Confused on Branding

Dear Management Doctor:

I have worked for a year now as a planning assistant at a small, very rural planning department. I find it fascinating and will be taking the distance learning course offered through Ohio State University to further my knowledge of planning. I am reading your book The ABZs of Planning Management and was confused by the term "national branding of planning." Would you please explain this?



Dear Confused,

First of all, thanks for reading the ABZs of Planning Management, Second Edition. The text you are referring to is on page 66. Branding is simply a name, term design, symbol, or feature that distinguishes products and services. A good example would be a performer like Cher, or Sting who is recognized by just one name. In the corporate world it is IBM, BMW or Google. I am working on it for my own purposes. Note that for my new book the author is aka "The Management Doctor." I started using this term once in a display at a national planning conference and it just took off as a useful idea. At one conference, I even brought in a gurney as part of my display but many planners thought I was selling medical insurance so I took the image too far. It takes awhile to get the message right.

Why is this important for planning? Who are we and what do we do? We are not the only APA. How about the American Pharmaceutical Association as a starter? It appears that APA and AICP have taken some steps on this - notice the material that uses the phrase, "Making great communities happen." I kind of like it but it is not yet Coke or Pepsi.

It seems to me that anything that conveys a message nationally about planning and planners being important can help you locally. You could also expand on this by trying to brand your own department. Take a look at Chapter 2 in the book on Vision & Mission. A few have tried this with some, but not great, success. For example:

  • Portland - Good Process-Good Product
  • Denver - Imagine a Great City
  • Your department - ????
Branding can be fun. Give it a try.

The Management Doctor 

Reader Responses

I hope all is well and that everybody in your office has recovered from the wildfires.

Regarding APA's slogan, "Making great communities happen" — frankly it's a really ineffective, meaningless slogan that makes no connection to the general public. It's never going to be like Coke or Pepsi — and there's just no reason any slogan APA comes up with ever would be.

APA would be much better served with something like (albeit not precisely) "Planning the American Dream, for all of us." While the real estate industry has tried to make the "American Dream" phrase its own, the American Dream is much more than simply owning a house of your own. And planners can help all of us attain that dream by employing sound planning techniques and policies to break down the barriers of racial and economic segregation that exclude so many from achieving that dream. APA needs to get a lot more savvy about promoting sound nondiscriminatory planning practices (and note that I stress sound nondiscriminatory planning because there is so much terrible, segregation-reinforcing planning in America today) if it ever hopes to produce a more favorable public image of the profession.

Daniel Lauber, AICP

Thanks, I thought National Branding might be as described, but wanted to be sure.

I am enjoying the book and it's gotten the old noggin working. I have ordered several of the books you recommend. I have currently contacted the APA to find out where or how to get a copy of "Streamlining Land Use Regulations" (footnoted on page 229 in the second edition of "The ABZs of Planning Management.") I drew a blank on the internet with HUD. Any help in that direction would be useful too.

What I would love most is to be able to pull people together, to work toward a common goal. I think a variety of ideas is healthy, but right now our Planning Commission is dominated by "land rights" individuals who refuse to look at any point of view other than their own. They aren't worried about complying with state law, sanctions from the state, etc. It gets very discouraging, especially as they target the brunt of their ill will toward the planning director, who is the nicest and hardest working person around. Anyway, thanks for everything. I'll see if my studies and readings can help me shed any light on helping our situation.

Carol Dabney

For your own personal knowledge, you may be interested in a paper I wrote for JAPA entitled "A Bold Vision and a Brand Identity for the Planning Profession" that was published in the summer of 2003.

See you in Vegas.

Bruce McClendon