Thursday, 2 April 2015

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 http://placebrandobserver.com/

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.