The State of Place Branding & Marketing with President Will Ketchum

After a busy and productive year of community visits, branding and marketing, our President Will Ketchum recently looked back on trends and learnings from 2022, as well as opportunities for communities in 2023. He provides his insight in the Q&A below.

North Star engaged with several communities across nearly every region in the U.S. this year. What were some of the key objectives for communities as they pursued uncovering their brand? Were there parallels in those objectives regionally or by community size?

We continue to see communities in one-of-two general strategic modes: 1) those in northern or remote regions seeking to be more competitive in talent/resident attraction and economic development. These communities have ranged from 20,000-115,000 in population. And 2) those closer to or within major metros, generally in the Sun Belt, seeking to define their distinct identity in order to attract their fair share of growth and investment. These communities have ranged from 20,000-250,000 in population.

Despite inflation and economic uncertainty, communities’ appetite for brand development was as high as it’s ever been in 2022. Why so?

We believe there was a sense of “fight” and comeback post-COVID. Many communities were reeling due to the economic impacts of the pandemic and wanted to come back strong. COVID was a time of pause and reset for a strong future. 

In addition, ‘The Great Transition’ has communities rethinking their approach and strategy for the future. They must attract talent to replace retiring boomers and they have to redefine their authentic personalities for the next generation of residents.

How has North Star evolved over the past year in response to communities’ needs?

Our most in-demand service beyond brand development has been marketing program activation and management. Communities are busy and running lean, so they look to us to serve as an outsourced marketing department on their resident attraction, economic development and tourism goals.

 What are communities’ greatest opportunities in 2023?

The opportunities are economic in nature. Specifically, communities are and can continue to enjoy the revenue impact that strong community branding and marketing ultimately brings, even in a potentially recessionary time. 

Additionally, residents are really feeling the impacts of inflation. In turn, elected officials are taking note and watching municipal expenses to protect their constituents from tax increases and drive maximum efficiency. Community growth through marketing can help increase tax base, which keeps tax rates low. The test is to make the reasonable investment in branding and marketing in order to help drive future revenues.

What’s next for North Star?

We will continue to grow responsibly as communities compete harder than ever for their preferred futures; at the heart of that growth will be driving action and results through integrated marketing support. So expect more services from us in the marketing arena to complement our core brand development process.