Which city, region or country has inspired you recently for how they communicate their brand (identity, what they stand for or offer)?
Which “place brand” deserves to be celebrated for going the extra mile, e.g. by involving the community in its brand development?
That’s what we asked our panel of place brand specialists. Their answers below.
Our key takeaways:
- Brand Tasmania has changed the narrative of the place from a sleepy mining town to a thriving island state for tourists and investors;
- Faroe Island remains a favourite as its voluntourism and ‘Closed for maintenance’ campaigns continue to bring a positive change;
- Iceland’s responsible tourism initiatives have benefitted the environment and its residents;
- Poetry as a medium to bring residents together has worked wonders for the Swedish municipality.
Australia | The place brand that stands out for me is Tasmania. I usually loathe using the word authentic but in this case, there’s no better word to describe what sits at the heart of this engaging brand. It’s real, compelling, honest and truly reflects just what an incredible place Tasmania is. Brand Tasmania has done something which I think is key to showing a local’s perspective of this island to the world. Due to that, not only has it drawn people in, but it’s bolstered local people’s sense of pride and ownership.
I always believe that creating a place brand that resonates with locals will have no trouble attracting tourism and investment. So Brand Tasmania is a perfect example of how to do that well.
Australia | Well, being an Australian, and as such, a fan of the underdog, I’m going to nominate a town and a downtrodden one at that. Queenstown, Tasmania.
The town came into being off the back of a major copper deposit being found in the late 1880s. Since then, the town and broader region’s prosperity had been inherently tied to the mine. In 2014, the mine was shut and the town’s future looked grim. Furthermore, its closure was preceded by decades of a slow decline in the town’s population. As with many other mining towns, the mechanisation of mining along with the extended rostering of workers meant that the town’s population had been in decline for a long time before its closing. It all leant to a feeling of genuine depression in the local community.
Yet, amongst this seeming doom, the early stages of rebirth had already begun. That rebirth continues today. A suite of world-class mountain biking trails is gaining international attention. An innovative, place-based artistic and cultural organisation that goes by the name of The Unconformity is reshaping the town as a hub for artists of all shapes and kinds. These relatively new assets in the region, both of which honour the place in some way, are complemented by existing tourism assets, and a branding initiative that had been undertaken by the Council in parallel. All of these initiatives have placed the local community at its core in one way or another. The Unconformity sees its local audience as its most important, whilst the process undertaken for the mountain biking and branding initiatives have both been recognised for the depth and breadth of their local consultation.
The starting point for Queenstown’s renaissance can be debated, but the seeds for the key planks of the town’s rebirth were planted around 15 years ago. In those 15 years, Queenstown has reshaped itself as a place for adventuring mountain bikers, artists and culture vultures alike, and it has done this all whilst honouring the existing community’s aspirations and paying tribute to what had gone before. Now, in an interesting twist where everything old is new again, the copper mine that was the source of the town’s prosperity for over 100 years, maybe restarted as its main product itself as a renaissance with the world undergoing a green revolution.
The quantitative proof of the town’s rebirth came when Australia’s 2021 census figures were released recently. For the first time in over 20 years, the town’s population has increased. Onward ho!
So, for anyone looking for best practice place branding and economic development in a not-so-obvious place, I say look no further than Queenstown, on the west coast of Tasmania.
Sweden | How to find and communicate an identity of a municipality that is unknown to most people?
I would like to shed light upon a recent place branding initiative involving poetry as a public art form. The initiative was carried out by the Swedish municipality Tranemo, which has around 12,000 residents. Recently, the town started the process of formulating a place branding strategy and a distinct place identity. To assist in the search for an identity, Tranemo employed a poet for one year. Already from the outset, the initiative was criticized for wasting taxpayers’ money on lousy poetry. Nevertheless, the initiative made Tranemo known nationally and poems were regularly shared on the municipality’s website.
The poet’s main task was to interpret the municipality and its residents based on his encounters with people, institutions, and events in the place. In addition, he offered free writing courses for residents. The usefulness of poetry for the communication of a municipality seemed to be that poems could capture cultural narratives and lived aspects of a place community that usually fell outside of place branding strategies.
In discovering new things where one thought that nothing was to be seen, poetry conveyed the municipality more concretely than the abstract discourse of place branding. More importantly, in this case, poetry reimagined a marginalized place by revealing its potential meanings.
USA | I am going to give a selfish answer and talk about my city, Baltimore and its brand.
Most place branding campaigns – or rather place-making attempts – I have observed recently have been local or regional in scale. Amazing projects are going on all over the world, I especially appreciate downtown revitalization attempts as people are going back out after the pandemic. Though as I said, most of them are local. If we put their impact in financial figures, they are not impressive. We are not talking millions of dollars in revenues. But we are talking about making sure four mom-and-pop shops stay open!
Baltimore has two main DMO-like organizations: Visit Baltimore and Live Baltimore. The latter is all about getting people to move to the city. All their communication is very targeted at people who might think about living in nearby counties. Their prominent tagline is “I love city life”. They are situating themselves as an information hub, so they hold events on all aspects of living in the city – from homebuying to choosing schools. They also have a Neighborhood Ambassadors program. Residents can volunteer to help prospective residents tour neighborhoods.
Russia | Place branding activity in Russia is currently not a priority, you know. Even more, it looks like more and more cities will be officially branded without taking into consideration their identity, community and development goals. Autocracy is not the best environment for people-oriented activities.
Meanwhile, there is one good example of city promotion and branding. This is the case of Nizhni Novgorod, which celebrated 800 years in 2021. They created a very authentic campaign “To be, not to seem”, which won several local contests. What is more important, to create the campaign, the creative team did deep research to understand the city’s identity, brand attributes and voice of the citizens.
Everything they do, it’s a fresh communication address to a very specific target. Someone committed to nature and who loves nature activities. And the way they communicate, including on their website, is based on innovation and doing things differently. They aim high and they challenge even Google. They involve the local people in promoting the place. Nature, sustainability and responsibility are always present in all their products, as well as in their communication.
UK | Palau Islands. Through community cohesion, the government changed its immigration laws to require all visitors to sign a pledge before allowing entry, but this also linked to the redesigning of the tourism experience, through signage, business accreditation and the education of future generations. This pledge is about being vocal in terms of the place brand values that the stakeholders not only identify with but the values that keep them going. The policy change is a measure of success in itself.
‘Inspired by Iceland’, the official destination brand for Iceland by the tourism industry and destination promotion organization for Iceland is helping citizens, visitors, and investors to be responsible and sustainable in their actions, by encouraging less plastic use and responsible travel. They have launched their own ‘premium tap water’ brand, the success of the initiative is even measurable by the reduced amount of plastic waste in the environment, and the demand and therefore need to produce and/or import bottled water.
The Faroe Islands, another island example, declared ‘closed for maintenance, open for voluntourism’, the initiative was founded by the islanders and local businesses; another example of community cohesion promoted by the place brand and evidenced by the brand logo as an endorsement of the initiative. It is also an example of outside stakeholders (tourists) buying into the core values of the place brand. The success of the initiative is evident by the support it has garnered from the government and promoted by the islands’ Prime Minister itself. The initiative has been running annually since 2019.
Previous questions answered by the TPBO panel here.
Enjoyed this snapshot of expert views on on inspiring location brand initiatives that put the local community first? Thanks for sharing!