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.

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