Destination branding for Rochdale
As a former Rochdalian and qualitative researcher interested in destination branding, I was interested to come across this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpXb-KQIlOg which advertises my birthplace as a great place to live, work and play.
The video aimed to market Rochdale as a unique and dynamic destination in order to raise awareness, improve automatic perceptions, attract funding and investment and achieve buy-in for the new place strategy. The latter was a strategic plan to improve the reputation of Rochdale and develop its competitiveness and attractiveness for investors and visitors alike.
However, the video has often attracted negative comments from local people on social media. Some Rochdalians even set up their own cynical versions of ‘come to Rochdale’ in response, reminiscent of the sorts of counter-branding campaigns that have been seen in other European cities like Amsterdam (‘I Amsterdamned’ to counter the ‘I Amsterdam’ marketing):
Although the Rochdale destination branding strategy is said to be the result of a very comprehensive consultation exercise, the information provided about the borough and its transition is interesting but not enticing enough. Indeed, a very similar video could have been made for any other town. There is somehow a ‘Rochdale-ness’ that is missing!
What seems to be lacking is a sense of the real character and soul of the borough and its people. After all, places are defined by the people who live in them, meaning that the attitude of local people is a very strong reason to either visit, invest in, or completely avoid a town.
To discover the real character and soul of Rochdale, there is a need to explore in depth who the people from Rochdale really are and what they stand for (as well as what they don’t stand for and are upset about, such as the closure of the A&E ward in the town). The only reference to residents in the video is the statement about Rochdalians ‘growing in confidence,’ which clearly does not ring true for many locals who commonly avoid the town centre (choosing Bury or Manchester instead) and cynically nickname the town ‘dogdale.’
When residents rebel against destination branding
Just as Americanism is an integrated and unavoidable element of the coca cola brand, residents are an integrated and valuable part of any place brand. Their behaviours and actions not only feed into the overall place brand image (whether we plan for this or not), but they also give continuous credibility to the brand (or take it away) once the image is formed.
Destination marketing should therefore not just be focusing on attracting new people, but also on keeping current stakeholders satisfied. It can do this through ensuring a sense of involvement, ownership and belonging for residents in all key phases of the re-branding project, from initial research to final communication strategy.
One way to explore resident needs and opinions prior to forming the brand vision is via an in-depth study using qualitative research techniques such as online research communities, focus group discussions and ethnography. A qualitative research study then translates resident feedback, ensuring that the insights derived become a key component of the new strategy.
If residents of Rochdale call it Dogdale, then let’s explore why they do that through delving deeper, separating fact from fiction and cynicism, understanding the psychology behind automatic negative perceptions and looking for the positives waiting to be pulled out from under the murky smokescreen of sarcasm.
Encouraging a positive outlook for destination branding
Qualitative research aims to draw out what is really great about a destination, and then looks at how this can be used as part of the destination branding strategy. For example, we may find that the people of Rochdale tend to be extremely down to earth, ‘gritty,’ straight talking…they tell it like it is and (as we’ve seen) they dislike those who tell it like it isn’t! How can these very qualities be turned into a reason to visit? Rochdale is a destination where the people will be honest, direct, no airs and graces (or Gracies anymore, time to let that one drop), and no masks and mirrors. You know where you are and what you’re getting. Surely that is a more attractive pull to the borough than bridges?
Destination branding should be looking to capture an overall image which recognises and enhances the positive qualities and characteristics of the place and its residents, and is not just a conceptual identity created in an office over coffee. Those qualities and characteristics are to be found on the city’s streets, in its urban language, and in the details that reveal the personalities of its people.
Change can only come from within. Qualitative research will help you to better understand and utilise the skills of the strongest advocates for your destination – those who are already within it.
For more information about qualitative research with QualiProjects, contact us via the link above.