Andy Pike on Place Brands and Regional Development

Andy Pike, Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) at Newcastle University in the UK, in this interview discusses the geographical political economy of local and regional development and explains how the notion of “Origination” serves to highlight the link between regional development and place brands. 

Learn about:

  • What has changed in local and regional development practice in recent years;
  • How cities and regions can play a role in sustainable development;
  • Some insights on the topic of origination and how geographies can impact branding;
  • Place branding from the point of view of a geographer.

Andy, your central research interest is the geographical political economy of local and regional development. What fascinates you about this topic?

The ways in which states and markets are related and interact are classic themes in political economy. Situating them in a geographical context, my research has sought to address the problem of explaining how cities, localities and regions define, articulate and pursue ‘development’ across the global North and South. The central issue is how actors have sought to broaden its meaning beyond narrowly economic concerns to encompass social, environmental, cultural and political dimensions.

Questions of ‘brand’, ‘branding’ and reputation of cities, localities and regions, intersect with this wider understanding of what development is, can and should be about.

In your view, which has been the most significant change in local and regional development practice in recent years?

Increasing decentralization within states across the world has interrupted the traditional models of top-down, centralized and one-size-fits-all forms of local, regional and urban development thinking, policy and practice.

Growing levels of autonomy, if not always regarding resources, have enhanced the potential to design bottom-up, decentralized and more bespoke approaches to development by the city, local and regional actors. Most states are challenged by connecting bottom-up and top-down models, working alongside and along with central national states in multi-actor and multi-level governance systems.

Which role does city or regional branding play with regards to a sustainable development of cities and regions?

The use of the terms ‘brands’ and ‘branding’ in territorial development in cities, localities and regions has raised some potentialities. Places get to accept that they have image and reputation, which they can either manage or neglect. Also, they connect cultural concerns to economic, social, environmental and political discussions about what ‘development’ means.

Yet place managers and marketers are faced with the problem that branding techniques used for goods and services cannot simply be adopted for places because the attributes and characteristics of their brand are much more complex and difficult to capture.

Applying traditional branding strategies to places has paradoxically led to making cities look more alike and indistinct, rather than heterogeneous and unique.

The outcomes and impacts of territorial brands and branding have proved difficult to evidence and measure as it is hard to attribute and identify causality to brand/branding initiatives, and their effects are typically longer-term and subject to many and complex influences.

Origination, geographies of brands and brandingLast year you published the book Origination: The Geographies of Brands and Branding. Which are the main insights of the book?

From Latin American coffee and Thai silks to Danish furniture and Hollywood films, geographical associations add untold meaning and value to commodities. Yet while social science research has long focused on the ‘country of origin’ and its inextricable links to consumer behavior, it has failed to develop critical ways of thinking about the geographies of brands and branding that encompass and extend beyond this national frame.

Origination addresses this gap by introducing the innovative theoretical and conceptual framework of origination to understand how the actors involved in goods and services commodity brands and branding create meaning and value through processes of geographical association.

To illustrate concepts and facilitate understanding, origination is explored through case studies of three different brands. “Local” origination is explored through an in-depth analysis of Newcastle Brown Ale. “National” origination is addressed by the examination of the iconic Burberry brand, and finally “global” origination is discussed in relation to the Apple brand.

Origination provides innovative insights into the integral role of geographical associations in creating meaning and value in brands and branding in the contemporary international economy. Actors with interests in territorial development have tried to connect and influence such geographical associations to benefit specific development strategies for particular territories.

Material outcomes such as output, investment and jobs have been sought alongside symbolic, discursive and visual signs or markers of capability, competence and reputation in the international competition – among increasingly branded territories – to attract, embed and retain resources for development.

Transitions in the activities and geographical distributions of economic activities within global value chains are reshaping the economic geographies and territorial development. Regulatory devices have been used as part of the efforts to fix economic activities in place through protection of the geographical associations and origination of brands.

From a geographer’s point of view, what are place brands all about?

Brands and branding have been the subject of interest across social science. However, the ways in which the geographies of space and place are inescapably intertwined with brands and branding have been unevenly recognized and under-researched.

Brands and branding geographies matter in this context because the spatial and multi-faceted nature of brands intersect economic, social, cultural and political worlds; they are simultaneously economic as goods and services in markets, social as collectively produced, circulated and consumed objects, cultural as entities providing meanings and identities and political as regulated intellectual properties, traded financial assets and contested symbols.

The inherently geographical nature of brands and branding are entangled in the myriad efforts of actors in cities, localities and regions to differentiate their assets and competences through brand and branding strategies in the service of particular constructions of ‘development’.

Often place brands and branding might play a contributory and complementary role in city, local and regional development. Pinning hopes of salvation on brands and branding has often been proved risky and not an especially fruitful strategy. When brands and branding for territories work effectively, it is often for certain periods of time and due to their alignment with other efforts that focus on the fundamentals of development including productivity, growth, skills, and sustainability.

In the era of volatility and disruptive changes, the adaptive competence of cities, localities and regions is critical.

Thank you, Andy.

More about the work of Professor Andy Pike at the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies here.

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