Say Something Good

I read that the City of Amsterdam has hired a marketing firm to help brand the city and craft a new slogan to replace the current “One Community Many Cultures”.

I wrote this piece about the productization of Amsterdam so let me pick up on the product theme as the product itself is so vital to how it’s marketed. As I think about the current slogan and look at the current product, I get what the slogan says but I don’t get what it means. Sure, we’re a community and yes, we have many cultures. But what does the slogan convey to me that makes me want the product? I’m not sure.

I sense this disconnect because I don’t see how the many cultures manifest themselves. No doubt Amsterdam possesses a rich cultural legacy and certainly we have a diverse community but I do not see an exceptionalism in the manifestation of the cultures within Amsterdam. I think slogans need to be authentic to the product, so when we say “many cultures”,  how do we distinguish that trait from other cities in the area? What makes us different from our competitors?  I just don’t know from the slogan.

It’s this disconnect that really needs to be addressed because a slogan becomes meaningless if the slogan has no bearing to making buyers want the product. After all, the only purpose of marketing is to sell the product: it’s not slogans, it’s not Web sites, it’s not a brochure– all that is meaningless if you can’t sell it.

A long time back, the marketing campaign for Amsterdam had a slogan of “Say something good about Amsterdam”.  I’m not sure you could ever choose a worse slogan– as that slogan truly suuuuucks. First, the slogan tells you, in no uncertain terms,  that consumers think the product, Amsterdam, sucks; why else do you have to “say something good”  other than to counter the bad things being said.  This is akin to a tobacco company campaign rolling out a slogan of: “Say something good about lung cancer”. Second, the slogan is built on a delusional marketing notion that if we just say the product is good, the product will magically transform itself into a salable product and all the criticisms directed by consumers of your product will go away. While this may work for product scams or gimmicks, it’s not a way to build a sustainable, viable product.

I looked at the portfolio for Zone 5, the marketing agency hired for this effort, and they strike me as a talented, accomplished firm. So the purpose of the above in no way implies that they will follow in the same footsteps to developing a strategy and campaign; I’m quite doubtful of that happening. And I also do not mean to imply that we do not have a viable product or a viable marketing strategy for the city. Far from it.

I only revive this bit of marketing trivia to underscore the essential purpose of marketing — selling the product– versus the tactics of marketing. At the same time, we cannot deny that the product matters too. What I hope evolves from this process is a real understanding of the market(s) for Amsterdam and what the product for those markets will be and should be.

I think this process is the only way to really get a meaningful marketing campaign and slogan. I think it’s too soon to talk about slogans like “Small City Big Heart” without really understanding the market and product. I’m going to resist my puerile, snarky instincts to riff off of the ‘small’ and ‘big’ and instead return to the mission of marketing– selling. While ‘sales’ of our product can’t be measured in units sold, we must establish meaningful metrics to gauge our marketing progress and success. How else will we know how we’re doing?

I think this process is vital and critical to the future. I’m curious to see what evolves.

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