Björn P. Jacobsen, Professor at Stralsund University of Applied Science in Northern Germany and former Managing Principal at Luebeck Business Development Corporation, in this interview discusses the benefits and challenges of interregional and cross-border place branding.
- The role and importance of place branding from an economic development point of view;
- The four kinds of places, in terms of brand;
- Interregional place branding: benefits, challenges and examples;
- How universities benefit from strong city brands, and vice versa;
- The investor-based place brand equity model.
Björn, do you remember what first attracted your interest in the study of place branding as a tool for economic development?
I became interested in place branding due to the developments I witnessed in the economic development profession. Traditionally, economic development concentrated on – and often still does – providing infrastructure, hardware and subsidies. Places tried to attract much needed investment on the basis of who was granting the biggest amount of investment incentives.
No place can win this game over the long run, so we decided to slowly move away from this strategy, and to focus our efforts on developing a place brand instead.
As a scholar with strong background in strategic place brand development, what role do you think place branding and marketing play with regard to sustainable economic development of cities or regions?
You won’t be surprised by my answer. Sustainable economic development is based on functions of a place, as well as the emotions people attach to it. Place brands – responsible for the emotional part – are therefore an important part of implementing economic development strategies.
Only investing in the functional attributes of a place is no longer enough. For us as place brand experts this seems to be clear. But for decision makers in economic development, whose primary focus has been on the real estate business for decades, this sounds like rocket science. But it is not. You just need to take the perspective of investors putting together their short list of best locations to invest in. A strong place brand (and hence place branding) is a precondition for ending up on this short list.
For today’s economic development organizations, the question is no longer if you invest in place branding, but rather how much.
In your view, what is place branding all about? And how do you distinguish between branding, marketing and economic development initiatives?
Well, I do believe to have a very simplistic view of place branding. Partly because in my profession I had to explain it again and again to political and administrative staff in an easy way. I usually distinguish four different situations of a place: