Let’s Talk Brand & Reputation

Featured

What are the first images that come to mind when people think of the word Edmonton? Are they images of festivals and events? Images of young entrepreneurs? Images of blue skies and river valleys? Images of Rogers Place and PCL cranes in the sky? Or are they images of a cold, isolated city? Images of an industrial town? Images of Gretzky crying while being traded? Images of big shopping malls?

Whatever images come to mind shape the Brand of our city.

What are the words that people use to describe Edmonton when you are not in the room? Are they words like young and energetic? Progressive and compassionate? Open and tolerant? A city of opportunity? Or are they words like tough and unsafe? Boring and uneventful? Dirty and slow? Unwalkable and unapproachable?

Whatever words are spoken form the Reputation of our city.

Many words and images have been used in the past to describe our city – words and images often left to others to contrive. And many have had negative associations because we never managed our brand, our reputation, our story with intention.

And we know now that if we don’t tell our story, someone else will … their own way.

So, we set out to change that. To take control of our brand and reputation. It started four years ago, under Mayor Stephen Mandel and has since been championed by Mayor Don Iveson. We needed to change the brand and reputation of Edmonton, and we needed to do it by telling our story … which is the summation of all our individual stories, past and present.

In fact, the Master Story goes back thousands of years, well before European settlers arrived. As the ice receded, this particular bend on this particular river is where various indigenous peoples gathered to trap, to trade, to learn, to heal and to celebrate. An isolated community, open to the elements, where people had to support one another in order to survive, to grow, to be entertained and to get ahead. It was a community with characteristics of being open, inventive, courageous and cooperative – the very brand characteristics that describe our city today.

Todd Babiak of Story Engine began doing the research into the Master Story. He was inundated with examples of how people came to our city, were welcomed here, took a risk and tried something new, only to find that they had the support of the entire community and that their journeys were filled with an unusual level of success. The Master Story was filled with anecdotes from Edmonton building the first Mosque in North America, to starting the first Food Bank when times were tough, to starting the first Fringe Festival in North America where theatre groups could test their productions before launching them across the globe. Stories of my alma matter, Procter & Gamble, using Edmonton as their test market for new products, to the PCL story, the Running Room story, the Booster Juice story, the Henry Marshall Tory story, the Cal Nichols story, the Karl Clark story and the Sandy MacTaggart story. Everyone he interviewed was filled with anecdotes that reinforced our Master Story and our brand promise that “If you have the courage to take an idea to reality, to make something, Edmonton is your city.”

And it’s a beautiful story. One that is unique to Edmonton. And one that we can sell around the world.

And we are all in the selling business. We need to constantly be communicating and positioning our city to attract the seven (7) drivers of economic wealth –investment, business, visitors, conferences & conventions, major events, talent/students and direct flights. These are the things that generate wealth, expand prosperity, provide jobs for our kids and improve our standard of living.

Each of the seven drivers has a different kind of target customer, each with different reasons for taking an interest in Edmonton.  From our same Master Story, we shape images and stories and value propositions into targeted campaigns to: (1) Create awareness about our city; (2) Allow them to experience our city; (3) Help them see the opportunity in our city; and hopefully (4) Encourage them to make a decision to invest in our city.

That’s the goal … whether it be an investor, an entrepreneur, a tourist, a meeting planner, a student, a professor, a family or an airline.

To shape those campaigns, we create a series of digital assets, stories, value propositions, presentations, wordmarks, brochures, trade show booths, promotions, advertisements, meeting agendas, introductions, blogs, tweets, Instagram photos, WeChats and Snapchats that are unique to each target audience and can also be used across different campaigns, and can be used by organizations, institutions and businesses in the region. That’s why you see the Edmonton Original campaign when you arrive at the Edmonton International Airport or the FIFA Women’s World Cup images in our international investor presentations or high-resolution photos of the ITU World Triathlon in the Stantec Annual Report. Unlike consumer product companies, we don’t have $100 million to build a brand, so we need to work as one and get more leverage for each marketing dollar spent.

And externally, the Finnish wood home manufacturer that we are trying to attract to set up North American operations in Edmonton becomes interested in our brand through various mediums. She gets familiar with our embracement of winter through our Explore Edmonton winter tourism campaign. She is interested in exploring Jasper because we’ve linked Beaver Hills Dark Skies with Jasper’s Dark Skies. She has an employee that graduated from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Engineering, and loves Connor McDavid because she remembers Jari Kurri was once with the Oilers. Our images and stories all come together, self reinforcing, to build our brand and our reputation – consistently and with intention.

At EEDC, we have responsibility for telling the Edmonton story, globally. We do so with key partners like the City of Edmonton, our Regional counterparts, our Post-Secondary Institutions, Edmonton International Airport, Northlands, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce Oilers Entertainment Group and others to attract those seven economic drivers. That’s why we spend $1.5 million per year of taxpayer dollars on brand and reputation assets, stories and campaigns, leveraged 1:1 with industry funds, and work to generate between a 7x and 10x return on every dollar spent.

Sometimes we use wordmarks with a little Maple Leaf (see image at top of page) to help foreign customers make the connection between Edmonton and Canada. As Canada is currently the #1 Nation Brand in the world and our Prime Minister is out aggressively marketing our country for foreign investment, we would be crazy not to connect ourselves closely with it.

I’m not a fan of city logos and taglines. They are typically uninspiring, overpriced and look like they are done by committee.  And, at the end of the day 1/3rd of the people will love it, 1/3rd will hate it and 1/3rd don’t care, so I question the undertaking.

The wordmark used in my presentation this week is the one I use when overseas, typically in Europe, where target businesses have a growing interest in investing in Canada. I realized the power of the city/nation connection a couple of years ago, and had our internal graphic designer do up something I could put on my slides. The cost was nothing, and if it looks like the MacLean’s Magazine logo – oops, I didn’t realize they had a trademark on our country’s Maple Leaf.

Top-tier cities in the world are all one-word brands – Tokyo, Sydney, Paris, Berlin, New York, London, etc. – while second-tier cities need the nation name beside it – Melbourne, Australia or Manchester, England or Helsinki, Finland. If you introduce a third word, you have lost your customer. So, instead of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada as we have talked about ourselves for years, I use one-word which is Edmonton and simply connect it with the Maple Leaf. It works well for our foreign investment customers.

Our job is to get Edmonton on people’s radar as Canada’s 5th largest city, Canada’s youngest, fastest growing city, and Canada’s best city for their investment opportunity. That’s what we are, and will continue to be, focused on. While I appreciate all the range of comments on the Maple Leaf wordmark, we know it works for our target customers, so we will continue to use it as part of our overall story.

Talk to the Customer

When sales were down and anxiety was rising, my ol’ boss George Goeders at Procter & Gamble used to say to me, “You can’t solve it by sitting in here, get out there and go talk to the customer.”

Words to remember. Thank you, George.

That is why this past week was so refreshing. During continued decline of the stock market and energy prices, our two Edmonton Liberal MPs, Randy Boissonnault and Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, were busy out talking with customers – the right thing to do.

Eight roundtables held at the Shaw Conference Centre plus three others exposed the ideas and concerns of business owners, union employees, entrepreneurs, youth, academia, local government and local families. The MPs came well prepared, the attendees came well prepared, and the dialogue was rich, focused and on point for today’s realities.

And these weren’t the “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” kinda consultations. These were well prepared, well facilitated, well organized engagement sessions where there was an openness to new ideas and an understanding that no one knows all the answers.

What was interesting was that although our MPs desperately want to help and roll out some magical program that solves everyone’s economic problems, there was a greater understanding that the real role of government is really to create the environment where entrepreneurship and investment can best flourish.

Keeping taxes low, eliminating unnecessary regulation, opening new markets, promoting the Canadian brand, reducing the size of government and hiring entrepreneurial thinking people into the public service all create that environment where people want to invest and take risks … things that consistently employ people and create wealth.

It is a powerful motivator when government leaders are promoters of economic growth and prosperity, and powerfully concerning when they sit behind closed doors alone trying to figure out how to squeeze more tax from the system.

Getting out and taking to customers always results in better solutions.

Thank you, Randy and Amarjeet for kicking off your leadership with the right approach.

The King is Dead; Long Live the Queen

The grumpiness is deafening. The astonishment is mind-numbing. And the continued entitlement is unbelievable. No different than the morning after Iveson was elected as Mayor, no different than when snowboards were first allowed on ski hills, and no different than when women were finally allowed in the spike bar at the Mayfair.

Gasp! This place is going to hell and these young folks don’t have a clue how to run this place.

Welcome to the new Alberta. Average age, 36.

The new Alberta has come off being the strongest economic region in North America for the past ten years and a lot of people have made a lot of money – which is a good thing. We’ve been the lowest tax jurisdiction in North America, with a royalty structure that has promoted investment and the development of our resources at an unprecedented rate.

But that same policy environment has created a hyper-inflated economy when oil prices are high and a deficit-debilitated budget when prices are low – which has been confirmed through two economic summits as a bad thing. So if citizens, business leaders and economists all want to have a more balanced approach to growth and development going forward, then looking at incremental changes to these taxation and royalty policies is certainly not incomprehensible.

It just really upsets those who are used to getting their way.

Enter Kevin O’Leary, with his made-for-reality-TV personality, shouting fears that Alberta will be dragged into the abyss, will be filled with unions, and will be brought to its knees because it voted in the NDP.

While his blue suit and sharp tongue work on network TV, he embarrassingly proves himself and other crony colleagues out of touch with the fact that our resource assets remain incredibly valuable, our carpenters, electricians, plumbers, nurses, boilermakers and other unions are not invading, and we have a long history of never, ever, being brought to our knees.

The change in government was not some freak event. Over 72% of Alberta voters expressed their desire for change, expressed who they are and expressed what matters most to them – things like good governance, sustainable growth, fiscal management, transparency, and engagement.

Alberta still represents the same abundance of opportunity. And like any good company, the shareholders have expressed their desire to make incremental changes along with a restructuring to the board, in hopes of creating more value. In short, they lost confidence in the King, and they elected the new Queen. The grumpy guys may not like it, but all the rhetoric in the world won’t change a thing. It’s time now to pull together, make the necessary changes, and continue to be the highest performing economic region in North America for the next 20 years.

Upgrading our Strategy

I used to struggle with the number of hours kids spend playing mindless video games. Minecraft, Farmville, Tropico, Settlers …. there seems to be an endless supply of, and demand for, non-violent nation-building games.

I used to think they were wasting their time. But I have come to develop great hope that they in fact are developing the skills to run our province with much greater foresight than previous generations.

Think about it. If you were given this wonderfully productive piece of land called Alberta, what would you do? What would you build? How would you create a society so productive and so prosperous that you would be the envy of the world?

Imagine digging a hole in the northeast part of the province and discovering what is now the Oil Sands – an endless supply of thick, dark, peanut butter like substance worth trillions of dollars. Would your first move be to build a railroad or pipeline and ship it out of here? Or would you build upgraders and refineries, petrochemical facilities and manufacturing factories that allowed you to control the market on everything from jet fuel to fertilizer to plastic toys?

Imagine planting a farm in southern Alberta and you were able to produce high quality Durham wheat. Would your first move be to harvest the crop and put it in rail cars to be shipped to a pasta plant in Italy? Or would you consider building your own pasta company, under a Canadian brand that exports and competes worldwide?

Imagine raising cattle on some of that land. Would your first move be to sell your young cattle to someone across the border who will beef them up before sending them to a slaughterhouse? Or would you consider building your own beef processing plant, a steak & hamburger restaurant chain or Alberta BBQ beef skewers which are exported to China.

Just daydreaming here … but you get the point.

Occasionally, opportunities present themselves to re-start the game, and to make better decisions. Over the past decade, building value-added upgraders and refineries didn’t make a lot of financial sense as margins were better from existing refineries south of the border. But now as labour becomes more available, input costs come down, the Canadian dollar falls, technologies are improved, risk of building upgraders/refineries have been mitigated, and neighboring provinces refuse unrefined products through pipelines, it’s time to think strategically and make some nation-building investments.

We can keep shipping stuff out of here and shipping out our wealth in the process. But these video-game-addicted kids are telling me that’s not the best way to win the game.

Growing On Up

When the new Stantec tower was announced and most people gasped at the concept of a 62 floor tower in downtown Edmonton, Darren Durstling from WAM Development Group beautifully stated, “Just to give perspective, our lowest floor of residential starts where the Pearl ends.” … “We’re not competing with existing condominium products on the market, we’re introducing an entirely new echelon that the city has never seen.”

Edmonton’s growin’ on up.

When I went to Toronto last week to meet with Brad J. Lamb, aka the Condo King, who is launching Jasper House on Jasper & 106th Street behind the Boston Pizza, he eloquently stated, “We’re bringing something brand new to the Edmonton market, a 36-story, 260 unit high-design development where average unit sizes will be 725 sqft. We’re introducing a vibrant mixed-use concept at street level that will be new for some, but very familiar to many who travel to other major metropolitan centers.”

Edmonton’s growin’ on up.

What’s fantastic about these and other developments underway in the downtown core, is the fact that we are shedding the era of stamp-it-out condo kits and bringing a wide variety of choice to the marketplace. Some appeal to our growing student population. Some appeal to retirees. Some to empty-nesters. Some to singles. Some to investors. But together they bring density to the downtown core and embrace a culture of diversity that makes Edmonton so welcoming.

Speaking of investors, remember that each project represents an opportunity for Edmontonians to get involved, I’ve seen pricing for some of these new products ranging from $300K to $3M which creates investment opportunities for some people out there to actually invest in something that they can drive by every day.

So over the coming months, keep your eye out for open houses and information sessions. They’re fun nights out that get you aware of what’s happening in your downtown. Brad J. Lamb is launching his Jasper House project on Thursday night. I’m sure he’d welcome some of you interested people (see: JasperHouseCondos) for information and contact information) at the Art Gallery from 7pm-9pm for the launch.

Cheers.