Have you ever thought about a city as a brand? From New York City to Tokyo to Marrakech, each place has a unique vibe distinguishing it from the rest. This episode, Michelle is joined by Kerri Post, Visit Tallahassee’s executive director, to discuss what defines Tallahassee’s brand and how to share it with people inside and outside of the community!
Hello, and thank you for joining Ubben Talkin, the podcast that taps into the power of messaging to generate breakthroughs and change the world. I’m your host, Michelle Ubben, and today we’re looking at cities as brands and how successful cities create a brand experience for visitors and residents alike. Later we’ll be joined by Kerri Post, Visit Tallahassee’s executive director and resident brand wrangler.
Think about your city — or any city you like or identify with.
More than ever, cities are recognizing the need to market themselves – not just as tourist destinations, but as brands. Think about the goals of a thriving city. Its economy is growing by attracting new businesses to locate there. It does that by showing it can meet the needs of businesses – whatever they are. Land to build on, access to roads to move product, cooperative local governments that speed permitting. Those things for sure. But also that it can meet a business’s talent needs by being the kind of place people want to live.
A thriving city can attract and keep new residents – millennials and Gen Zs, who are the workforce of tomorrow, and Baby Boomers who bring wealth and investment. What do they want? A good cost of living. Yes. Great schools. Cultural experiences. Yes. Outdoor adventures, so trails to bike and rivers to paddle. Craft beer houses and local, farm to table dining. Yes, all that.
But, remember, as brands, cities are extensions of us. The cities we choose to live in or visit say something about us. People don’t choose to live in NYC only for the career opportunities. They choose to live there for the vibe, for the statement it makes to the world – made it here, can make it anywhere. For the wow factor.
If you’re a city marketing yourself as a place to live or visit or grow a business, you have to define your brand in a way that’s unique to you, attractive to others, and that delivers on a set of brand promises.
I had the chance to visit Greenville, South Carolina — a city with a great rags-to-riches story. When its textile industry went offshore, the city was left with a broken economy, a shuttered downtown, poverty, crime and a polluted river. So, Greenville reinvented itself. Provided incentives to lure the automotive industry. Rebuilt a walkable downtown with wide sidewalks and mixed use, with retail at street level and residential above. A restored downtown waterfall surrounded by parks and walking trails. A year’s worth of events to bring visitors and city dwellers downtown.
It was inspirational, and it got me thinking about how the lessons of Greenville could apply to my own adopted hometown of Tallahassee. Join me as I talk with Visit Tallahassee’s executive director and Tallahassee’s Cheerleader in Chief, Kerri Post, who accompanied me on the trip to Greenville.
Michelle: Thank you for joining me, Kerri!
Kerri Post: Well, thank you very much Michelle. Pleasure to be here.
Michelle: So, we had a great time together in Greenville, South Carolina on that little trip that the Tallahassee Chamber sponsored, and it was interesting to see how a city like Greenville had reinvented itself, and now has a really compelling story to tell that it seems like everyone, from the Uber driver who picks you up at the airport to the concierge at the hotel, everybody’s got that story down. What were some of the takeaways from that trip for you that you think that we can apply here?
Kerri Post: it was exactly to your point. Everybody was on the same page. There was this common vision and we’re all working towards it, and then now they’ve achieved the level of success they have, but you still have that people love it. The vibrancy there. It’s like everybody’s singing the praises of Greenville, even internally, and I’d love to get to that point here. But, I think the emphasis on downtown was one of the major takeaways that I had, that it was very, very impressive and very intentional and deliberate on how they wanted to enhance that downtown experience from really utilizing and, in this case, uncovering natural resources and then connecting them with the downtown being the hub, but to other communities there that’s nearby to kind of again, connect the dots. So, that was probably one of the major takeaways. I’m glad to see since coming back from Greenville, the community leaders are getting together to talk about the down town because I do think that’s essential.
Michelle Ubben: Yeah, I think the pieces are definitely beginning to take shape, and I think there’s a lot of excitement about how Tallahassee’s downtown is going to transform over the next five years.
Kerri Post: Oh, no doubt. No doubt.
Michelle Ubben: Unlike Tallahassee, which has a pretty unique name, not exclusive, but pretty unique, it seems like every state, almost every state, 34 I think, has a Greenville. So, their tagline, “Yeah, that Greenville,” makes sense for them. It was interesting that tagline sets them up to tell a lot of stories. Is that part of a good tagline, that it’s not just a slogan in itself, but it invites the bigger conversation about a city?
Kerri Post: That’s the brilliance of it really, what they’ve created with “Yeah, that Greenville,” is you want it to have legs, and it needs to be completely integrable and relatable and relevant. “Yeah, that Greenville,” because they had to differentiate themselves. That positioning statement with this tagline to go, “Yeah, that Greenville,” and then they’ve done just an outstanding job of integrating that through all their marketing, again, to really get people to embrace it. So, I think they have done a terrific job with it and when we would aspire to be that successful when we get there. But, I would agree that our positioning statement, our tagline, has got to have legs because I think otherwise it’s too short-sided. There has to be that everybody can either see themselves in it, embrace it in their own form or fashion, but yet it’s still true to the DNA of the destination.
Michelle Ubben: And I know you’re working on that as we speak, but a city brand is so much more than just a slogan, so much more than just a logo. It’s not just a campaign theme. What are the parts of defining a city’s brand?
Kerri Post: Thank you for saying that. I feel like I’m always trying to educate folks on there’s so much more. Brand is not just your logo or a tagline. And it is the whole experience of literally from, again, I’m coming from the visitor perspective and what’s their perception when they’re coming here? How do they perceive us? Because, one of the kind of funky analogies I use in branding, because branding is like your reputation. Your brand, it’s not what you think of yourself. But as part of that, it’s all of how you’re perceived.
Michelle Ubben: And authenticity is important. I mean, you might aspire to be more than you are right now, but it doesn’t work to try to market yourself as something you hope to be in five or 10 years. It has to ring true. So, from the time somebody steps foot off the airplane, or gets out of a taxi, the entire experience has to reinforce what you are positioning yourself to be.
Kerri Post: That’s exactly right, and because if you don’t, people know it, and they feel it too. You may not be able to put your finger on it, but you’re just like, “This just doesn’t ring true. This just isn’t right.” One of the examples I use with that is a number of years ago, Las Vegas, they decided to position themselves, market themselves, as a family friendly destination and everybody’s like, “No you’re not.” But obviously the campaign didn’t last very long because exactly to your point, it wasn’t authentic. It wasn’t true to the destination’s DNA, and everybody knew it.
Michelle Ubben: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas is a little closer to their –
Kerri Post: Bingo, exactly. And everybody went, “Eureka, that’s it.” But, that’s exactly right. It has to ring true, so even as we’re marketing the destination, exactly to your point, we can’t market to something that we’re not. It has to be organic, authentic and in our DNA.
Michelle Ubben: Now let’s take a quick break to hear from our sponsors
Michelle Ubben: You know, we can really educate people about things that they don’t know about Tallahassee, so here’s a fill in the blank for you. People think Tallahassee is blank, but it’s really blank?
Kerri Post: Let me see. Again, it depends on who you’re talking to, whether you’ve been here before or not. But, I think some people think we’re like a small town, maybe with like limited opportunities or limited activities, and it’s really not.
Michelle Ubben: Something for everybody.
Kerri Post: There really is, and I always am cautious about saying something for everybody, because then you’re nothing to … but the fact is, is that there’s so much that’s happened in this community from a growth and vitality in the last few years, and so many in the last five years, and looking ahead to the next five years. And so I think that’s an exciting prospect for us to be in, to be in that, but I think always educating locals to know there is so much more than what they may realize in their small circle between the grocery store and the dry cleaner and the kids, dropping the kids off and all that.
Michelle Ubben: Exactly.
Kerri Post: But, get out and explore an area. It always blows my mind when people will tell me, “I’ve never been to college town.” I’m like, “What?” Or “I’ve never been to Cascade’s Park.” I’m like, “What?”
Michelle Ubben: They’re missing the experience.
Kerri Post: Exactly. Exactly. So, that is important to us, and I say that and since, too, we just launched a campaign to help educate locals and we’re going to have –
Michelle Ubben: What’s that called?
Kerri Post: Seasoned Local. So, it’s basically a seasonal bucket list that’s designed for residents to encourage them to get out and explore their own backyard.
Michelle Ubben: All right, let me follow up on that. One of the tricks of the trade, or tools of the trade that you use are fam tours, where you will bring journalists or influencers here and allow them to have a Tallahassee experience so that they’ll write about it, share, post about it. But really, if we’re going to be brand ambassadors, every time we have a family member of friend visit, we have the ability to stage an informal fam tour of our own. So, help people who are listening to this. How would you recommend that anybody who lives here stage a fam tour?
Kerri Post: And for those people that don’t know, it’s the fam tour, like we call them … generally, the name is familiarization tour, which basically we want a journalist to get familiar with the area, but also they’re called like four minute, because we want to cram as much of the city in for you to see, all the really, really cool stuff, so it’s usually a pretty tight agenda. So, for residents to get out and get more familiar and go on a fam in their own backyard, I think the easiest way, honestly, and to make it fun, is why we created the Seasoned Local program is historically we had implemented a program called Tour Guide, which was one Saturday every month we featured a different attraction where it was free attendance. So again, with the goal of you and your kids could go to the Tallahassee Museum free or go to these other sites. But, the challenge was, and it was an award winning program, actually, that started in, I think, 2010 and just kind of now has transitioned to the Seasoned Local because the problem was if you and your husband were out of town that Saturday of that month, you missed the experience because it’s only that one day.
Kerri Post: So, that’s why we created this bucket list by season. So over the summer, we’ll launch a different one in the fall, but there’s a summer bucket list and we’ve incentivized folks that utilizing social media that if you take a picture, there’s a whole list of like things to do, and you take a picture of it and then you post it. If you go to five things on the list, there’s 26 things on the list, and there’s 25 and then really a bonus one. But, if you visit or do five things on that list, you can win prizes. You do 10 things on that list … and they are just like promotional items we have at the visitor’s center, like sunglasses. But, people love a good –
Michelle Ubben: People love incentives.
Kerri Post: Exactly.
Michelle Ubben: They’ll work for a prize.
Kerri Post: Exactly. And bucket lists especially. It’s exactly designed to do just what you were saying, to get residents to get out and give them a reason. Some of it will be event driven, like during the spring next year we’ll say go to one of the spring festivals whether it’s Springtime Tallahassee or Word of South, but it’s all designed to educate residents beyond what they already know.
Michelle Ubben: How do you pull all the pieces together to create a breakthrough idea like that for Tallahassee?
Kerri Post: Well, I think I’ll tell you that’s still a work in progress.
Michelle Ubben: Fair enough.
Kerri Post:I think we do some things well. I think there are other things we could do better. I think certainly always striving for that breakthrough, and particularly just standing out from the clutter, because consumers are so overloaded with information and how do you break through in a way, of course, that’s positive and that really does illustrate how cool your community is? We haven’t found that breakthrough yet, but we’re working on it, and particularly in destination marketing. It is very competitive. It’s hard to break through the clutter.
Michelle Ubben: Now, we did make the top 10 list for southern living though.
Kerri Post: Thank you for saying that. I was going to make a point of it. But, that helps us. Exactly. Those things that what other people are saying about us will help us. I think particularly when we can look at what product enhancements are coming online in our community, I think there’s so many things, so many great stories that are being told and things that are happening. Like I said, I do believe we’re at a tipping point. So, we’re not quite there at that breakthrough, and we do continuously seek it and because we do think we’re close, but we’re not there yet and hope that we get there very soon because like I said, particularly in the destination marketing we have to stand out as a unique place, and of course we have challenges being in Florida and all that. But, we think we have a great product to sell.
Michelle Ubben: Well I completely agree. What’s your hometown?
Kerri Post: My hometown’s St. Pete!
Michelle Ubben: Ok, another great city that’s done wonderful things. My hometown is Patterson, New Jersey which is a city with great history ubt with much greater challenges than we have. But I love Tallahassee and it feels like my hometown forever more and I can’t imagine leaving it.
Kerri Post: I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I feel the same way.
Michelle Ubben: Today you’ve been talking city brands, with my guest, Visit Tallahassee’s executive director Kerri Post. If you want to read more about our conversation, visit sachsmedia.com/podcast. And make sure to subscribe for more episodes on communications breakthroughs in unexpected places.