Oliver Zoellner of Stuttgart Media University in southwestern Germany, in this interview takes a down to earth, slightly critical view of the young field of place branding, as we are urged to not disregard negative stereotypes when capturing the essence of places.
- The difficulty in bringing out the essence of places and fighting negative stereotypes in order to build authentic and meaningful stories about them;
- Which product marketing norms apply to places and which don’t;
- The role of diasporas in communicating place bands externally;
- The potential pitfalls of blindly relying on the algorithms of social media platforms to spread your place brand messages;
- A critical perspective on place brand value measurement.
Oliver, what do you understand as the “brand” of places, and what is place branding all about?
From my point of view, place branding is all about making people understand a place, and creating a meaningful image of it – be it a country, a region or a city. When I say ‘meaningful’, I do in fact hint at the complex web of meanings a place can be located in: in many cases quite a manifold web indeed, often contradictory, paradoxical, sometimes even hostile or adverse. But that is what place branders and their clients have to come to terms with and need to understand before embarking on their brand journey. They need to carve out a storyline that captures the essence of the place.
Needless to say that essence ought to have a link with the reality of the territory. Fanciful stories straight from cloud cuckoo land, as beautifully concocted as they may read at first sight, won’t make anyone appreciate the place in the long run. One really shouldn’t aim too short-sightedly at a ‘competitive identity’ (as Simon Anholt beautifully renamed place branding).
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