can frame your communications to address why something is important to a specific individual, you'll be demonstrating true care for your stakeholders.

More than a great place

Take an honest look at what makes you unique in the market. What problems can your organization solve? Why is your solution better? Your answers become your municipalities' value propositions, the foundation for your marketing messaging.

In a market as competitive as the Midwest, it's important to have both a relevant message and a consistent presence. We recommend clients identify their brand archetype, a "personality" behind your brand that helps define a consistent voice to convey your value propositions. Some popular examples include: The Magician -- Disney; The Sage -- Google; or The Outlaw -- Harley-Davidson. When done well, a city can be "known for" certain positive attributes.

Once you have a strong sense of your brand identity, make sure your appearance and communications reflect that -- from the branding fundamentals like your logo and tagline, all the way through to your marketing materials, including your website, signage, residential communications, advertisements, sponsorship materials, and events.

In it to win it

It's OK to be slightly aspirational when choosing your brand archetype, but be sure to have a strategic plan in place to deliver on your brand promise. A brand is nothing without an honest and authentic experience to match it, and in our increasingly connected society, there is no hiding a bad business, resident, or partner experience. Take steps to set anyone in your organization who might interact with an external stakeholder up for success by making sure they are comfortable being an ambassador for your brand.

Public sector organizations -- particularly the ones we've had the honor to work with -- are often fortunate to have highly talented teams of public servants who are innovative, humble, and committed to their communities.

• Kayla Portillo is Account Manager at Red Caffeine in Lombard.