Some years ago, Robert Govers, together with Erik van ‘t Klooster and Gerard Van Keken in the Netherlands developed a neat set of place branding principles to guide the brand development and management of cities, regions, destinations and countries. Here’s what they wrote:
Place Branding Principles: In a globalized world, places increasingly vie for attention. In such a highly competitive environment, place branding can help by building competitive identity in order to influence perceived images in relevant markets. In particular, sustainable competitive advantage can be created by building brand equity in relation to the identity of the nation, region, local area or city or town.
We think that place branding is about bridging gaps between: the identity or sense of place; its product offering; the experience that visitors (tourists, expats, potential investors and traders) get when they visit; and the image / perception that people have of a place.
Communication (which is not the same as advertising) is an important policy area that can be exploited in bridging these gaps, but probably more important in place branding is ‘construction’ and ‘cooperation’ (or ‘placemaking’).
Construction is about product development or real actions / policy initiatives that support the brand claims (e.g. development of infrastructure, events, cooperative quality improvement programs, as well as the creation of icons or other symbolic actions).
Cooperation is about finding common ground between stakeholders, private and public sector and civil society, in order to determine what makes a place unique and attractive and to make sure that institutions, companies, but also residents “live the brand”.
To put it differently: we agree with prolific place branding author Simon Anholt when he states that “actions speak louder than words”.
Five Place Branding Principles
Place branding is above all about the distinctiveness of place. What makes your place unique when you compare it to other places / competitors? What are the core values of the place’s brand? What is the brand promise?
A broad solid basis for the place brand is established by involving stakeholders in:
- the identification of key characteristics of the place brand inspired by the identity or sense of place,
- finding the link with existing perceived and projected images in relevant markets (i.e. what do people currently think and say about us), and
- the design of authentic customised and co-created place experiences in practice.
In other words, authenticity in place branding is about people co-creating things that matter to them.
When a place has a unique and distinctive sense of place, it becomes memorable. Memorable means that the enjoyable experience at that certain place, conquered space in your mind and your heart. So that you might think of living or investing there, or return one day.
Place branding is not a top-down exercise but will only produce the best results when it is created and maintained through a strong coalition between government, business, civil society and target markets (investors, expats, travel trade, press).
5. Place Making
Place branding is not about a good slogan, logo and nice promotional campaigns.
In the experience economy an integrative place branding strategy is needed to capture the hearts and attention of visitors. This means that the place brand should be supported by policies, innovations, events, structures, investments and symbolic actions.