Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Engaging The Soul That Empowers Sense Of Place

It was an honor to finally meet and speak briefly with Marc Gobé!

Ironically, living and working in Durham, North Carolina I learned one of his most important lessons on branding 7 or 8 years before he coined it as a “best practice” and a decade before he was to write the seminal book which was updated and revised as Emotional Branding 2.0 just as I was retiring a couple of years ago.

When I arrived in Durham in 1989 to jumpstart the organization responsible for being the “heart, soul, and energy of the community as a destination” and “defender of it’s image and brand” as well as “guardian of its unique sense of place” – Durham was soon to receive recognition as “the city with a soul.”

While all of my previous decades of experience at community marketing and branding involved engaging the head, as nearly all marketing did until it was revolutionized by Marc, I turned out to be a good match for a community with already unparalleled levels of community pride and passion.

Marc Gobe’s brilliant contribution to branding a few years later was was to point out that a brand or product personality (in my expertise, a community) must engage not only the head but the heart and the soul.

Durham at the time I arrived was and had always been big on heart and soul, but these were masked by both unpretentiousness and double-density press coverage which our market intelligence revealed was fueled by incredible levels of negative word of mouth among residents of nearby communities.

So I was able to skip the much harder job of generating community pride and do what I could do best: give that existing pride and passion voice by empowering residents with facts and information, often in the form of statistics and then working systematically to facing down inaccuracies point by point and day by day.

From day one, a couple of people who should have been helping out were critical instead, criticizing the amount of research it took to empower residents and correct inaccuracies even undermining me by “carrying water” for a few in nearby Raleigh who were threatened by our efforts to calmly address what were affectionately termed “water-cooler” myths.

Ironically, even the few trying to undermine the effort were always among the first to call for data to overcome misinformation that was tripping up consultants, threatening loans, dissuading tenants and home buyers or undermining credit ratings or reappraisals.

I smile when, ironically, one of those naysayers will now and then try to claim credit for the turn-around.

While meetings with consultants and appraisers and loan officers often took much of my time, legions of residents empowered now with information to speak up around the water-cooler, created what Marc terms “social voice” both before and after the term social media and related technology became widely available.

They deserve the credit!

Together, we cleared away the clouds of neighboring negativity that were obscuring Durham’s unparalleled but always unpretentious sense of community pride and passion and replaced it with positive word of mouth that in turn has fueled a resurgence that has made things possible that are far more tangible.

In 2005, using a template that Marc Gobé espoused four years earlier in the 1.0 edition of Emotional Branding and a two-year process brilliantly executed by city brand thought- leader Bill Baker and his team, Durham was able to distill an overarching Durham brand anchored in its soulful and temporal values and personality traits.

Adopted in various forms now by nearly 400 disparate Durham stakeholder organizations and in hundreds of thousands of applications, the overarching Durham brand thrives because it engages head, heart and soul.

Marc is a legend among marketers for many reasons the least of which is not only because he co-founded and built up what was known then as Desgrippes Gobé into one of the top five branding firms globally after coming to the United States as a 24 year old immigrant.

He is even more of a legend now because his understanding and passion are focused on promoting the concept that in order for product brands to have a soul, they must be good stewards of the environment and embrace sustainability as more than a buzz word.

He is also one of a growing number of marketers with the courage to once again speak out against the desecration created by huge outdoor billboards that scar roadsides, clear cut green infrastructure and blight communities.  Here Marc stands on the shoulders of Mad Men giants such as Ogilvy and Gossage.

To inform others and engage their head, heart and soul about the desecration wrought by the outdoor billboard advertising industry, Marc personally financed an incredible documentary that is being screened around the country called This Space Available.

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