This article on branding Perth is a ‘reprint’ of an article published on 10th November 2015 in The West Australian Out to Market: ‘Another open letter on WA destination branding‘
John F Kennedy said: “a rising tide lifts all boats”.
But what happens when the tide is going out? What happens when the mining boom ebbs? What replaces it in order to sustain and grow the wealth of a community of 1.7 million souls?
Perth is again going through a process of planning to capitalise on the benefits that an enlarged visitor economy would bring to growth in GDP, jobs, and security. Visitors bring money and spend it locally, creating exponential economic ecosystems.
The case study is there for all to see: In the United Arab Emirates the “Emirati” recognised long ago that their temporary wealth, based on natural resources, was finite.
But rather than spending it short-term on creating unsustainable public sector growth they invested for the long-term in shaping a lasting economy based on tourism.
They spent the royalties on developing world-class destinations (Dubai, Abu Dhabi etc), with world-class infrastructure to bring people in or through easily (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar air travel brands) and grabbed the attention of the world on their offer through global sports sponsorships and word of mouth from anyone that has experienced the offer.
So how do you approach branding Perth? What are the challenges? What are the key success factors?
Branding Perth: Common purpose
Firstly, proposals on branding a “destination” are notoriously difficult because of all the stakeholders that need to have ownership, not to mention rising above their vested interests.
Like it or not Perth is the Gateway to Western Australia: roughly 70 per cent of the population is here and Perth Airport is the point the vast majority of people recognise as the destination and starting point of a visit. So it is Perth that should be leveraged but is currently prevented from doing so because of petty and parochial politics.
Yes, Fremantle is an important ingredient, as is Cottesloe, Scarborough, the Swan Valley, the Perth Hills and beyond.
But people do not travel thousands of kilometres to visit one of those in isolation.
They go to Perth and on from there.
Getting each city or shire in the Metro area (outside of the City of Perth) to sign on to the requirement for Perth to be at the centre of a global brand strategy will pale in significance compared to the difficulty in getting them to sign on to any solution.
Even if they are not needed to provide the funding.
Branding Perth: The market and a USP
Secondly, marketing starts with “market”. Literally.
If the global visitor market needs X then that is what you satisfy them with. Like any brand, a city must develop a sustainable competitive advantage: envisioning (through research) and delivering a product the market didn’t realise they couldn’t live without, until you gave it to them.
In Australia, our competition is fierce. The iconic architecture of Sydney, the cosmopolitan vibe of Melbourne, the Barrier Reef, Uluru. Where does Perth sit in the list of five places I must visit in Australia list? If we’re not on the list, we’re not onThe List .
We must understand what product the market wants, what isn’t being served and then create the answer.
It needs a big draw, a “killer app”. A unique selling point.
Branding Perth: Resourcing
Thirdly, money. The RDA and Experience Perth are preparing a branding plan in order to inform a marketing plan.
But even with a big brand idea the marketing will fail if there are not the big funds needed to bring it to life, grab the attention of the world and deliver on the promise.
The budget Experience Perth is currently running on (to fund human resources and marketing) is not competitive and it is unlikely in the economic climate that any further State or Federal windfalls will materialise.
The solution to branding Perth has to be calling on the private sector (especially those in the resources sector who have profited while the tide came in), leveraging their need to show corporate social responsibility, providing them with a value exchange (in terms of greater community economic sustainability) and thus squeezing a real fighting fund from them.
The private sector could be called upon to voluntarily donate — because it is time and effort prohibitive to make it a legal requirement. For example, a one off levy of one per cent of gross revenue and an ongoing Visitor Accommodation Tax ($1 per visitor per bed per night) would give us a fighting chance of building and sustaining success.
Branding Perth: Culture
Fourth, destination branding also has to bring the people with it. All the best examples across the world have ignited the populations to deliver on the promises made. If they don’t believe in the strategy it will be doomed. So they are the most important stakeholder.
In conclusion a big idea, a realistic budget, and a well-argued strategy could affect a seismic shift in visitors. But ideas are cheap.
Branding Perth: Leadership
What is needed is visionary leadership. Without charismatic, commercial and committed leadership the marketing plan is just a reframing exercise. Putting “lipstick on a gorilla” will be a wasted opportunity.
A captain of industry must answer the call.