When excellence isn’t enough: Branding Miami-Dade County
Written by Michael Lewis on December 4, 2013
Miami-Dade County’s nine-year-old slogan drips with aspiration: “Delivering Excellence Every Day.”
Would that it were so.
Taxpayers know delivery falls short of the message – sometimes woefully so. Fill in your own examples.
Still, it’s a beacon of hope, a call to employees to achieve the goal. It’s a sign to hang high in every county office.
Regretfully, it also serves as the external as well as internal poster child for the county. That’s unfortunate for two reasons:
First, the slogan doesn’t quite ring true. A slogan that draws quizzical looks and snide comments misses the mark.
More to the point, even if it hit the nail on the head, that tagline would still speak to only some audiences. It’s inward looking, a credo for employees that also speaks to taxpayers and voters, telling them how well their taxes are spent and how well their elected officials serve.
The audiences it does not speak to, however, are those to whom Miami-Dade markets itself: visitors, businesses we want to woo here, investors, and the broad global audience to whom we need to reinforce our image.
Delivering excellence is a great aim, but with that slogan we’re just preaching to the choir: those who already live and work and pay taxes in Miami-Dade. We’re talking to people who know us well.
So when a committee forwarded to the county commission a plan to revisit the slogan and its plain-vanilla logo – the county name wrapped in a curved line that might or might not signify something to someone – it was clearly on track.
Unfortunately, the committee advanced Juan Zapata’s motion without backing it after questioning the cost of a new logo and slogan as well as the need for any change at all. Lukewarm overstates the support.
Mr. Zapata said he could get help at no cost. Bill Talbert, CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, volunteered the bureau’s ad agency to do the creative work free to the county.
That’s a wonderful offer – but only after taking significant steps not listed in the resolution.
Before handing off work on a logo and slogan, the county needs to decide what message it wants to send viewers and listeners everywhere about Miami-Dade. It needs to determine the aim of the branding mission.
Frankly, that decision shouldn’t be left to an advertising agency or the visitor industry alone. Someone first has to tell the agency’s creators the aim of the branding change.
Present branding aims at employees, taxpayers and voters, who all get the same story – everything is aimed at what exists.
But should we aim at change, or increasing tourism, or growing key kinds of jobs, or luring investment, or generating a global buzz even louder than what we have, or differentiating the county from the City of Miami?
We must tell slogan creators the exact aims.
Before a slogan and logo change comes thought that encompasses ideas and needs of those most involved in the outcome. But nobody at county hall is expert in such branding – nor are we.
So, with the caveat that a camel might well have been a horse created by a branding committee, we don’t think elected officials and an ad agency working for the visitor industry offer enough input.
Fortunately, we’re blessed with experts in branding, the overriding concept that first decides where the product – our county – needs to position itself and then looks at ways to get there, including the logo and slogan that tie in to other branding.
“Brands have a remarkable ability to impact the way people view products. Consumers rarely just see a product or service; they see the product together with the brand. As a result, how they perceive the product is shaped by the brand,” Tim Calkins wrote in “Kellogg on Branding,” a book produced by the Kellogg School of Management, an arm of Northwestern University that has a campus in Coral Gables.
“To design a brand, marketers must make a number of critical decisions regarding the use of names, colors, symbols, and the like to help consumers perceive a product in a way that is consistent with the intentions of the brand,” Bobby J. Calder wrote in the same book.
Such branding begins at the top of the organization, wrote S. David Coolidge III in the same book.
Let’s be clear: Miami-Dade needs to market outside as well as inside the county. And to do so it must treat its brand as part of the product we’re selling to these people.
Most likely, the aim should be economic development, not merely atta-boying county employees or telling taxpayers and voters how well off they are.
If so, the Beacon Council, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and others have a stake in a branding decision just as the convention bureau does. And while the bureau can offer ad experts, our universities teach branding. Kellogg, the UM, FIU and others have talent, surely an expert or two pro bono.
Think of it as deciding what we’re trying to sell not just locally but globally, leveraging government as a product. What does the county offer to achieve one or several key economic aims?
Don’t recreate the camel, but a branding expert can help a small team shape a goal that meets the needs of the county, business and residents. How can we leverage our county “product” with a logo and slogan to meet those needs?
When that aim is clear, involve the ad and design folks.
We applaud the present slogan’s appeal. Excellence is a great target for employees and a great sales message to voters and taxpayers. Hang it on every wall in government. Stuff it in tax bills.
But the county can leverage so much more to heal our economic sores. Just consider our county’s slogan and logo a brand-aid.