Countless consultants are talking about branding and its importance in the economic development of a community. It is important—that’s true. But when the experts go on to talk about the importance of finding your point of distinction and how that must be used as a marketing hook, it stops many small town folks in their tracks. So many small towns don’t have what they consider a marketable distinction. Does that mean they can’t work on a branding initiative?

I don’t think so. Small towns need to approach the branding process a bit differently. Many of the steps of developing a brand are excellent exercises for any community. The most important thing to remember is that a brand is not just a logo or tagline. It’s the experience residents and viewers have in every interaction in your community. It’s the purposeful creation of a consistent, positive, experience that delivers what is expected.

Spending time on the front end of the branding process is something small towns can do before they have discovered or created a point of distinction. By bringing town staff, elected officials and community members together, volunteers interested in long-term projects can be identified. Cataloging community assets, examining current practices and communications, identifying areas of focus, prioritizing goals and building a network of stakeholders are all activities that will contribute to successful small town branding.

These activities create an opportunity to educate the community about branding and its responsibility for the success of the brand. Small towns do not have large advertising budgets to tell the world about their brand. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, to be successful, they must create ambassadors that enthusiastically tell everyone they know or meet about their town and it’s attributes. This requires the buy-in of the residents, town staff, elected officials and business owners, created by their involvement in the process. It’s a noisy, messy process with the huge benefit of building community.