Place Image and Reputation: Definition, Concepts, Theory

Place branding is about influencing people’s perception, the image they hold of a particular place, be it a city, region, country or tourist destination. But what exactly are place images and how – or due to which factors – does a place gain a certain reputation?

Learn about:

  • Perceptions of places;
  • Factors influencing place image and reputation;
  • Place reputation;
  • The six dimensions of national reputation.

Perceptions of Places

According to Haider, Kotler and Rein (1994, p. 3), place images are “the sum of beliefs, ideals, and impressions people have toward a certain place.” Shields (1991), on the other hand, regards place images as “the various discrete meanings associated with real places or regions regardless of their character in reality” (p. 60).

Various authors have stressed that people’s perceptions of places tend to be vague (O’Shaughnessy & O’Shaugnessy, 2000), and do not necessarily reflect local realities (Anholt, 2007; Dinnie, 2008; Walsh & Wiedmann, 2008). According to Anholt (2007, p. 1), people “navigate through the complexity of the modern world armed with a few simple clichés, [which] form the background of our opinions.”

Even though people’s associations and experiences with specific places are likely to differ due to distinctive needs and purposes (Hankinson, 2004; Hart & Stachow, 2010; Relph, 1976; Warnaby, 2009), when shared and widely accepted, their images can become stereotypical for those places (Boisen, Terlouw, & Bouke, 2011).

Perceptions derived from stereotyping, “the process of generalizing to an entire class of objects from a limited number of observations” (Papadopoulos & Heslop, 2002, p. 295), are not easily altered as once established, the core images on which those stereotypes draw tend to be persistent and stable (Coyle & Fairweather, 2005; Shields, 1991).

Therefore, “even when we hear something new and surprising about another country, this may not affect our mental image of the country at all, which remains securely stowed in the mental compartment marked fundamental beliefs” (Anholt, 2011, pp. 29-30). The truth is:

Barring their close neighbors, most people in the world really only respect, occasionally think about, claim to know about, and generally admire a maximum of 14 or 15 countries apart from their own, and these are major, industrialized democracies in Western Europe and the English-speaking world, plus Japan and Brazil. (Anholt, 2011, p. 30)

While this might sound exaggerated, the message is clear: a high profile, or respect, does not come easily to those countries not part of the international political or economic elite. In those cases, extra effort is required to create a favorable image overseas.

Yet, place images cannot easily be controlled (Papadopoulos & Heslop, 2002). As noted earlier, places “are surrounded by entire symbolic complexes of images originating from diverse sources” (McGibbon, 2006, p. 142), and, as Papen (2005) has noted in a tourist destination context, are often subject to competing discourses.

Factors Influencing Place Image and Reputation

Place images are further shaped by culture, history and locality (Florek & Insch, 2008; Hart & Stachow, 2010; Murphy, 2010; Relph, 1976), even famous citizens (Dinnie, 2008). As Relph (1976, p. 59) posits, they are not formed “simply in terms of patterns of physical and observable features, nor just as products of attitudes, but as an indissociable combination of these.”

Because no whole picture of a place exists “that can be ‘filled in’ since the perception and filling of a gap lead to the awareness of other gaps” (Shields, 1991, p. 18), place images are highly diverse and multi-faceted, “partial and often either exaggerated or understated” (Shields, 1991, p. 60).

Conservative nature of place images

Whereas a sustained impact of single events on people’s image of a place is unlikely following the argumentation of the conservative and inert nature of place images once established, this is not to say that place myths and stereotypes might not change, for example as a result of changes in societal expectations (Roper, 2010).

In fact, clichés, stereotypes or prejudices are likely to gradually change if the people and organizations in those places start to change what they do and how they behave (Anholt, 2007).

Symbolic actions, anything “especially suggestive, remarkable, memorable, picturesque, newsworthy, topical, poetic, touching, surprising, or dramatic,” can help create positive stories of places, so long as those symbolic actions are “swiftly followed by further and equally remarkable proof” (Anholt, 2011, p. 26-27).

Place Reputation – Aggregate of Place Image Over Time

Understood as the aggregate of place images over time (Passow, Fehlmann, & Grahlow, 2005), reputation differs from image in that it is centered on long-term impressions built around numerous images and actions (Fombrun & Shanley, 1990).

In an organisational context, according to Rindova, Williamson, Petkova, and Sever (2005), reputation is generally attributed two dimensions: first, how stakeholders perceive the quality of specific attributes in the context of the organisation, and second, the degree to which an organisation is recognized collectively.

Also, from a business perspective, reputation has been defined as the combination of a firm’s public prominence, its public esteem, and the qualities or attributes associated with it (Carroll, 2011b).

Public prominence

Carroll and McCombs (2003) argue that for firms to acquire a reputation, the public must first think about them. In other words, public prominence refers to the degree to which a company or organisation is recognized on a large-scale and salient in the minds of stakeholders (Carroll, 2011a, p. 223; Rindova et al., 2005).

Public esteem

Public esteem stands for “the degree to which the public likes, trusts, admires, and respects an organisation” (Carroll, 2011a, p. 224).

The Six Dimensions of National Reputation

The importance of social appeal, or public esteem, is further emphasized by the six dimensions of national reputation identified by Passow et al. (2005, p. 313) as:

  • emotional appeal (likeability, respectfulness, and trustworthiness);
  • physical appeal (attractiveness of a place and its infrastructure);
  • financial appeal (favorable environment for investors, such as the level of industrial growth, taxation, and safety);
  • leadership appeal (charismatic leadership and a clear vision);
  • cultural appeal (socio-cultural diversity, history, entertainment);
  • social appeal (the perceived responsibility as a member of the global community and the manifest support for good causes).

Clearly, if countries are increasingly expected to act as responsible members of the global community (Anholt, 2010a, 2010b), then their perceived emotional, leadership and social appeal in particular will be essential for their ability to build and maintain a favorable reputation.


Anholt, S. (2007). Competitive identity: The new brand management for nations, cities and regions. Houndsmills, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.

Anholt, S. (2010a). Places: Identity, image and reputation. Houndsmills, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.

Anholt, S. (2010b). Towards ‘governmental social responsibility’. Journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 6(2), 69-75. doi:

Anholt, S. (2011). Competitive identity. In N. Morgan, A. Pritchard & R. Pride (Eds.), Destination brands: Managing place reputation (3rd ed., pp. 21-32). Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Boisen, M., Terlouw, K., & Bouke, v.G. (2011). The selective nature of place branding and the layering of spatial identities. Journal of Place Management and Development, 4(2), 135-147. doi: 10.1108/17538331111153151

Carroll, C.E. (2011). Corporate reputation and the news media in the United States. In C.E. Carroll (Ed.), Corporate reputation and the news media: Agenda-setting within business news coverage in developed, emerging, and frontier markets (pp. 221-240). New York, NY: Routledge.

Carroll, C.E. (2011). International perspectives on agenda-setting theory applied to business news. In C.E. Carroll (Ed.), Corporate reputation and the news media: Agenda-setting within business news coverage in developed, emerging, and frontier markets (pp. 3-14). New York, NY: Routledge.

Carroll, C.E., & McCombs, M. (2003). Agenda-setting effects of business news on the public’s images and opinions about major corporations. Corporate Reputation Review, 6(1), 36-46. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.crr.1540188

Coyle, F., & Fairweather, J. (2005). Challenging a place myth: New Zealand’s clean green image meets the biotechnology revolution. Area, 37(2), 148-158. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2005.00617.x

Dinnie, K. (2008). Nation branding: Concepts, issues, practice. Oxford, United Kingdom: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Florek, M., & Insch, A. (2008). The trademark protection of country brands: Insights from New Zealand. Journal of Place Management and Development, 1(3), 292-306. doi: 10.1108/17538330810911271

Fombrun, C.J., & Shanley, M. (1990). What’s in a name? Reputation building and corporate strategy. Academy of Management Journal, 33(2), 233-258.

Haider, D., Kotler, P., & Rein, I. (1994). There’s no place like our place! Public Management, 76(2), 15-18.

Hankinson, G. (2004). The brand images of tourism destinations: A study of the saliency of organic images. Product & Brand Management, 13(1), 6-14. doi: 10.1108/10610420410523803

Hart, C., & Stachow, G. (2010). Exploring place image: Formation and measurement. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 6(2), 145-155. doi:

McGibbon, J. (2006). Teppich-swingers and skibums: Differential experiences of ski tourism in the Tirolean Alps. In K. Meethan, A. Anderson & S. Miles (Eds.), Tourism consumption and representation: Narratives of place and self (pp. 140-157). Wallingford, UK: CAB International.

Murphy, P. (2010). The intractability of reputation: Media coverage as a complex system in the case of Martha Stewart. Journal of Public Relations Research, 22(2), 209-237. doi: 10.1080/10627261003601648

O’Shaughnessy, J., & O’Shaugnessy, N.J. (2000). Treating the nation as a brand: Some neglected issues. Journal of Macromarketing, 20(1), 56-64. doi: 10.1177/0276146700201006

Papadopoulos, N., & Heslop, L. (2002). Country equity and country branding: Problems and prospects. The Journal of Brand Management, 4(5), 294-314. doi: 10.1057/

Papen, U. (2005). Exclusive, ethno and eco: Representations of culture and nature in tourism discourses in Namibia. In A. Jaworski & A. Pritchard (Eds.), Discourse, communication and tourism. Clevedon, United Kingdom: Channel View Publications.

Passow, T., Fehlmann, R., & Grahlow, H. (2005). Country reputation – from measurement to management: The case of Liechtenstein. Corporate Reputation Review, 7(4), 309-326. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.crr.1540229

Relph, E. (1976). Place and placelessness. London, UK: Pion.

Rindova, V.P., Williamson, I.O., Petkova, A.P., & Sever, J.M. (2005). Being good or being known: An empirical examination of the dimensions, antecedents, and consequences of organizational reputation. The Academy of Management Journal, 48(6), 1033-1049.

Roper, J. (2010). CSR as issues management. Paper presented at the 60th Annual International Communication Association Conference, Singapore.

Shields, R. (1991). Places on the margin: alternative geographies of modernity. London, UK: Routledge.

Walsh, G., & Wiedmann, K.P. (2008). Branding Germany: Managing internal and external country reputation. In K. Dinnie (Ed.), Nation branding: Concepts, issues, practice (pp. 154-160). Oxford, United Kingdom: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Warnaby, G. (2009). Towards a service-dominant place marketing logic. Marketing Theory, 9(4), 403-423. doi: 10.1177/1470593109346898

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