Conversations with North Star, Part 4, Achieving Community Buy-In

We have reached part four of our ongoing Q&A series featuring insight on place branding and marketing from our North Star team. 

Our previous blog posts covered best practices for conducting community research, building a brand strategy and bringing your brand to life through creative.

Now that your brand has been developed, it is time to share it with your community, which is a delicate process. If executed inelegantly, it could result in the brand you have spent months building being rejected – either through a required municipal approval process or by the community as a whole (or, both).

Our Director of Strategic Communications Tyler Holder breaks down the important components of introducing your brand to your community and achieving buy-in.

Before introducing the brand, what do I need to do?

The process of achieving community buy-in begins well before the weeks and days leading up to the completion of the brand’s development. The community should be engaged at the onset of the process, even before research begins. The key ingredient to brand buy-in is proactive transparency. If your community understands the project, its purpose and how it will support them, you’re likely to receive more public participation, insight and acceptance.

That being said, another level of engagement exists as you near project completion. Similar to the four P’s of marketing, we like to say there are four P’s in community marketing: politics, politics, politics and…politics. 

Before introducing the brand publicly, ensure every public official involved is in full support of the brand and is enthusiastic about standing behind it. Further, in rare cases, some communities require municipal approval of a brand from a voting body such as city council. It’s crucial to engage those community leaders as well to build awareness, understanding and feedback well before a vote. The last outcome you want is attending the council meeting, educating them for the first time and crossing your fingers for a positive result.

What’s the best way to introduce the brand?

Exact execution varies, but most critically, lead with the purpose and goals behind the endeavor and the ultimate vision for the community that will be supported by the brand. Do not organize an unveiling event that brings sole focus to your logo and tagline. Instead, share your brand story, how it brings to the surface your differentiators and how it will serve the community. An especially effective education tactic is to share various non-branded illustrations of the brand idea so that you are sharing and demonstrating the story without reference to logos, which inherently attract opinion. Examples include a series of press stories or a shared video including voices of leaders and influencers in the community in support of the brand idea. If you illustrate the idea first, endorsement of the superficial elements (logo, strapline, etc.) comes easier.

Ultimately, if you’ve communicated proactively with the public throughout the project, this won’t be the first time they will hear about it – and chances are, they will understand the bigger goals and objectives the brand aspires to achieve and buy in.

What should I avoid when aiming to achieve buy-in?

While proactive transparency is key, at times you will need more decisiveness than democracy. When considering logos and other creative deliverables, do not ask for public feedback or approval to inform a selection. Stay true to your core team at this stage – there’s no harm in communicating where you are in the process, but sharing logo options will foster a debate you will never win.

I’m worried that some members of my community will push back on the brand regardless of how I introduce it. What should I do?

Always remember, having engaged, passionate and opinionated community members is much better than the alternative of apathy, so see them as a key ally. 

Anticipate their concerns about the initiative and brand itself, especially ones that may have been expressed during the research process. Then, draft key messages for anybody who may speak publicly about the brand – from public officials to day-to-day municipal employees. 

Also, prepare questions and corresponding responses that may be communicated in the days following the introduction. You may have a version of these for publishing proactively on your website, and another, more private version that addresses potential criticisms. Monitor traditional and social media for unexpected questions or concerns, so you can add to your Q&A and not be caught off guard.

And finally, stay close with your public officials and other project champions so they maintain confidence in the brand. A unified team and leadership is paramount.

What else do I need to know?

Sharing the hard work and creativity that went into the brand development process should be an exciting time for your community. Every willing and constructive resident, neighbor and stakeholder should be seen as an important partner throughout the project – thus should be engaged regularly. 

As your brand is introduced and implemented, continue monitoring all forms of media for the positive and negative. Respond delicately and productively to the negative. Celebrate and share the positive. And ensure you have a larger and longer-term marketing strategy in place so the brand keeps on working well past its introduction. More on that in our next blog post – stay tuned.