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Creative Economy Place Marketing

In a creative economy place matters. Just as infrastructure and taxes are a competitive advantage for classic industrial development, quality of place and lifestyle amenities are competitive advantages to develop the creative economy.
— From “Canada’s Creative Corridor,” a report by the Martin Prosperity Institute to the Eastern Ontario CFDC Network Inc., 2011

Quality of place is increasingly being recognized as a key factor in attracting talented and creative people to a community, who in turn create and attract business investment. Creative people want and need to feel at home and connected to the community, in which they live, work, and play.
— From Elgin County, Ontario, Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan 2011-14

Competitive advantage for municipal economic development depends more than ever on making connections work.

You need more than data. Your competitors all have data. They all have strengths in one industry or another, just as your community does. They have talented people producing marketing campaigns and administering programs in competition with you, the next county and the next continent.

What’s distinctive about your community is that certain people love it. It’s their home. Your community has an irresistible appeal to them, perhaps undefined. Economic developers can beat the street by connecting to this appeal and helping to make it visible and concrete, especially by positioning their communities as desired locations for people in the creative classes who are capable of starting or strengthening a business.

Research by the Martin Prosperity Institute, one of the seminal think tanks behind the creative economy, has discovered that more than half of people who are founders of start-up businesses say they located their business in a certain place simply because they like it there.

Here are some best practices in connecting to creative people through place branding, with examples of communities that have made use of them.

Encourage Citizen Engagement

The people of your community, if sufficiently motivated and organized, can be powerful place branders. Have you seen the “Jersey Doesn’t Stink” campaign? It was started by a group of concerned New Jersey citizens led by an auto-insurance company called High Point, who were fed up at the stereotypes of their state portrayed in entertainment media. Here’s how they present themselves on their Facebook page: “Are you sick of defending Jersey against all the wisecracks? We are! We’re sick of all the cheap shots, clichés and bad press against Jersey. Join our fight as we take on the world and battle the stereotypes. Join the fight at” The Facebook site vibrates with comments and photos contributed by people who feel a glow for their home state, and the site has attracted more than 21,000 likes. Think about it – how could you motivate your citizens to do something like this?

Use Community Atmosphere as a Wellspring

The City of Branson, Missouri, is a textbook case for place branding. With a population of only 10,500, the town has spent decades establishing and reinforcing its reputation as a vacation, recreation and entertainment centre. It focuses on family values as the core of its brand, as you can see at One of the things for which Branson is famous is its unbridled support for America’s veterans. Its seven day Veterans Homecoming Week is the largest Veterans Day celebration in the US. All of Brandon’s place branding elements are consistent – the brand itself, the experience that visitors have and the atmosphere of the community. This little town supports 50 entertainment theatres, and eight million people visit it annually. Does your town or region have core values, or a clearly defined community atmosphere that could make it strongly appeal to the demographic segments you want?

Make Beautification and Urban Renewal a Top Priority

There have been many examples in recent years of downtown renewal projects that have helped to protect or enhance the economic strength of communities. It is becoming increasingly clear that communities benefit from having welcoming public spaces where people can gather and experience their local identity. The City of Rockford, Illinois is an excellent example. The downtown of this city of 500,000 was declining until the formation of the Rock River Development Partnership ( in 2009. It has undertaken initiatives to stimulate vibrant street life in and around the downtown, particularly by creating the Rockford City Market. More than 39,000 visitors went to 20 events in 2011 and the market’s hours are being expanded. Blogger Jeff Kolkey of the Rockford Register Star ( reports that, of visitors surveyed at the Rockford City Market, 46% said they spend $10 to $25 a visit and 42% said they spend $25 or more each week. And 97% said they would recommend the market to a friend or relative. Note to EDOs, the more you encourage people like Mr. Kolkey to become influencers, the more the benefits of your place branding will multiply.

Share Your Quality of Place with Trails and Tours

Programs like culinary trails and arts trails or tours can be used both to share your community’s quality of place with visitors and attract creative individuals. Although such trails are not yet common in North America, you can get an idea of their wide ranging potential by examining the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail in New Mexico ( Introduced in 2009 by the New Mexico Tourism Department, the trail has flourished by inspiring all kinds of interactivity, including a competition for the best burger on the trail that attracted more than 10,000 votes cast for 200 competing establishments in 2011. The trail has generated enthusiastic social media traffic such as blogs, reviews and a number of videos including one featuring New Mexico’s charming tourism secretary, Monique Jacobson You can see how much creativity in place branding can be spun off from an initiative like this.

Expanding Connections

The examples above illustrate the general principle that place branding is a way to celebrate and expand the connections that your residents feel with their community. It is not merely a method for telling the world about a place in such a way that creative individuals might take notice, it conveys messages from the heart, and those are surprisingly powerful messages to business owners.

A properly executed place brand strategy should determine the most attractive and competitive characteristics of a community and the most realistic for marketing purposes and ensure that the messages that derive from those characteristics are consistently supported and reinforced by the community itself. Effective implementation will require plenty of outreach to involve stakeholder groups and to make the kinds of investments that will reinforce your citizens’ own natural affection for their home.


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