Thursday, 2 April 2015

Cork Region Brand Proposition - Testing, Refinement and Briefing

This post, the fourth in the series on the development of the brand proposition for the Cork city region in south west Ireland, summarises how the brand development team of Colliers International, Fuzion, Location Connections and Placematters tested and refined the brand strategy and how key stakeholders and their staff were equipped to market and promote its brand proposition. 

This post is an updated version of a similar one which first was published on the Place Brand Observer at

Market Testing with a Brand Descriptor

Having reached agreement with local stakeholders in the region on the content of the brand proposition, summarised in the brand pyramid illustration below,  it was obvious to the client group and the consulting team that the draft brand proposition had a range of offers for a mix of local, regional, national and international market audiences and that the testing process required more than a traditional round of meetings with local stakeholders, sector and community groups.

In addition to a local audience of local people and businesses we tested the proposition more widely in Ireland, particularly on Irish state agencies and major corporates located in Dublin, on representatives of the Irish government in selected embassies in target countries (people who could introduce Cork to foreign audiences) and target sector audiences in certain countries – IDA Ireland offices around the world, Irish Embassies in key target countries of UK, USA, Germany and France, the embassies of UK, USA, Germany and France in Dublin and contacts accessed through the Colliers International Corporate Network and its Research Group, e.g. with the Invest Shanghai Agency .
Despite having created a draft brand proposition which we knew had a lot of buy-in from those who had participated in the process we knew that we needed to test it out on people and organisations that had not participated in its development. It rapidly became obvious to us that we needed to develop a cost-effective way of reaching those audiences around the world. Our solution was to create what we termed a “Brand Descriptor” – a highly visual online summary description of the brand proposition and its principal value propositions accompanied by a short questionnaire that respondents could complete to provide feedback from any location in the world.
This enabled local people who had participated in the initial consultations to assess the current offer and experience of the region and those who had contributed to the formation of the draft brand proposition could either attend a further round of face to face consultations or respond on-line and quite a number did both.
By creating an online brand descriptor we increased the buy-in from local people and business to the brand development process. No one was excluded from consultation to test the brand proposition and individuals could respond more than once if they had additional points to make. 
A page from the Descriptor, designed by Fuzion, is illustrated below.
You can see this innovative tool at

We had a very good response to the Brand Descriptor from people in target audiences locally, nationally and internationally, way in excess of the numbers who responded in face to face meetings and meetings with sector groups. 
in addition to the online consultation the brand development team led and facilitated roundtable workshops with a Generation Y/Millennials group, a creative sector group, various individual key stakeholders (influencers/decision makers), with the Cork Chamber “Thought Leadership Council”, with various Cork Professional Services groups, with Dublin Professional Services, with the Cork SME sector and Cork business sector groups, with landowners in Cork’s South Docks, with elected councillors, and with national stakeholders – state agencies and national business organisations.
A total of around 350 people expressed their views on the draft Cork Region brand descriptor through these meetings and through the online brand descriptor web pages. The roundtable workshop meetings had a total of 104 attendees who completed the questionnaire and provided feedback through group workshop exercises that explored the proposition.
In summary the highlights of the consultation were that a significant majority of respondents:
  • Agreed with the brand essence (The Right Mix for Your Success) and found it compelling (79%).
  • Ranked the economic proposition in the top one or two priority (61%) and even more supported the overall economic value proposition that Cork is an energetic place of entrepreneurial global and local business networks (73%).
  • Agreed that Cork does have the resources for people and business to prosper (93%).
  • Ranked the quality of life value proposition as the number one or two priority (70%).
Although there were no significant negative responses to the “Right Mix for Your Success” and the overall work, there were some reservations, and positive suggestions were made to meet them. Primarily these were concerns over:
  • Arrangements for the actual delivery of the brand proposition.
  • Not enough attention being given to the role to be played by the people of the region – their friendliness and welcoming attitude to visitors and people moving to the area.
  • The importance of quality of life which is seen as a real differentiator.
  • The need to place more emphasis on the character, size and scale of Cork – it’s easy to access and get around, is locally responsive and global in outlook.
  • The language of the proposition – it needed to be more emotionally powerful to really engage audiences.
  • The need to include “Proof Points” for individual value propositions, assertions and messages.

The Team used the results of the brand testing process to refine and finalise the brand proposition. The principal change was to rank the Quality of Life value proposition as second in importance to the Economic Proposition, thereby ranking the Education Proposition as third, with the Visitor Proposition as fourth. Overall the proposition was strengthened with the addition of new ideas on offers and experiences to be included and the deletion of a small number that were not well supported.

Overall, the proposition was strengthened by the addition of new proofs, new ideas on offers and experiences to be included and the deletion of a small number that were not supported.

A Brand Book to Brief Stakeholders

Having refined the brand proposition the Team and the client group decided to create a brand book that would:
  • Explain the brand proposition in detail to local stakeholders.
  • Provide a top-level introduction to the Cork Region, its offer, experience and desired reputation as a place for economic development.

This book, which is available on-line at was designed by Jonathan Leahay Maharaj of Fuzion PR and Design through an iterative consultation process with the key stakeholders on the client group and a number of key stakeholders in the communityIt describes, in images and words, the key value propositions of the overall brand proposition, the four individual propositions and core messages about the four elements of the proposition for target market audiences.
The team briefed the staff responsible for planning, marketing and promotion in the key stakeholder’s organisations on the book through a number of workshops and it has been made available to key officers and executives in the public and semi state sectors, regional and national media.
The book explains what’s in the agreed Cork Brand Proposition, what makes Cork unique and attractive and contains information on a range of individual value propositions and messages about them to enable stakeholders to communicate, promote and share this story with the world. The book can be used to by local stakeholders marketing staff for briefing marketing or design agencies to ensure that their specific marketing messages and promotional activities reflect the overall story Cork wants to tell the world about doing business in Cork, working there, learning there and living there.
It will be particularly useful to organisations wanting to communicate with potential investors in the Cork economy, people wishing to set up in business in Cork, businesses wishing to expand there, and people thinking of coming there to work, to study or train in a new skill.
It will help organisations to consistently portray Cork in words, imagery and print in a creative, imaginative and effective way, enabling them to communicate a set of strong and attractive messages about the region.
Place branding expert Malcolm Allan

The next post will be on the subject of Place Brand Books and will describe in more detail the creation and content of the Cork Brand Book.

Development of the Brand Proposition for the Cork Region

This is the third post on Placematters work with Colliers, Fuzion and Location Connections on the brand strategy for the Cork city region in south west Ireland. An earlier version was published by the Place Brand Observer

Following analysis of comprehensive local stakeholders and community interest group responses to our consultation on the marketing of the current offer and experience of the Cork Region, the consulting team used the results to construct a draft brand proposition for a Cork region brand strategy using our Brand Compass tool.
Since our work aimed at elevating the Cork Region as a successful European Region and location for business success, our key focus was on ensuring that the Cork Region attracts and retains business, enhancing the development of indigenous businesses and the inward investment market, whilst also appealing to talented people through the life opportunities of an attractive living, learning and working environment, a unique commercial and cultural heritage plus the personality of the Cork people that provides a special Irish spirit.
In our view regions increasingly need to consider themselves as a business, as a plc. A key aspect of this is their adopting best practice in terms of the clarity of their brand offer and marketing strategies for communication to target markets and how they are reached. Our phase 1 work on the existing Cork Region Strategic Messages highlighted that there are many Cork messages and little sense of coherence between them.
In this context we believed that the key stakeholders needed to decide on a strong and achievable driving idea that would inform and epitomise the brand in action. This would be one that is:
  1. Grounded in the realities and authenticity of Cork and rigorously “proofed”;
  2. A brand offer that is clearly distinguished from competitor and comparator regions and identifiable as being really different;
  3. Consistent with the desired and planned positioning of the brand as a driver of the regional economy;
  4. Easy for people to “get” and understand.
Having agreed these criteria with the key stakeholders we then assessed with them, in detail, the range and type of existing offers and experiences that the consultation process had identified as well as proposals and ambitions for their improvement and extension through the lens of the agreed economic development and investment focus.
We were asked by the key stakeholders to look at four areas that they considered to be crucial to the economic development of the region to identify existing value propositions which could be combined and potentially embodied in an overall brand proposition, as summarised below.

The Driving Idea for the Brand Proposition

What we found, reflecting Ireland as a whole, was that the Cork Region does have an extensive and attractive offer for investors, for existing businesses, for local residents, workers and learners. A strength and uniqueness of the Cork Region is that the breadth and depth of this offer and experience is contained in a relatively small area.
During our consultations and research many people remarked that in Cork many small things add up to something much bigger and better. We concluded that there was an opportunity for this comprehensive offer to be assembled in different mixes according to the needs of individuals, businesses and organisations; in other words a tailored fusion of what the region offers to enable them to prosper in the region by picking their own mix of resources and support services – the right mix for their personal and business success.
This then was the driving idea that led the development of the brand proposition which became the essence of the brand offer and promise, an idea that encompasses personal, business and organisational growth and prosperity, an idea that would drive the economic development and well-being of the region, an idea that would drive a vision of the place as a successful region in Europe and globally. Ireland wants to be the best small country in the world to do business and, supporting this ambition, Cork wants to be the best small region in the world to do business.
Cork city region brand marketing pillars

Supporting Value Propositions

To support the driving idea we assembled four specific categories of value proposition which were embodied in the brand proposition. In combination they help to drive a degree of focus and uniqueness that supports the elevation of the Cork Region nationally and internationally. They are:
  • The core and central Economic Proposition – summarised as an energetic place of entrepreneurial global and local business networks.
  • A supporting Education Proposition – summarised as a tradition of independent learning, great ideas and contemporary innovation.
  • A supporting Quality of Life Proposition – summarised as a very liveable cosmopolitan and connected place with a great quality of life.
  • A supporting Visitor Proposition – summarised as great city and townscapes, landscapes and seascapes, steeped in shared international and Irish history and culture.
We arrived at these propositions through extensive conversations with groups and communities across the County of Cork and in Cork city who helped us to “proof” our and others ideas about what the current offer of the region was that supported economic, business and personal development.

The Core Economic Proposition

This core proposition of the brand reflects our finding that the Cork Region currently hosts clusters of global companies in growth sectors – exemplified by bio-pharma, technology, agribusiness & food and energy sectors. They are attracted by the value for money, the talented people and successful businesses already operating in the region and that the region has a number of indigenous growth sectors, exemplified by the agribusiness & food sector and the tourism sector, both with a reputation for high quality products.
We identified that many smaller domestic businesses increasingly collaborate with these global companies and the region has a comprehensive range of professional services serving international and domestic clients.
We identified that Cork has an active and effective business support network, a strong Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise Boards and easily accessed national government decision makers and concluded that the region is a is a low risk location for existing and new enterprises, where new start-ups and the biggest corporates feel supported and the region can provide fast speed access to European and global markets. It offers capacity and space to locate, expand and grow. There is a stock of land and buildings available for occupation and land zoned for commercial use offering a choice of locations, a choice of types of accommodation and good value for money.

The Supporting Education Proposition

This proposition supports the core economic value proposition, as domestic and global business look for a talented workforce when moving to a new area or expanding within one. We identified that the Cork Region offers learners and businesses the skills and resources of a number of high quality applied and business orientated Further and Higher Education Institutions.
This includes Cork Institute of Technology, University College Cork and the National Tyndall Institute. These are institutions with a strong international reputation increasingly attracting students and advanced researchers from around the world. Many people commented that Cork City, as a large student city, was safe, convenient, enjoyable and easy to access.
In addition to the higher education institutions the Region has various commercially orientated research and development organisations. These institutions are actively partnering with many of the existing small and big businesses providing them with access to clever thinkers and innovators to develop new ideas and products. The regional economy is characterised by innovative business knowledge sharing networks and there is effective collaboration between higher education, R&D institutions, businesses and government agencies, with initiatives such as IT@Cork and Energy@Cork being good examples of this collaboration.
Cork City Region Branding Case Study - Higher Education

The Quality of Life value Proposition

This proposition supports the core economic proposition as it has an important role to play in attracting and retaining talented people. Cork has a reputation for being welcoming. Its people are characterised as being amiable, approachable, helpful, friendly, quick-witted, open and independent minded. We concluded that it is a place that people can quickly feel part of, make friends and connections and put down roots.
Cork is a place of dramatic natural landscapes, riverscapes, harbours, bays and seascapes, a place of mountains, river valleys and coastlines with an abundance of activities to undertake on land and water – rivers, harbours, bays, the sea, the countryside, city, towns and villages. All of these amenities are close by, quickly and easily accessible, for people to explore and enjoy.
People commented that it’s a place to relax away from the stresses of modern working life and that you don’t have to travel far to find them. Cork has an enjoyable stimulating and healthy lifestyle experience where people are able to explore new places and activities. The region has many attractive places to live that have enticed sizeable communities from across Europe and further afield attracted by the quality, choice and affordability.
People like living in Cork because there is the range of public services, community facilities, programmes and events typically found in cities of a much larger size. Cork is easy to navigate. It’s not too big and not too small. You can do more in Cork.
And Cork city centre offers an excellent, special and unique urban environment that is being continuously improved. Cork is a place that’s culturally rich and vibrant.  It’s a place with a wide range of cultural facilities, events and activities, contributing to the cosmopolitan feel of the region’s city and towns.  There are festivals throughout the region with an international reputation, all of which add to the rich quality of life enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

The Visitor Proposition

The visitor proposition has an important role to play in supporting the core economic development proposition of the region. As a general rule of thumb we have found that places that are attractive to visit attract and retain economic migrants and also have lots of other things going for them that entertain local people.
The region has a very rich, cultural, social and commercial heritage. It has many truly authentic places, buildings, centres and sites of interest to residents and visitors alike.
Reflective of a long and proud maritime heritage it can tell a wealth of stories – military, trading, political, cultural, commercial and social. From centuries of global connections there are many shared international stories, especially with Britain, that have helped to create a unique Cork spirit. The region is a playground for visitors and locals alike with an abundance of activities offers and experiences. It is Ireland’s food capital and for centuries was a provisioning port as the British Empire expanded, sending food around the world that was known and valued for its quality.
This continues today with internationally recognised agricultural producers, artisan businesses, restaurants, markets and leaders in the Irish and international food industry whether business or consumer. The region, Cork in particular, has an extensive independent food, drink offer – and the heritage, provenance and quality of food and beverage in the Cork Region is world-class with the English Market in Cork City being an internationally recognised showcase for the  Regions produce.

Testing the Brand Proposition

The next and final blog in this series will share how the brand development team tested the brand proposition and refined it for sharing and briefing in the Cork city region.