Digital r-evolution, according to our panel of place brand researchers, advisors and managers, is one of the main factors and trends likely to influence place branding practice in 2018.
A definite trend almost all of our experts identified was that of ‘smart cities’ or, in general, the effect of advancements in technology on branding.
Andrew Hoyne warned that the generic use of words or themes like smart cities might actually lead to their meaning losing power with audiences and the industry. To truly engage the stakeholders to commit to places, there needs to be a deeper and fresher strategic work leading to uncovering genuinely unique assets and selling points.
Gordon Innes thought the global move towards digital and technological change meant significant changes in place branding, the attraction of tourists and the way travel and tourism services are delivered. According to him, place branding professionals need to understand how big data analytics, AI, geo-fencing and mobile communications are transforming the industry.
Many large companies are already on board, using the new technologies to engage customers and some destinations are slowly following, trying to use big data to personalise visitors’ experience. In the future, Innes thought promotion will be less about the destination itself and more about its ability to offer experiences that meet visitors’ needs and desires, ultimately changing branding and marketing as we know it today.
Similarly, Jaume Marín stated chatbots will be present in all destinations very soon and we would want our travel websites to ‘learn’ about visitors in order to provide personalised resorts, while the Internet of Things will change airlines and hotel industry.
Teemy Moilanen also thought social media “listening technologies” would allow for quicker reactions and ability to capitalise on emerging trends and opportunities before they fade away.
Speaking of social media, Irina Shafranskaya, Heather Skinner and Juan Carlos Belloso argued that the advancements in technology, increase of number and variety of social media platforms will lead to a need for place branding professionals to question their role and consider how the place connects with mobile technology users.
Those in charge of creating and communicating the place brand are, according to Skinner, facing many challenges to reach their key target markets effectively. To that extent, Skinner suggested that there needs to be an understanding of who really creates and communicates meaningful interpretations of a place through social media, as well as whether place branding professionals are engaging in meaningful dialogue with their target markets.
On the other hand, Jeremy Tamanini warned that social media has passed its peak point. This is not to say technological connectivity will be any less important, as live communities will organise in digital space before existing in the physical one, but Tamanini thought companies will return to in-person community and this is something that should be considered in place branding and development strategies as well.
According to Teemu Moilanen, new digital platforms keep emerging – and are embraced by place marketers – enabling those in charge of branding and marketing places to have “curated conversations, create local movements etc. between themselves”.
In the coming period, Belloso thought the power of media and influencers will keep rising and pointed out that in that climate, “understanding political interests behind specific media channels will be key”.
On the other hand, he stated the power of branded and user-generated content should not be forgotten, as credible and engaging stories by users will rise in importance, making the power of word of mouth key in generating interest and building place brand images.
Shafranskaya explained 2018 will be the time to develop city brand metrics, a way to convert online buzz into measurable city brand equity as a way to help city brand managers.
Jeannette Hanna [Trajectory], Sebastian Zenker and Malcolm Allan [Bloom Consulting] also saw Big Data, analytics and AI as the key trend in immediate future, using them as a way to “make evidence-based decisions about best use of resources”, as Hanna stated.
By capturing the trends, demographic shifts and emerging possibilities, Hanna suggested these factors will be vital in creating a relevant narrative about a community, both for its residents, as well as businesses.
Allan also explained that big data will enable practitioners to analyse the places, attractions, events, information, town centres and housing locations consumers are interested in, as this directly affects places. Overall, he foresaw place branding maturing as a digital discipline in the coming period.
A few of our experts thought the rise of technology will also have a spatial element. Allan suggested big data would be crucial in understanding the response to place-making proposals for cities and towns, such as for new tramway, pedestrianisation of streets, or new leisure centres.
Hjörtur Smárason also thought technology was at the core of changes when it comes to understanding places, but from a different end of the spectrum. He pointed out to the end of oil, and autonomous vehicles as one of the key factors that will drive the change of city dynamics, both internally with re-thinking of traffic and the way we live and use the city, as well as externally, in “the way power dynamics between cities can shift very fast with changing economies and changing lifestyles”.
Similarly, Jeremy Tamanini explained transportation is becoming broadly more automated, leading to a transformation of urban space “from human-centric to one determined by technological forces”.
This spatial element can be large or small. For example, Todd Mayfield mentioned wayfinding for destinations, stating there is an “ever-increasing desire to connect physical wayfinding signage and interpretive displays with web-based media”, leading to a rise of small information kiosks with interpretive displays.
Whether excited or skeptical, our panel undoubtedly argued the rise of technology will have a strong impact on – and even change the face of – branding as we see it today.
Analysis and writing by TPBO research associate Maja Jović.