Is it in the Midlands or the North, then?
This week the Stoke & Staffordshire Economic Forum provided a good insight into the considerable challenges of both destination marketing and business regeneration. A chance to hear views on county matters from the local council, LEP, the ceramic trades organisation, Michael Gunn (the VC of my occasional client Staffordshire University) and representatives from JCB, Motiva and other leading local businesses.
My question to the panel concerned the geographic identity issue. Some people thought there really wasn’t one. I gently suggest anything that has to call itself ‘Stoke & Staffordshire’ (Stoke being of course very much in the county in question) must suffer from some sort of brand disconnect. It’s a physical one, in this case – Stoke is spiritually in the north in many peoples’ views, and is now even being presented as part of a ‘Northern Gateway’region. Yet Staffordshire is chock-full of distinctive Midlands-y towns like Tamworth, Burton on Trent, Stone, Swadlincote, Uttoxeter and, er, Stafford.
Destination marketing and business to business marketing both have inherent problems we can see here. It’s easy for a fruit smoothie brand, or a sports brand, to pick a single big idea and hang the messaging off it. You can’t do that easily with a whole city, let alone thousands of square miles of countryside and urban environment. Often, the sorts of big brand qualities that one might attach to such ‘products’ are true, but of limited appeal. Either that, or they constitute a kind of wish in which you have to hope people will come to believe.
(‘Northamptonshire, the Rose of the Shires’. Keep saying it long enough…)
Sadly, not everyone can have ‘Warwickshire - Shakespeare’s County’. Perhaps there’s something in the fact that Stoke on Trent, itself, isn’t really a coherent city but a series of small towns? That’s quite sweet in a way, if you think about it. Staffordshire could be the ‘Town County’.
I’ll get my coat. You can tell it’s nearly Christmas…