Place Brand Measurement and the Disconnect Between Place Branding Research and Practice

Place branding is an intriguing field – and when I say intriguing, I am not necessarily referring to the complexity of the topic itself. I am talking about the relationship between the practice and study of the topic.

We are all interested about the same phenomena, yet on the study side we alienate practitioners by hiding our studies behind pay-walls (or by using words like ‘phenomena’) while on the practice side, we seem to underestimate the practical implications of academic studies.

I hope through my posts at the Place Brand Observer, I will at least be instrumental in bridging the gap we have. And what better subject to start than measurement! Both practitioners and academics really – badly – want to be able to measure ‘place brands’ and place branding. However, it looks like we are not doing a great job.

I don’t want to give away my ending but here we go – I highly doubt we will be able to devise a tool to measure place brands any time soon. And trust me, it is not because we are not trying.

In this post, I want to talk about a couple of studies that have done a great job in coming up with tools. Two years ago, I also proposed a model. Called “Define-Measure-Visualize”, the model combines semantic and social network analyses.

I still think the model is quite useful in measuring place brand – it just requires a dozen pages on your methodology as well as analysis of data sets that have a couple of millions of observations. I mean, who doesn’t have enough time to discuss the ontology of place brands in detail and go through numerous computer crashes to come up with maps that also require weeks of method training to understand? This brings me to my first point:

1) Academic studies are moving away from practicality.

I mean practicality, not practice. The proposed models are theoreticaly robust – place brands and measurement instruments are defined in length. Yet, they are not practical.

One of the most prolific scholars on this topic, Sebastian Zenker, has presented a model that combines Brand Concept Map with Brand Association Network Value. Despite its validity and usability, it is not easily digestible by non-academics.

Practitioners are more likely to use commercial place branding indices as they present alternatives that are easier to measure. Yet, are they reliable?

Recently, Fabiana Mariutti and Ralph Tench published an article comparing nation brand indexes through the case of Brazil. When looked at Brazil’s position across six indices, the authors find that there is discrepancy in Brazil’s place. They conclude that “nation indexes are complementary” and cannot be used to understand the complexities of place brands.

However, as they also mention in their article, they are also not 100% confident about this argument. Because they do not have access to the commercial data gathering instruments – which brings me to my second point:

2) Practitioners are moving away from academia.

Consultancy-based measurement practices, understandably, work in secrecy. They are not willing to share their data or procedures with third-parties as this might cause them to lose business (despite the fact that this sharing practice also brings the possibility to improve their product).

I would argue the Good Country Index, Simon Anholt’s newest project, might be the only exception to this rule. Its methodology – that relies on secondary data – is publicly available. It measures a country’s contribution to ‘greater humanity’ in “Science & Technology, Culture, International Peace & Security, World Order, Planet & Climate, Prosperity & Equality, and Health & Wellbeing”.

But why these seven criteria? Why not more? Why not less? Why do you use one data source instead of the other? All these questions bring me to my third and last point:

3) We are not sure what we are measuring.

We are not sure about what a place brand is. We seem to argue that we all measure the same thing, but the same country can rank anywhere from 20th to 120th during the same year. Even if we accept that measurement is not precise in place branding, such a volatility raises question marks.

The Good Country Index and the Nation Brand Index – despite their different mandates – are both still about place brands. Which one should we trust more? Which one should we use?

Hopefully, these are the questions academia will help us answer in the upcoming years. As Sebastian Zenker and Erik Braun argue, we need to think about a plethora of definitions, needs, and expectations in place branding.

As people in academia are “rethinking” place brand measurement, they (we) should make sure we include the practice in our re-imagining. Without an open access – removing the academic limitations on academic works and business limitations on knowledge created by practitioners –, we will be better able to understand and measure place brands.

Such a partnership is easier said than done. In my next post, I will position place branding within the larger framework of academia – hopefully helping practitioners to find academic partners more easily.

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Efe Sevin

Efe Sevin is a faculty member at the Department of Public Relations and Information of Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey. His current research focuses on the role of public diplomacy and nation branding on achieving foreign policy objectives. In his role as Academic Observer, Efe shares his thoughts on place branding as academic discipline.

Efe Sevin

Efe Sevin is a faculty member at the Department of Public Relations and Information of Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey. His current research focuses on the role of public diplomacy and nation branding on achieving foreign policy objectives. In his role as Academic Observer, Efe shares his thoughts on place branding as academic discipline.

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