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Branding: Words Matter

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I have heard our new Governor mention a new brand or a re-brand for North Carolina half a dozen times now, including the “state of the State.” So, let’s talk branding. I have led re-branding for cities and organizations, including the quantitative and qualitative market and stakeholder research, evaluation and visioning process. It is a lengthy process for the client and one that requires a high degree of commitment to the long-term, intense cooperation and adherence to detail and thoughtfulness. And, it needs a leader.

What branding isn’t: a logo, a tagline, easy. What branding is: all encompassing, thoughtful, integrated, tied to culture as much as commerce.

The whole point of a brand is to distinguish your product, service or State and push the market so that it sees you as the only solution provider, not simply the best provider (i.e. not choose NC over SC or VA) That means we want to push everyone, everywhere to North Carolina as the only place to live, work, do business, start a business, move a business, go to school … We want businesses across the US and internationally, people, potential partners (Countries, business, entrepreneurs, researchers, consumers, etc) to come here, create jobs, engage research, work with us.

In order to achieve this goal, we need to look at some very specific elements of branding:

-Are we (collective “we” includes cities, counties, chambers, people, businesses, government, etc.) delivering a clear message about NC?
-Are we credible with respect to delivering what we say? (education, physical infrastructure, social infrastructure, quality of life, economy, housing, buildings, partners, etc.)
-Who are our prospects?
-Do we connect to our prospects in a rational and emotional way?
-Are we creating customer, partner, stakeholder loyalty?
-Does every touch point in the State exude customer service and a correlation to our brand, message, differentiation as a State?

Do we keep our promises?  Not some. Not a selected few. All.

Two months into 2013, we have very harsh political rhetoric in play, a high degree of conflict, not much cooperation yet, informal political speak, high profile but somewhat meaningless legislation capturing national headlines. We have talk of customer service but on the flip side we have talk about “seat warmers” i.e. state employees providing services, “butts in seats” i.e students in public education.

Preliminary Questions for branding process: Do we have commitment to the long-term? Maybe. Do we have cooperation among the stakeholders? Ummm No. Do we have adherence to detail and thoughtfulness? Hmmm Not yet.

Are we delivering a clear message  about North Carolina? Yes, and I don’t think it is creating a brand that presents out State as a solution, let alone the only solution. The message we are sending is confusion, disagreement, negativity, silliness and a sloppy reflection on the good people of NC. Our Governor keeps telling the world: our government is “broken,” our educational institutions need “improvement,” our service-oriented state employees are “seat warmers,” we can’t have “whiners.”  Not exactly the words related to a good or successful brand.

To brand, we need leadership that inspires, leadership that motivates, leadership that leads to cooperation. That type of leadership requires presence and attention to word choice.

The Charlotte Observer asked “Whatever happened to Pragmatic Pat?”

I just want to know, whatever happened to the use of appropriate words? I know it’s early in the process but words matter in branding, Governor.

Jeanne Milliken Bonds is a PR Consultant, Political Commentator, NC Spin Panelist


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