Project partners Streekplatform+ Meetjesland
Key words participative approach, network, development strategy, profile, public-private partnership
Main problems to be solved (analysis) Meetjesland is a rural region in Flanders between the cities of Gent and Bruges. In a strongly urbanized Flanders, the Meetjesland is a region with an exceptional high amount of open space (80%). As in many rural areas, the region is characterised by rather small municipalities, and by a large network of many organisations working on regional development. In Flanders, the Meetjesland is not one of the most known or most popular regions for e.g. tourism and soft recreation.
In 2007 a Brand for the region was launched, as part of a ‘Future Plan 2020’. The reasons for wanting to brand the region were: -countering the poor, somewhat old and dull image of the Meetjesland -countering the fact that the region is rather unknown in Flanders and further (knowing the name of the region, its geographic location and its assets) -poor cooperation between municipalities concerning regional profiling and long term strategy -many small players in a rural region: lack of leading politicians, lack of a leading big city, lack of decision makers in industry, lack of university and research & development activities, ... as catalysts for regional development.
Policy frameworks to be dealt with/fitting in Achieving the support and cooperation in the regional communication strategy, by integrating the brand goals in the policy documents of our 13 municipalities. And by integrating the regional brand in all communication products of each municipality (via the contact person of the communication officer).
Aim of the project The projects aims are based on commitment and partnership of many stakeholders concerning the following issues: -profiling the Meetjesland as a strong, dynamic region, via its brand and the regional strategy plan ‘Meetjesland 2020’ The Strategic Plan ‘Meetjesland 2020’ consists of 9 goals. They concern: 1. Landscape quality 2. Lively village centers 3. Future to our economy 4. Well organised mobility 5. Transregional cooperation 6. Encouraging education and governmental reorganisation 7. Effective and efficient regional organisation 8. A strong brand for the region 9. Sustainability
-enhancing the regional identity and the feeling of ‘belonging to’ of the inhabitants -stimulating cooperation and entrepreneurship: the commitment of an increasing number of stakeholders (local governments, regional organisations, associations, companies, ...) in becoming a brand promoter themselves by using the brand and supporting the brand values. -Proving the added value of brand use to local entrepreneurs by making new cross-sectoral links between different kinds of entrepreneurs.
(Expected) Results -A region well-known by its inhabitants. This is reflected in the fact that more and more inhabitants call themselves ‘Meetjeslanders’. Since a few years the word ‘Meetjesland’ is picked up by the press more and more. -A strong positive image, as well in as outside the region, via the brand values (eg. the open space landscapes and silent recreation, lively village centres and their events, a strong regional network, ...). -Increasing involvement of stakeholders in using the brand: municipalities and regional organisations use the brand on their promotion products (websites, magazines, brochures, ...) following the co-branding principle: always using your own logo, next to the Meetjesland brand. This demonstrates mutual reinforcement. - An increasing number of entrepreneurs using the regional brand, also in a co-branding approach. This includes switching from individual promotion of your own business, to a model in which entrepreneurs are joined in clusters. These clusters invest in common promotion efforts and in client sharing. Clusters of entrepreneurs in the region: Bed&Breakfasts, Hotels, Cafés, Events, Story tellers, regional products, ... A tourist or visitor in one place, is informed fully about other entrepreneurs in the network, which was a few years ago absolutely not the case.
(Expected) outcome within the WP -There are a number of annual events and products that contribute strongly to the publicity of the Meetjesland brand and to the cohesion of the network partners: *a New Years reception, attended by 400 stakeholders *a Midsummer event, attended by ± 200 stakeholders and ‘Meetjesland Friends’ *a Meetjesland Magazine, spread to the 180.000 inhabitants of the region and to acquaintances outside the region -Apart from these annual actions, there are unique events, actions and products. They concern the 4th step in the ‘Branding Steps Plan’ (see Manual of WP2): Implementation of the Brand. Eg: road signs all along the region (‘Welcome to the Meetjesland’), a car-sticker-action for the public, a Summer Meetjesland Tour (3 summers) along the biggest events (+ 1000 visitors), postcard action, exhibition about entrepreneurship, ... -Finally, the result of many meetings and consults with partners and stakeholders, is that the group of ‘brand believers’ and users keeps increasing and that a network of closely related Meetjesland ambassadors is formed.
(Expected) outcome for the region as a whole
People: Enhanced social cohesion between the inhabitants. Enhanced cohesion (cooperative spirit) between all the partners and stakeholders. The brand as ‘flywheel’ for integrated, innovative projects that thrust the region forward.
Profit: a region with a strong, dynamic profile should be able to attract new economic activities and employment opportunities (eg in tourism, regional products, knowledge economy)
Implementation of the project (cf. CAA) which stakeholders were involved? what process did you run through to fit the project into local conditions? how did you sustainably implement the project (locally, regionally)?
-In the formation process of the brand ‘Meetjesland, maak het mee’, a ‘Future Group’ was involved: a mixture between experienced regional workers and new, creative, young people who look at the region from a distance. -In promoting the brand, all 13 municipalities as well as the main regional organisations (Tourisme, Culture, Rural Center, ...) were involved from the start. Since everyone agreed on the fact that the region needed a brand and profiling, their involvement was easy to achieve. We consulted and involved: coordinators of regional organisations, communication officers of the municipalities, mayors, webmasters, ... -In 2012 a ‘Brand Manual’ was written and published, together with Tourism Meetjesland and the Rural Centre (who have many entrepreneurs in their network). This Manual describes the objectives of the brand, and some basic rules for brand users (registration, layout style, ...). The second objective of the Brand Manual is to stimulate more entrepreneurs to start using the brand and to follow the brand values.
KEY QUESTIONS LIST
1 Which successes were achieved so far in the pilot project? A success is the remaining support for the regions brand by the primary stakeholders, even 5 years after launching the regions brand. Politicians and regional workers really appreciate the fact that there is a strong brand. An inquiry proved that about 80% of the inhabitants recognize the brand.
- what is the background / main reason for these successes? *The awareness of the need to profile our region, to make it well-known. *The fact that the logo is nicely designed and modern, and is seen as an attractive logo that reflects the regions values (eg. the green landscapes and poplar trees). *The fact that a network approach was chosen: everyone can use the regional brand (after registration to a website), as long as it is co-branded next to an own logo. This means that more than 50 organisations, municipalities and entrepreneurs are promoting their own activities, as well as the Meetjesland brand.
- what set-backs or problems did you face and what were the reasons for this? *convincing entrepreneurs to promote the regions brand, was difficult in the first years. Now the group brand users is starting to increase. They affect each other with ideas and with their motivations on why the brand is successful for their business. *municipalities have to be reminded regularly that they are supposed to co-promote the region via its brand. Sometimes they ‘forget’ or have excuses (like layout-problems, etc).
- are there any break-down patterns to be recognized in the project? - are these set-backs, problems or break-down patterns easy to solve? How? - what are the DO’s and the DON’Ts of the project? *Launching a regions brand in a network approach (= co-branding by many brand promoters) was a calculated ‘gamble’, which turned out to be the most effective approach! But: *We – as legal owners of the logo – must constantly check the correct use of the brand: is it co-branded (used next to the own logo), is it used in the right colours, is there unallowed deformation or incorrect colours, ...? Can the partner be trusted, and is he acting conform the brand values? If the brand is totally ‘let loose’, important stakeholders could give up their engagement.
- what are critical success factors in this project? *Support of the relevant stakeholders in the use of the brand. Eg: 11 municipalities were prepared to have the brand on major road signs along the access roads of their territories. This has enhanced the knowing of the brand of the inhabitants. *Apart from a logo, you need a content: brand values and future objectives for the region *Ongoing brand activities, continuous and consistent use of the brand in publications, flyers, websites, ...
2 What are the expected boundary conditions for the project to be implemented? - in terms of policy frameworks Awareness of local politicians of the importance of a strong region, and of a strong brand (profiling). They can only benefit from it! - in terms of physical circumstances - in terms of involvement of people / partnerships / entrepreneurs / public bodies See critical success factors on the stakeholder involvement. Entrepreneurs have to believe in the brand values, which is not always so easy. Sometimes the link to their business is indirect rather than direct. Their clients have to be receptive. - in terms of budget and financial support The ability to raise funds in the future for continuation of brand actions and publications, and for the involvement of brand users.
3 Which related projects can be studied or consulted (other innovative best practice examples) before starting to think on implementation? *Collabor8 (Interrreg North West) *PROWAD (Interreg North Sea) *The case West-Cork (Ireland): this region is one of the best known cases of branding in Europe. We started our branding process in a joint project with West-Cork. There are many similarities (e.g. the network approach with many brand users), but also fundamental differences.
4 What is the applicability / transferability of the project? a) as derived from the project results - in terms of critical mass (physical, social, budget) - in terms of the needs of the region or location - in terms of the starting point for implementation - in terms of participation and organization The network approach (this is: many brand users, instead of one) has proven to be exceptional, but successful! It is hard work, but it is profitable. - in terms of time needed for implementation The brand is now 5 years old. It is clear that it needs constant attention in terms of continuous use of the brand. - in terms of expected outcome (spin off for other fields: physical, social, economical)
b) as derived from testing or implementation the project or the project results elsewhere. What were the results there?
5 Which tools does the project bring in to alleviate / help starting up implementation elsewhere? See above: *the network approach (the system of many brand users, instead of one) *a Brand Manual
6 Sustainability a) How is/can the project be sustainably implemented? What is needed to reach this? - in terms of organization *A ‘central organisation’, preferably the juridical owner of the brand, that manages the brand, that has supervision over the use and the correct use by all partners. *A committee that supports this task of supervision, and helps stimulating the use of the brand. - in terms of regional / local networks/partnerships / people See network approach - in terms of budget Continuous need of budget for brand actions and publicity