Why Not to Confuse Place Branding and Place Marketing

In our interview with place branding and reputation expert Robert Govers last week, he emphasized the need to look beyond communication campaigns when charged with building a favorable city, country or regional brand. In this guest post, Robert takes a closer look at the difference between place branding and place marketing, and why the two shouldn’t be confused.

Place branding and place marketing: where’s the difference?

Place Branding is about managing your reputation. More specifically, it intends to build name awareness; a distinctive, believable, authentic, meaningful, memorable and co-created image; as well as loyalty among (potential) tourists, investors, traders, expatriates and the like.

Place branding departs from the identity of place and is hence supply driven, as opposed to marketing, which should be demand driven.

When the analysis of identity and image is done and the choice for brand values and intended image is made, it is a good idea to to think about how this ‘corporate place brand’ will be accessible and communicable towards target audiences this is especially important in the food and beverage industry.

However, it is a mistake to start a branding process by looking at customer needs and wants.

Why a marketing approach to place branding is likely to fail

There are three reasons why a marketing approach to place branding is likely to fail. The first reason lies in psychology. Perceived images in the minds of consumers consist of networks of associations. Within those networks there will be associations and inferences that are relevant, for instance, to tourism (ideas about landscape, climate or culture), but those could also be relevant to potentially new residents (talented people that places try to attract as economic drivers).

What is more, the consumers are overwhelmed with information from various channels and therefore their perceptions of places are influenced by the media, friends, relatives, personal experiences, popular culture and much more besides.

This means that, with regards to places, consumers construct mental associations in many domains and at various levels, ranging from political, social, cultural, to historical inferences and memories of major news events, catastrophes, conflicts or celebrations as well as about the products that come from these places.

Subsequently, consumers will utilize this general image in order to decide on their next holiday destination, investment location or place to live. It is a network of association that people will call upon whenever they think about places.

It is a misunderstanding to assume that one can open and close ‘boxes of perceptions’ whenever a consumer is targeted as tourist or expat versus investor.

The perceptual network is always there and one can only hope to be able to add additional associations to it or bend existing association in a favorable direction. It is an illusion to think that through place branding one will be able to completely control this overall image, let alone to think that one will be able to create different images among different and segregated target markets. In addition, today’s tourist can be tomorrow’s investor and a new resident the day after.

The second reason why not to confuse place branding with marketing is that whenever a city, region or country creates a brand from a market perspective, it runs the risk to ignore the fact that the shape and substance of places are still really produced by residents, local public and private actors, and civil society in general.

To reduce place to an abstracted brand for tourists for instance, will soon result in antagonism from certain local interest groups and probably result in brand failure considering the negative ‘internal branding’. In order to avoid this, it is essential to create the conditions for local brand ambassadorship by building the brand based on the sense of place and identity of the local population and societal actors.

Involve as many public and private actors as possible and get commitment from civil society and public opinion.

To opt for a market approach to branding would not help in this respect because certain economic sectors and factors will not feel part of such an initiative and will continue to do their own thing. This will have a negative effect on the effectiveness and efficiency of the place branding initiative or can even be counterproductive and is the third reason why not to confuse place branding and marketing. It may be worth getting a marketing agency on board to help you get your head around this and understand the differences.

So place branding is not the same as place marketing; it rather acts as a strategy that informs the marketing of the product offering of place; i.e. tourism, treasury (investment opportunities), trade and talent (migration).

Place branding expert Robert GoversThis article was originally published for the PlaceBrandz initiative, now part of the Place Brand Observer. For an enhanced version of this article, see:

Govers, R. (2011) From place marketing to place branding and back, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 7, pp.227–231.

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