Building A Brand: The Tasmanian Story

Todd Babiak
CEO, Brand Tasmania

To many, the term “brand” is intimidating and confusing while to others it’s simple, it means a logo and a tagline. Both of these are misconceptions, as using the word “brand” to sum up a complex collection of people and a place… isn’t quite right.

In Tasmania, we use the phrase “unifying cultural expression” as a synonym for our place-brand. We started with hundreds of one-on-one conversations with a representative sample of Tasmanians to find out what makes this place special.

If you’re here, on this exotic island at the bottom of the world, you have probably chosen to be here, whether to visit or to stay. We wanted to find out why? What feels like it can only happen in Tasmania? What are Tasmanians most proud of? Least proud of? Who are Tasmanians at our best? What would break their hearts if they had to leave?

We heard hundreds of stories that followed a similar pattern or plot. We used these recurring themes to create, or uncover, the story of this place and its people. We workshopped it, tested it, taught it, edited it, distilled it, and filled it with the specific experiences of the Tasmanians who inspired it. 

Salamanca Market in Hobart city, Tasmania, Australia

This story is a public asset. Our impossible mission is to unite trade, tourism, workforce attraction and development, our investment pitch, and our invitation to students and researchers. We use the Tasmanian story to inspire and encourage Tasmanians, our partners in this endeavour, and to reach aspiring Tasmanians who might want to be a part of it. 

We know this place isn’t for everyone. But for some people, it’s exactly what they’re looking for.

While it isn’t a marketing line, we do have a phrase that sums up this place and its culture, who we are at our best: “the quiet pursuit of the extraordinary”. In a loud world, this is a place of humility and stillness. On an isolated island you have to be inventive, to follow your passion with grit and determination. And the result is… well, it isn’t ordinary. Our story includes extraordinary projects like 100% renewable electricity and the deeply Tasmanian decision to protect more than half of our land.

This is a boutique economy, powered by new enterprises that tend to compete on quality. And we’re chasing climate positivity, using our renewable energy as a foundation for environmental, economic, social, and cultural growth. 

The “unifying” bit is the hardest part, which any public servant can understand. If we operate like “brand police,” with a rigid set of rules and regulations, we’ll abandon the most powerful part of our work: story, emotion, and the courage to embrace what makes you different, that is, Tasmanian.

If I were to advise anyone on how to create a brand – or a “unifying cultural expression” – that feels true to them I wouldn’t suggest the traditional process: the hiring of an advertising agency that specializes in product branding and marketing. It rarely works. Based on our experience we would propose thinking about culture first, before strategy, or you could end up funding a very expensive campaign that doesn’t solve your problem.

It takes longer, but if you want deep insights into culture, investing in both quantitative (polling) and qualitative (interviews) research is certainly worth doing at the outset. 

And since branding lives in the realm of emotion, a really good, powerful story, must be the unifying force. 

Communication is important. Yes, you will need a website. But a Trojan Horse “project” can often tell your story more effectively than a communications exercise, and it can be an economic and social engine. For example, SXSW in Austin, Texas or cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. 

In Tasmania we’re working on a shared mission toward climate positivity, using our renewable energy as a foundation, and a “Youth Enterprise” project that takes our boutique economy and pattern of success into the school system – so that every young person understands how to create something based on her or his talents and passions, and graduates with a plan. These are tangible, culturally specific ways to tell our story through action.

Todd Babiak, CEO, Brand Tasmania, has worked around the world, building brand stories and turning them into economic, social, and cultural development strategies. He co-founded and worked at Story Engine for eight years before moving to Tasmania, to help implement what he had done as a consultant. He has learned a lot about how government really works. He and his team at Brand Tasmania are in the listening and building business. They want to inspire and encourage Tasmanians and those who want to be Tasmanian to quietly pursue the extraordinary.

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