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Imagine Suffolk, its towns and businesses, as people. Imagine the way those people speak, how they present themselves, the respect in which they are held, the friends they have, their values, the expectations other people have of them. That’s a brand.

suffolk

But what are brands worth to a business? After all, they’re intangible. You can’t drive a brand or spread it on your toast. So why does a Jack Wills polo shirt cost £40 when a Cotton Traders one costs £15?

Brand value is often a long game. A well-applied brand strategy helps businesses attract and retain customers, and launch new products or services to a receptive market. Brand equity grows over time as people’s awareness, understanding and loyalty grows. So good brand marketing is about nurturing relationships, and – since ultimately everything is about people – relationships count for a lot.

Let’s take the Suffolk Coast as an example. The Suffolk Coast DMO has been awarded a grant to cover a high profile marketing campaign. This is an exciting opportunity for the coast, and the county as a whole.

Six years ago, Spring started to consider what the brand of the Suffolk coast would be. If the Suffolk Coast was a person, who would it talk to and how? What would it look like, what are its values and personality? Following workshops and studio time we arrived at the concept of ‘elemental’ – that shifting, seasonal, visceral sense of fresh air and inspiration provided by the coast all year round. This understanding led to aesthetic and practical actions.

All photographs available for purchase at           www.coastalimages.co.uk

For example, the brand icon changes with the seasons, as does the colour palette. And when it came to the website, the Suffolk Coast was one of the first tourism destinations to deploy a tightly planned and intensive content strategy – now becoming the norm, but innovative back in 2010. What led to that? The understanding that the Suffolk Coast’s year round audience would like to discover for themselves. Our job was to assist that discovery, by proving what we referred to in those days as an ‘on-line encyclopaedia of the Suffolk Coast’.

This process, delivered by Spring over the course of the following years, has helped to lay the groundwork for the Coast’s success – praise indeed for the dedicated and forward looking DMO team and its supporters.

Let’s look at a city near Suffolk’s borders: lovely, friendly Norwich. In 2012 Norwich became England’s first UNESCO City of Literature and one of only seven in the world. It’s a wonderful accolade, but what does it mean to people?

Last summer, Nick Bond invited Spring to suggest a social media campaign for Norwich. We decided to pick up the challenge of converting a UNESCO classification into something that could win people’s affection and underpin a thoroughly modern marketing campaign.

People love stories. Stories can be told face to face, in writing, through music and art. Stories can be told about any experience – aspects of our past, plans for our future, the day we are having right now. From a strategic point of view, stories are how really good content is brought to people and what they seek. This is the Holy Grail for digital marketing.

norwich-quay-side

So, for the campaign, working with Nick and his team we christened Norwich the ‘city of stories’. What’s thrilling is the response this gained. The campaign unfolded in twelve chapters over three months, with commissioned literature on the campaign’s website shared via social media. Beside this, we carried themed journalistic content sharing Norwich’s attractions, all optimised to support campaign partners. The concept came alive in the real world, with a 60-word story competition marketed on drinks mats throughout the city, story sharing events and branded materials. The campaign drew in 10,000 fans – which has subsequently grown by a further 25% under Visit Norwich’s care – and is continuing on line and partner marketing campaigns.

To us, this is a great example of how real brands come to life when they are thoughtfully created and shared in the right way.

Much further away – 2,000 miles south of here – Morocco has set itself a big challenge. By 2020, they want to double the size of the tourism sector, create half a million new jobs and become one of the world’s top 20 tourism destinations. So, what do you associate with Morocco? The souk? Riads? Desert? Yes, it has all that, but it also has spas, retreats, mountains to ski, beach resorts for family holidays, surfers’ paradises and a host of other places to broaden your horizons. Oh, and it’s 25 degrees in October.

rabat1

Spring’s task, before we start campaigning, has been to get to grips with Morocco’s potential market here in Britain and in America, and then find a way to bring Morocco’s delights to their attention. Our brand response is a flexible, vibrant and evocative icon created from a traditional Moorish tile behind which we can fit a wide variety of photography dependent upon our message. This is adaptable for web and social media, amazing on back-lit exhibition kit and knockout on the side of a bus. It is accompanied by messaging which is adaptable for every major resort. It’s designed to bring together the authentic and the new, celebrating Morocco’s unique character and providing a platform for its ambitions.

And so, back home to Suffolk. Spring’s relationship with Visit Suffolk goes back almost eight years. Visit Suffolk’s job has always been to support the county’s destinations, supply the rest of the story and access a market which is searching for us in ways that only a county brand can answer. The Visit Suffolk logo is not the brand here, although it acts as an immediately understood call to action that is easy for potential holidaymakers to grasp. Where the real brand value lies is in activities like the comprehensive map of Suffolk’s attractions and assets – be they hotels or bird habitats, pubs or sandy beaches.

The website relaunched last January having been designed to offer a high quality experience on handheld devices as well as desktop computers. It gives holidaymakers the chance to create their own itineraries or access recommendations. It draws in partners’ social media feeds. It hosts regular competitions and campaigns. The site has won travel industry awards and commendations from people throughout the industry, in recognition of the brand’s innovative way of talking to its market. Of course in the modern marketing world, flexibility has to be built into any marketing strategy, and a revamp of the website to meet Google’s new search criterion and even more finely pinpoint our market’s needs is in planning.

Visit Suffolk has built up a good relationship with a dedicated audience of communicative followers on social media and in the press, who between Amanda Bond and Spring we nurture, increase and reward. One result of this focus, creativity and application is a new project set to increase the amount of cultural tourists who come to visit Suffolk and Norfolk. Funded by the Arts Council, Local Enterprise Partnership, both county councils and six cultural organisations, this project will take place over the next two and a half years. A new brand will emerge that really celebrates the glory of our arts offering, matched with stunning landscapes and sea, great food and drink, wonderful towns and a decent range of accommodation.

This will really put this place on more peoples’ must do lists. Culture and tourism will work together in partnership to bring the brand to life: and isn’t that why we are all here? Good brand marketing is about nurturing relationships, and this is all about people. People who are drawn to a destination, and providers collaborating to develop and market their offer.

 

This is an edit of a talk given by Nikki Holland-Gladwish at tourism conference Suffolk Unlocked, for which Spring provided pro bono design support.

 

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