Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Cork Region Brand Strategy - Assessing Opinion & Messaging

My first post on this initiative, published here and in The Place Brand Observer (TPBO) earlier this month, summarised the development of the city region brand strategy during 2013 and 2014. This work was carried out by a team led by Colliers International Destination Consulting, including Fuzion Design and PR (Cork), Location Connections (London) and Placematters.

This second post (also published in theTPBO) summarises the work undertaken to assess local opinion on the current offers and experience of the region and the messages it was communicating about them. The next post will be on the development of the agreed brand proposition for the region.

Audit: Current Perceptions on Cork Region’s Offer and Experiences

In mid-2013, the first tasks in the agreed work programme to develop a unifying and strategic brand and marketing strategy for the city region were to:
  • Assess local people’s views about the city region and its offer and experiences.
  • Assess the views of those in the business community about the economic development attributes of the region.
  • Review the current messaging and marketing being undertaken by a variety of stakeholders in order to establish what messages were being transmitted about its current offer and experiences, the extent to which there was commonality and alignment of messaging, or a lack of it and where mixed messaging existed.

Assessing Peoples Views

The team’s past experience was that local people and local groups need to be involved in the development of place brand strategies – given opportunities to voice their opinions on the place, opportunities to suggest ideas for the development of the brand and opportunities to participate in its delivery.

When the team commenced work few of the key stakeholders were able to say categorically that they fully understood what Cork people thought and felt about the place and its offer so we started the project using a simple online questionnaire using LinkedIn and Twitter which asked “What do you love about Cork? and What do you like about working in Cork?
This generated a range of very largely positive responses which identified a number of important factors which the team subsequently took into account in developing the brand proposition:

  • The scale and accessibility of the city of Cork is a really strong factor in attracting and retaining people in the region:
“The city is small, you can do it ALL on foot” / “All the suburbs are within c.15 minutes commute” / “Its size – It does not have the vast urban sprawl of Dublin, with congestion, confusion and consternation.” / “It has the intimacy of a big town with the possibility of a ‘largish’ city.” / “It offers both urban and rural in its identity of being a place which has great third level education, beautiful scenery and rich land quality.”
  • The quality of the environment of the region attracts and retains people; it’s not just about jobs and business support services:

The scenery and mountains. Cork is a nature lovers and outdoor pursuit’s paradise.” / “The amazing sights and locations in west cork. There are some stunning unspoiled beaches for really getting back to basics and great bars for tasty pub grub followed by a crisp glass of vino (or 3).  Long strand, Glandore, Rosscarbery, Clonalilty.  It has it all Surfing for my main man and heaps of fun for my little angels. West Cork for me Rocks!!!!”
  • The nature of the welcome given by Cork people and organisations to visitors and newcomers is a powerful factor in attracting and retaining people and business, one that has often been overlooked in previous city brand initiatives:
“The people are incredibly friendly, the city, though small is pretty and has everything within walking distance. It’s got a great vibe.” / “The places are great and beautiful, and they are populated by the friendliest and warmest people I have ever met. #Lovecork :-)” / “From the lovely guy who serves me my coffee in the morning to the bus drivers, taxi drivers & cashiers in M&S, they are positive, bubbly & go above & beyond.” / “Cork people…are very friendly and cheery. You can even hear it in their singing accent. I believe what makes them so friendly though is, they are so proud, and want to let everyone who’ll listen, know. Proud of their achievements, people and places, and how fantastic Cork is.

Cork City Region – Identifying Place Attributes

This work helped to identify a number of key and important attributes about the place which would influence the development of the brand proposition and its parallel messaging strategy – powerful things we would be able to say about the place and its offer, messages reflecting what local people believe and say about the place, messages which could be “proved:

The People

Friendly, their humour, their positivity, their pride in the city, their distinctive accent, their laid back character mixed with a strong work ethic and getting things done, their friendliness, their multicultural character.

Physical Attributes

The scale of the city, its accessibility, the nearness to water, the varied nature of the city, the surrounding towns and villages, the scenery and the quality of the built environment, the feel of a big town without its congestion, the ease of access to the offer.

The Experiences Offered

The atmosphere and the buzz of the place, the food offer, the pubs, the Cosmopolitan nature of the place, the culture and art offer, the range of festivals, the sports opportunities and access to a large range of outdoor activities, the great choice of things to do.
The results indicated to us just how much local people believed that Cork was BIG on the quality of life, BIG on friendly, BIG on size, BIG on access, BIG on choice, BIG on atmosphere.

It also alerted the team to the existence of a powerful menu of offers and experiences which, in different combinations according to personal or business needs and preferences, served to attract people to the place and retain them as learners, employees or as entrepreneurs wanting to start up their own businesses. This would, after much more assessment and debate, become the essence of the eventual brand proposition.

A major benefit of using social media to enable local people to express their views on the place and its attributes was that we had primed a lot of people to take an active interest in the brand development process who responded to our draft Brand Descriptor which we put online to test the brand proposition some months later.

Consultations with Sectors and Communities of Interest

To complement the social media conversation the consultancy team met with representatives of the business community in north, east, south and west Cork and with the South and east Cork Tourism Sector to hear their views on how the place worked, what constituted its offer and experience and to understand how they were promoting the region.

Alongside these meetings we worked with the Cork Chamber of Commerce and the local Enterprise Boards in the region to establish their member’s views on the strengths of the region’s economic development and business support offer. The team also conducted a number of one-to-one conversations with key stakeholders in key growth sectors – technology, biopharmaceutical, engineering, agribusiness, cultural tourism, hospitality, education, sports and development sectors. The results of these meetings were fed into our assessment of current messaging and marketing.

Assessing Formal Messaging

The third element of the initial work undertaken was to identify and assess the range of messages that agencies and groups were then promoting about their elements of the city region offer. These included messages from the City and County councils on economic development policy and resources, from higher education institutions on the learning and training offer, from the local airport, from the port authority, from the local offices of national agencies dealing with inward investment, business support and tourism, as well as messaging by individual private companies and organisations on their service offers for investors, businesses seeking to grow and for visitors.

Dee Waldron of Fuzion analysed our findings about current messaging using a Google Word Cloud tool and concluded that there was no consistency and little overlap between individual messages about the region’s current offer.

Summary: Place Brand Audit and Messaging

In summary the results of the audit indicated that formal communications about the existing offer of the city region:
  • Lacked the passion of the people who had responded to our social media conversations.
  • Were functional, not particularly engaging and largely not effectively targeted.
  • Were often not clear and not doing justice to the city.
  • Failed to capture the great stories of the place and its people elicited through social media.
  • Were largely unconnected.
  • Failed to exploit the local, regional, national and global connectivity of the region.
  • Lacked the unifying effect of an agreed brand proposition and marketing strategy.
In summary the overall messaging could be characterised as being fired by a blunderbuss when a rifle-shot was required.

More positively we concluded that Cork had a great story to tell but it was being lost in too much noise and babble; there were too many “voices of Cork” competing for the limited attention of the rest of the world and they were not agreed among each other on what was most important to say about the offer of the place. In addition, there was no agreement on priority target market audiences.

In short, Cork needed to be a lot clearer on what it offered, to who and what it stands for. Cork stakeholders needed to be more collegiate in their messaging and more united in the creation of a brand.