Branding a town is not an easy process. It’s about discovering the emotional response that is tied to your community and enhancing its reputation. A brand is a single representation of your community, so development of one cohesive identity to convey to its audience is necessary.
In order to discover the identity of your brand, proper research is essential and is the first major step to the branding process. It is difficult to brand your town in a positive way without first finding where it currently stands. Research can help you see what your town has to offer, how other towns have been branded, who lives in your town, and so much more.
While research will help you accomplish many aspects throughout the branding process, here are the top five reasons why I think research is not only helpful, but also essential.
1. It makes you an expert of your brand.
Research can help you know anything and everything about your town. You can discover physical aspects such as where it's located and what businesses are established there, but you can also learn about your town in a much more personal way. Research can help you uncover the resident's values and what they believe in. You can gain insight on the ins and outs of the town so you can truly know what you will be working with.
2. It helps find your voice.
A significant part of an identity is having a distinct voice. Voice can be defined as the tone you will use to communicate with your audience. Your voice needs to be engaging, clear, effective, and most importantly, it needs to best represent your brand. When you research your town and what it stands for, you can test ideas and discover a voice that truly represents your brand. You need to make sure that the voice you choose is fitting for your brand and will be able to stand out among other competing brands.
3. It shows your market status.
By comparing your brand to neighboring or similar brands, you are able to recognize your place in the market and decide where you want to go from there. Research can help identify trends in the market, demographics, shifts in the economy, and even show your audience’s buying habits. Researching with the proper tools and methods can give you cutting-edge results on how you can have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
4. It can determine a target audience.
By looking into who currently uses and who has the potential to use the services your brand provides, you will be able to define your target audience. Your audience should be a representation of what your brand is all about and who can benefit from it. It is very important not to target the general population, but to find out what groups of people will be most susceptible to enjoying and utilizing the town. By focusing on a particular group of people, a deeper communication and connection can be achieved.
5. It can help measure your findings.
Different research methods will help measure your findings quantitatively and qualitatively. For example, surveys and questionnaires can measure quantitative research, which achieves a numeric analysis to help explain correlation and relationships. Qualitative research can be achieved through focus groups and in-depth interviews to help recognize why an audience thinks the way they do. The combination of both qualitative and quantitative methods ensures that you are balancing your evaluation of your brand.
As I've said many times, research is the first step in identifying a brand. If it weren’t for research, you would not accurately be able to represent your town. When establishing a brand, you must dig deep to find explore what your town really means to its audience. Branding is not effective without taking the time to research every detail and answer every question you have.
My name is Megan Hardway. I'm majoring in strategic communications with an emphasis in public relations in the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University. As part of WVU's strategic communciations capstone course, we are working together to rebrand the town of Whitesville, W.Va. I am the Research Director for Team Cebula. Within my team, I am responsible for creating a visualization for the data collected within our branding project. To find out more about our project to #BrandWhitesville, you can follow me on Twitter: @mjhardway304