The agency has been branding communities, regions and downtowns for over 15 years. Additionally, we studied over 100 successful mid-and-small sized downtowns in America searching for the most common dominators. This economic development work is important to us because downtowns represent a community’s economic health, public-private sector partnerships, local quality of life and community pride. This work has allowed us to identify 7 aspects that all successful downtown marketing strategies have.
- Investments in infrastructure. Cities who invest in downtown infrastructure attract healthy businesses who meet the needs of the community and generate tax revenue that gives taxpayers an ROI.
- An organized team of stakeholders who are working together to execute a plan. Cities with vibrant downtowns, even those with small budgets, commit a small portion of their budget to pay someone to lead stakeholders to execute projects and plans. The ROI on this budget item is tenfold. Most downtown business owners, while busy, would like to pitch in and make their downtowns a better place but are often left feeling defeated because of lack-luster results like poorly marketed events, blite, poor branding, lack of energy in marketing, etc. Downtown businesses are looking for leadership and are much more likely to be engaged with an energized plan and brand.
- Clean downtowns with updated storefronts. DDAs and city councils have a responsibility of making sure that downtowns look welcoming and include a business-mix that meets the demands of the community members and visitors. This is challenging for these community leaders because they don’t have control of business owner’s ability or resources to maintain attractive storefronts. Programs like DDA façade grants and free marketing consulting can be helpful but the real key is in a strong business attraction plan that attracts the right business – and right business owner.
- A business and residential attraction plan. So, by now the word “plan” has appeared five times. Plans provide strategic direction for prioritized budgets and time. Most importantly, they provide stakeholders with visions and energized focus. Most city master plans, like any strategic plan, does a good job laying out priorities and strategies for transportation, facilities, services, housing, land use, etc. but small cities lack the financial and human resource to really execute on opportunities. This is why partnerships and strong relationships with other cities and local, regional and state economic development groups are so important. Every city planning commission and DDA should be engaged with these groups, include them in the planning process and be leveraged to attract businesses and residents.
- Regular and irregular events – Events accomplish three things. First, they build sales for downtown retailers the day of the event and attract new customers into their stores. Second, event attracts new people to downtown who can discover new stores and experiences. Third, events energize communities and downtown brands. Downtowns with a frequent calendar and mix of great events make the downtown owners and the city look proactive.
- A strong relevant brand. Just like any organization who provides an experience, downtowns should have strong brands that are consistently executed on everything from advertising to way-finding signage. A good branding process engages the community and downtown business owners who can get excited about. Here is a link to the branding process that we use and can easily be adopted for downtowns.
- Strong Partnerships. Successful downtowns have strong relationships and partnerships with other cities and private sector businesses. For an example, downtowns are critical when the local manufacturer is recruiting a new Vice President. The downtown is often where a job candidate is given the greatest impression of the community. How can the downtown do a better job to help those companies recruit talent? Every community is unique. Every answer is unique. How to partner with the next city over to launch a “shop local” campaign? Two small budgets will get more traction than one.
What Branding IS and IS NOT.
Branding is building an experience that makes people want to buy something from you. So, as you think about your brand, what are some of the areas of the customer experience that are most important?