Defining and Communicating Your Place Brand with The Marshall Plan®

Bates Mill Complex LewistonAs the world becomes more and more connected, and as people are more and more mobile, places around the world are competing for dollars, whether it’s tourism dollars or economic development dollars. These places are seeking to define and differentiate what makes them unique, so they can create messages that resonate with their targeted audiences.

At Marshall Communications (Marshall Communications), we create a custom “playbook” for our “place” clients—whether it’s a municipality, a county, or a region—called The Marshall Plan®. It is an integrated communications plan that serves as a blueprint for marketing and branding success tailored to the distinct personality of a place, as well as its specific goals, market strengths, target audiences, and resources. The plan is meant to be implemented in one to three years, depending on the needs and budget of the client. The Marshall Plan® has proven to be highly successful in elevating awareness and gaining market share for a great variety of organizations, businesses, and places.

The reason The Marshall Plan® has generated strong results for so many of our clients is that each plan is cultivated from the overall strategic goal of the client. We help our client to define their primary and secondary goals at the outset of the process.

Our process is unique, and involves a highly collaborative approach that requires the client to gather key stakeholders together and think through high-level strategic issues as a team. This ensures all marketing endeavors are undertaken from a strategic perspective as opposed to a scattershot tactical approach. We have found that going through the three-month planning process is highly effective in bringing the leadership team together, so they are unified in their vision and goals, and they take ownership of the final plan which increases its chances of being implemented successfully.

Imagine if your favorite football team had no playbook, and each player just did what he thought best at the moment to win the game? Well, they wouldn’t be bringing home any championship, that’s for sure. You might think you need to go a trade show, or create a blog or brochure just because everyone else is doing it, or create a Facebook page without determining what kinds of posts will most appeal to the types of followers you want. Implementing a standard laundry list of tactics with no thought behind their selection is just not going to work. You’ll waste precious time and money by forging ahead with no strategic goal or strategic plan that is written down, specific, measurable, and agreed upon by everyone on your team.

The smarter, more effective approach is to first determine what differentiates your location, what your unique brand story is, who you are targeting, and what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish. The next step is to decide what tools in the marketing arsenal represent the most effective means of reaching your goal.

As a first step in The Marshall Plan® process, we sit down with our clients for a brainstorming meeting we call a Discovery Session. We like to invite a broad spectrum of stakeholders to participate, from town councilors or selectpersons, to municipal or regional employees, and residents representing various demographic and psychographic groups. This meeting, which generally spans three hours, is our opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the place, external forces that will affect the direction of the marketing plan, and where the client ultimately wants the plan to take them. In order to produce an effective product, it is imperative that we gain a thorough understanding of our client’s history, challenges, growth or development goals, and competitive positioning through this process.

The intelligence we gather from the Discovery Session, as well as additional research gleaned from a variety of methods including surveys, focus groups, and secret shopping, creates the basis of The Marshall Plan®. Each plan typically includes:

  • An over-arching goal and supporting objectives
  • Clearly-defined target audiences A path forward conveying overall recommendations that drive the focus of the entire strategy
  • A SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
  • A marketing research program consisting of surveys and focus groups to identify the true identity, images, words, emotions, facts and attractors
  • A thorough analysis of the competition and/or similar benchmark organizations
  • A series of marketing tactics chosen to best match the organizational goals of the client as well as its target audiences, financial and human resources, and other important factors; tactics range from traditional marketing and social media to media relations, fundraising, community outreach, advertising, Web development and more
  • A brand story representing what the place stands for and why people should value and support it; this story represents the heart of the brand and its language is used repeatedly in public relations and marketing materials
  • A new or revised logo and tagline
  • A message map presenting key points of an organization’s brand as a visual medium, making it easy for all team members to consistently “sing from the same song sheet,” whether they are talking to a potential client, supporter or the media
  • Measurements of success tied to individual tactics
  • A detailed budget and timeline
  • Extensive tools that enable you to carry out the plan, ranging from media contact lists and media/marketing material templates to social media posting guides and targeted networking opportunities
  • A Web strategy that helps you communicate your brand story and connect with your targeted audiences in a way that allows you to predict the return on investment of your expenditure
  • A strategy to create ambassadors who are “raving fans” who will help you spread the word about the place where they live, work and play

After four to six weeks, we return with a draft of the plan and present it to the same stakeholder group that participated in the initial Discovery Meeting. We seek feedback, constructive criticism and additional suggestions to make the plan more robust. At this time we also present the initial three logo and tagline concepts and the stakeholder group chooses one, which is then refined in preparation for the final meeting.

Three months after the Discovery Meeting, the final meeting is held, again with the same group, and the Marshall Communications team presents the final plan along with the final logo and tagline. After being vetted by the client, this marketing “playbook” is put into action, either by the organization itself or with assistance from our agency. As in football, the winning combination of marketing “plays” outlined in The Marshall Plan® is integrated to achieve maximum impact. A Marshall Plan® we created for the Town of Madison laid the groundwork for attracting Backyard Farms, which has created hundreds of new jobs in a mill town where the economy had been in decline for years. Our work with The City of Lewiston helped garner public support for the Bates Mill Redevelopment, which has been a successful project that is now filled with retail businesses, living spaces and vibrant restaurants.

What is the playbook for the place you are promoting? Please share what has worked for you.

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