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Mirella Vitale, SVP Marketing, Communications & Public Affairs at ROCKWOOL Group, has 15+ years as an influential global B2B branding leader.
Reinvention is never easy—whether an aging toy brand, a global DVD rental business, or a city that has fallen on hard times. But with proper product development, solid marketing, and the right amount of ingenuity, the reimagination of any brand, business or city is possible.
Products and brands are forced to reinvent themselves all the time. Play-Doh, Netflix, Slack and others launched with one idea and pivoted due to lack of market interest, disruption or transformation. The same is true for cities.
Taranto, Italy is one such city that has proven reinvention is absolutely possible. A meaningful vision that unites people with a clear purpose, a marketing strategy with partnership opportunities, and relevant communications to both residents and visitors has made a difference for this remarkable city, which is now an inspiration to many others around the world.
Let’s start with a little background. Taranto is a beautiful coastal city in the Puglia region of southern Italy. It lies between two bays called Mar Grande (Big Sea) and Mar Piccolo (Little Sea) and is home to Italy’s second biggest naval base.
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But, Taranto is also known for its massive steel plant. In recent years, the city found itself regularly in the news after the steel plant came under scrutiny due to increased pollution emissions and a controversial fight over the plant’s future. Additionally, Taranto has been affected by a decade-long “brain drain” trend in Italy where more than a million people moved from the south to the more affluent north in search for better opportunities.
Amid these difficulties, how does a city reinvent itself, motivate its current citizens, provide opportunities for young people, and attract both new residents and visitors?
First and foremost: A good marketing strategy. You read that right—a solid marketing strategy that changes and boosts the positioning of the city is step number one.
Here are four marketing strategies cities can use to improve their brand in just a few short years:
1. Highlight unique aspects of the destination.
While not generally considered to be a big tourist destination, Taranto is fortunate to have a renowned Greek and Roman history, and its National Museum is one of the finest Magna Graecia institutions in Italy, in addition to many other local attractions. Taranto’s revitalization marketing strategy included promoting these unique and significant sites and truly showcasing the city’s deep history.
When it comes to destination marketing, the number one thing to do is identify the unique selling points—and focus your marketing around them. Whether a historical museum, unstoppable sports team or exceptional live music scene, it’s your city’s one-of-a-kind allure that should command your advertising and marketing budgets.
2. Create content and drive exposure with influencer programs.
Taranto municipality invested in an extensive urban transformation initiative, considered to be among the most ambitious in Italy. After one district in the city commissioned two giant murals on their downtown buildings, a street art project called T.R.U.St. (Taranto Regeneration Urban Street) was introduced to transform Taranto into an open-air art museum and bring art to the people. Business owners and homeowners can now apply to have one side of their house painted by a local street artist (influencer!)—literally transforming the city into a walking art museum.
3. Host a challenge to drive press coverage and entice new visitors to your city.
So the marketing strategy appealed to tourists and current residents—but what about enticing new people to move to the coastal city?
In what can only be described as the centerpiece of the extraordinary marketing strategy, Taranto made headlines when they announced that new residents could buy an apartment for just 1 euro. That’s correct: The city is currently offering 15 council-owned buildings in the city’s Old Town based on a strict commitment that the new owner will appropriately renovate their new property and live there. The goal is to save these historic buildings greatly in need of restoration and updating, while attracting a vibrant and committed new group of local residents. And pending the success of the program, there’s the potential for more buildings to hit the market at the 1 euro price tag.
An exclusive or unusual challenge or contest, particularly something that’s never been done before, can garner big press attention which is one of the best and low cost ways to drum up awareness of your city.
4. Employ event-based destination marketing.
This last spring, Taranto was a showcase to sailing enthusiasts. Given its maritime nature, Taranto was among the venues hosting the SailGP international sailing competition featuring high performance wing sail catamarans in close-to-shore races.
Event-based marketing is a must-have part of any destination-based marketing strategy. Hosting this global event helped raise awareness of the city and increase tourism. My company was a team sponsor and hosting this event so close to my home gave me the opportunity to introduce colleagues and friends to the wonderful city of Taranto.
Innovative solutions, widespread renovation of buildings and a stellar marketing plan can transform any city into a highly desirable place to live, work and visit. Add the appeal of climate, culture and cuisine, and you’ve got a city that’s found new life.
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Author: Mirella Vitale, Forbes Councils Member