Only say it if you mean itThe benefit and discipline of market positioning

27 September 2016Shares

Much money and thought is put into how places can promote themselves. When done effectively, understanding and communicating what makes a place special can increase both its appeal and prosperity. Such is the potential reward for developing a clear and distinctive positioning.

Thinking of places as brands has been in vogue for a number of years. There is no doubt that the tools and processes involved in developing brands in other sectors has helped places sharpen their claim when competing for investment or visitors.

Our maxim of "Know what your brand stands for, and make sure your brand makes a stand for it" guides our work in helping places in this process. It is often the second half of that maxim which is harder to achieve.

A recent trip from Paddington saw this author board a train bound for Plymouth, with the locomotive proudly declaring the final destination: "Britain's Ocean City". It was a phrase that gave pause for thought - confident, expansive and also inviting, particularly to a London-based landlubber. It suggested a city whose history, fortunes and future depended upon its relationship with the sea.

So whilst Plymouth has declared what it stands for, how will it to choose to make a stand for it? A recent article in the Times (17th September) described the fight for the future use of Plymouth's Sutton Harbour, one of Britain's busiest fishing ports. In short, how to protect and indeed enhance the future of the local fishing industry - more facilities, a new marine academy and school for fishmongers and fish chefs, along with new platforms for tourists to view boats offloading their catch. Or whether a large part of the harbour should be redeveloped in favour of new apartments, shops and restaurants.

Long-term economic prosperity versus shorter-term cash returns? Supporting the local fishing industry or appealing to a broader group of visitors or second-homers? However this argument is considered, the outcome will either reinforce or reduce the city's publically declared positioning. How should the city exemplify this declaration? Does it have real meaning or will it become another empty marketing slogan?

Whilst succinct phrases can provide focus and understanding, what matters more is the intention behind the positioning and whether it can guide important decisions such as which markets to aim for and how to invest money. Perhaps one of the most single-minded and effective examples of knowing what to stand for and then making a stand for it, is demonstrated in the last fifty years of another coastal city, namely Singapore.

Dismissed from Malaysia in 1965, the city's initial need to survive as an independent entity forged a clear commitment to its future aspirations, free-trade policy and investment priorities. The result has been the extraordinary economic and social transformation into one of the world's most highly regarded cities, now widely viewed as the world's "easiest place to do business".

Such a positioning has been bestowed upon it as much as originally conceived, but it is a reminder that what you do or at least what you intend to do, should form the basis for what you say. A thought as true for people, products, and indeed places.