Place brand management: what to control, and how to initiate place brand action planning?
A few key takeaways:
- Brand management is not controlled by a single entity but by a group of stakeholders.
- It is essential to set a standard style and tone of communication in brand messaging when ideas or suggestions pour in from different entities.
- Communicate the rhythm/pulse of the place in its truest sense with a holistic approach utilizing city infrastructure, influencers. Engage with nonprofits like chambers of commerce, universities, etc, and players from the private sector.
- One central team should act as the focal point to keep a tab on the process of brand management, disperse information, monitor success rate, and provide the necessary training and tools for a successful brand campaign.
- Brand managers should not just rely on advertising, public relations, sales, and online marketing but seek other channels to creatively communicate the idea of a place.
- After a successful plan is in place, the next crucial step is the implementation. Prioritizing brand objectives, raising funds, and keeping track of the progress is the next challenge.
- Brand managers should focus on the natural strengths of the place and its human resources instead of trying to include every element of the place.
1.4 million – allegedly that’s how many messages a country brand sends every day (on average). Taking this as a starting point, we are able to influence only a negligible part of these messages. In the case of cities, we are certainly able to influence (or even control) brand messages sent by local authorities and related institutions and organizations.
In Warsaw, this kind of process is underway. The Brand Office invites various internal brand stakeholders to special workshops. It inspires and encourages the harmonization of communication within the Warsaw brand. At the same time, it collects information about planned activities for the next year, which can be part of brand communication.
In this way, there is a chance that the brand action plan will be created. And regardless of who will implement the action, it will be in line with the brand’s assumptions.
There is not really much to control in managing a brand, especially in today’s more digitalized world. What is important is to build or facilitate the creation of infrastructure (platform, forums, assembly points) where the planning can start.
In many cases, a good action plan is not in the planning per se, but in creating the conditions within which the action planning can thrive.
Many place marketers overlook the importance of brand management or limit their brand oversight to simply ensuring that the logo is used correctly. Then there is the more conventional view of brand management that centers on managing the visual identity and content of communications, such as advertising, public relations, sales, and online marketing.
The focus of brand management should be on accurately and innovatively conveying and delivering on the brand promise of the location. Today, place branding calls for a holistic approach that may involve the lead organization in liaising in regard to placemaking, wayfinding, infrastructure, visitor services, interpretation, partnerships, and experience design with key partners.
The brand management challenge for those leading a place branding initiative is that they do not control all elements of the brand and must rely on independent, and sometimes, competing partners, to fulfill the brand promise. The lead organization is left to manage what they can control, influence what they can’t, and continuously work to inspire and inform partners to align, when appropriate, their actions with the brand.
Before you know what to control and measure you need to understand exactly what the specific and general goals of the brand are.
From my point of view, improving the lives of local people is always the overall goal, specific goals developed from the vocations of the place.
Once the initial planning has been defined, the selection of control and success metrics is passed.
Initially, we have two fronts: performance and perception.
The best path, in my opinion, is the sum of the two paths, how place brand will be seen and perceived along with measuring their performance.
Control the actualization of the brand promise at key touchpoints. And, control the proactive design and deployment of product development aimed at strengthening the brand promise (or minimally ensuring it remains authentic over time). The decentralized nature of the promised delivery and decision making around asset creation, infrastructure investment, public policy/program decision makes this a real challenge in place branding.
Control the “networking”. Establish yourself as the hub for all actors that want to talk about your place’s brand.
Controlling the message is an ineffective attempt at best (and plain futile at worst).
If you are tasked with rebranding a place and are looking for a concrete first step – talk with nonprofits that have been representing the place. I mean, chambers of commerce, volunteer tourist guides, universities – basically the individuals and institutions that have been representing the place so far.
The overall narrative of the brand is what you need to control. Spot the stories that support your narrative, support the events that build your brand, bring in the right influencers to communicate your brand and run workshops that help the private sector understand how the brand of origin can be an asset for their marketing and product development.
As an academic, I should say that planning comes first – you cannot control if you do not have a plan. The second thing to consider is timing. If marketing and promotional events are in line with the overall brand strategy, then feedback from one event could become the planning basis for subsequent events. We employ this approach for activities like “Buy local”, but surely the approach can be extended.
A destination is defined as a line of interdependent dimensions, which needs to be managed and coordinated because of the affected image. In this sense, destination branding is a relevant activity if it optimizes and coordinates the supply function with the demand from its inhabitants, companies, and tourists. Hence, the destination brand manager has the relevant role of developing strategies that guarantee a match with the consumers’ needs.
Likewise, the destination must develop tools that minimize the risk of a consumer’s negative experiences. This is an important aspect of destination brand management because consumers will use past experiences to evaluate future alternatives. They will also use opinions from friends, relatives and social media, which implies that a negative experience might not only impact directly on the tourist but it could also have an impact on potential consumers because of the word-of-mouth (wom) effect.
Brand managers will be able to manage their offer if the destination’s value proposition is clear for all stakeholders. Therefore, it can be argued that destination brands, like other brands, should have a well-defined and well-thought-out value proposition composed by its different functional, emotional and self-expressive benefits. The benefits that compose the value proposition should take into account the tourist motivations for consumption at a given time.
A country brand project must be managed like any other branding project. The difference is that the product is not designed or controlled, so the key is to work on the causes and reasons why perceptions of a place might not be the desired ones.
In the future, brand management structures may increasingly become supportive rather than controlling. The brand executive team doesn’t own the brand nor the strategy and shouldn’t be the sole responsibility for its implementation, but rather provide key stakeholders with the necessary training and practical tools – enabling them to endorse the strategy themselves.
Alongside that supportive role, the brand management team has another fundamental responsibility: monitoring measurement of the strategy’s overall success, allowing for the immediate, direct, and precise intervention of project managers in the occurrence of non-compliance. This is increasingly important as the practice of place branding is entering a new era – shaped by the Digital Identity of Places – in which reacting faster (especially to problems) brings more success opportunities.
In my experience, and all too often, people involved in developing place brand strategies heave a big sigh of relief when they finalize their brand strategy and only then does it occur to some that they have not explored how the strategy will be implemented, what the priority actions are to start the process of implementation, what order they should be progressed in and by whom and at what cost. Exceptions are those places that give thought to how the brand will be managed once approved, who will take responsibility for raising funds for implementation and who will sponsor and fund key brand projects, during the brand development process.
One of my cardinal rules for brand development is that brand management and brand action planning need to be undertaken during the process of brand development. Why? Because by doing so brand developers are less likely to be surprised by the potential complexity of brand implementation and the costs of the action envisaged. It also helps to “get your ducks in a row”, by which I mean the order of the action required and the priority to be given to those actions, especially those that will exemplify the brand in action, those that will truly establish the identity of the brand.
I’m currently running a workshop program for a group of citizens and businesses in the small West Sussex town of Midhurst in southern England who are leading the process of agreeing to a vision for the development of their town over the next ten years. A key element of this development process is that they will fully assess the action required to progress toward their vision before going out to wide consultation on it in their community, in order to be able to demonstrate that they have a good understanding of the action required.
In parallel that is also considering what might be the most appropriate form of organisation to manage the implementation of their brand strategy. In this way, they will be able to demonstrate to respondents to their consultation that they have thought through what will be required to achieve their vision, a process and an organisation that is fit for purpose, and be regarded as thorough and organised by respondents.
With the omnipresent digital technologies, it becomes nearly impossible to control every aspect of brand planning. Hence, the key thing is to prioritize brand objectives. Once this is done, the managing organization can focus on planning brand initiatives that to the largest degree represent these objectives. Effectively, it implies that the vast resources (financial, intellectual, organizational etc.) should be attributed to actions that reinforce brand objectives.
The only common recipe is to go with the strongest resource. Each place has its own pool of enthusiasts outside the governmental structure who are ready to take up the brand and its philosophy and implement it in their work. They can be young creatives keen to produce fashion or music; they can be restaurant operators keen to introduce common standards of hospitality (to avoid staff turnover). They can be souvenir producers.
I think one shouldn’t try and cover all the bases, but rather play on the natural strengths of the place and its human resources.
The question of tight or loose control is an ongoing debate. It depends very much on the culture of the country, the construct and governance of your government agencies, and where you are in your brand journey.
We’ve taken a loose approach to brand management for the first few years of the New Zealand Story. And whilst a looser approach has significant advantages in building engagement with a broad range of supporters who can articulate the brand in their own words, there comes a time when tighter control becomes beneficial to achieve the next level of success.
Place brands are hard to control – especially as they are in the perception of place users. Places are mainly communicated by others and the perception of the place is often mainly influenced by stakeholders, where we as place branders have no control. Thus, branding a place means to give away power and let loose. It is about creating a relationship of trust between the government and the other stakeholders.
On the other hand, it is not a laissez-faire system. Place branding needs management and leadership. However, with a different style, more like a conductor who empowers the stakeholders to find a joint voice.
If we are serious about this work, we have to be comfortable with allowing the community to own it. This will nearly always take our brand work out of the realm of the brand police.
I do feel that place branding is always “mission impossible,” and we tilt toward possible when we accept that we can’t control it. All we can control is our own mission, our own ambition, which should be ensuring as many people as possible understand the brand and bring it to life in their own ways, in their own words. If we did our research correctly, we can honestly say the community built their own brand story.
I like workshops, and helping people understand the unifying cultural expression and the unifying strategy should make their own work more meaningful, more moving, and more successful. If we think of our place branding bodies as client service organizations, we’re just helping everyone tell the same story… ideally through action.
This is tough when you’re dealing with many millions of people, so you do need a careful plan to scale the message and the work from the bottom-up, ideally with Trojan Horse projects the community initiates themselves (with our leadership).
Everyone needs to be patient, which is so hard.
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