Florida Clements on Place Identity and the Isle of Man

Looking for insights into place branding and its application in small island nations? Look no further than our interview with Florida Clements, a place branding expert whose research has focused on the Isle of Man’s efforts to create and maintain a strong place brand.

With years of experience studying the process, Florida shares her thoughts on the benefits and challenges of developing a strong brand for a small island nation, as well as her views on how place branding should be taught and implemented in wider forums.

Join us for an engaging conversation that sheds light on the fascinating world of place branding and its impact on local economies and communities.

Florida, do you remember when you first heard about “place branding” – and how have your views on its research and application changed since then?

I first heard about place branding in 2004-2005, during a debate about the Isle of Man government’s £250k place branding campaign. At the time, lacking knowledge about the process I was not very convinced about these costs.

However, after studying the campaign and gaining more knowledge about place branding, I now have come to appreciate what it takes to build and maintain a place brand.

Considering the importance of the brand and reputation of the place, I believe that it’s time to introduce the basic concepts of place branding in wider forums, including school curriculums in geography and business studies. This would help citizens understand and participate in the process.

Your research focuses on the place branding process that has happened in the Isle of Man over the past 20 years. Can you briefly introduce us to this island nation and share how the Isle of Man has approached place branding over the years?

The Isle of Man is a beautiful island located in the middle of the Irish Sea with a rich heritage, comprising both Celtic and Viking cultures. The island has a population of around 84,000 people and is one of the nine UNESCO Biospheres in the British Isles.

The Isle of Man was a popular tourist destination during the Victorian era, but since the introduction of cheap holidays in Spain in the 1970s, tourism has suffered a drastic decline. However, the TT (Tourist Trophy) remains a staple feature that continues to attract visitors to the Isle of Man from all over the world.

The government of the Isle of Man has worked relentlessly over the years to ensure good living standards for the island’s inhabitants. As part of these efforts the Isle of Man government placed a strong focus on the financial services sector and more recently the e-gaming sector, transforming the island into a center of excellence for these services.

This has required constant efforts to market the island as a place for business and talent, accompanied by a number of incentives, including a taxation regime that has been received with mixed opinions by different governments.

The Isle of Man government has constantly run marketing campaigns for “new citizens,” with three place branding and marketing campaigns in the last 20 years. While the population of the Isle of Man has constantly grown over the years, it is unclear how much of this achievement can be attributed to each place branding and marketing campaign.

From recent research, it was evident that one of the campaigns, “Freedom to flourish”, was abandoned halfway through due to political changes in the government and lack of understanding of place branding from new politicians. The most recent campaign is still ongoing, so it remains to be seen what its results will be.

Which would you say are the benefits – and the challenges – of a small island nation like IoM, with regards to developing and maintaining a strong place brand?

the benefits of a strong place brand for a small island nation like the Isle of Man include attracting talent, investment, tourism, and increasing exports. However, there are also unique challenges that come with developing and maintaining a strong brand, particularly due to the small size of these nations.

One of the major challenges that the small island nations face is the retention and attraction of young talent and businesses. Building a brand that influences the choice of these people, requires creating an environment where the young people and businesses can flourish.

Another challenge is the fact that good deeds of small nations often go unnoticed, while negative actions can receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage, leading to a negative impact on the nation’s brand.

In addition, the size of these small island nations means that they may be overshadowed by the bigger countries nearby, leading to an association with those countries and a perception that they are an extension of them. This highlights the importance of small countries building and maintaining their own image and brand.

In our earlier conversation you mentioned that writing your doctorate felt like a self-discovery process of your own place identity. In which sense?

In my doctoral journey on place branding, I delved into the topic of place identity and how it develops. This involved a lot of personal reflection, as I couldn’t help but think about my own journey relocating to the Isle of Man in 2003 and spending equal parts of my adult life in two countries. As I conducted my study and asked relocated participants whether they felt attached to the Isle of Man and identified with it, I found myself asking the same questions to myself.

What I discovered was that my feelings and perceptions about my own place identity had little impact on how I was perceived by others. For instance, despite having lived in the Isle of Man for half of my adult life, my accent immediately prompts people to ask where I’m “actually” from. Overall, our identity is formed through a constant dialectic exchange with others, as psychology has long established. However these experiences have made me realize that my power in determining my own place identity is not equal to others, and that social norms play a crucial role in shaping how our place identity is perceived.

In my experience, my sense of belonging to a place mattered very little because others had already decided which place identity I should have, tying it automatically to my place of birth. This brings to mind the concept of Country of Origin (COO), which can be extended to the residents of a country.

We live in the era of globalization where people move from one place to the other, with or without intention of establishing long term. This means that their sense of belonging or identifying with the place is not strong or perhaps absent. Building a place brand in such fluid state of place identity, becomes a challenges for the organisations responsible for place branding, especially for a place like the Isle of Man, where more than 50% of the population are not born there.

Lastly, may we ask your thoughts on The Place Brand Observer?

For me, The Place Brand Observer is a valuable source of knowledge in Place Branding, providing insights into the field’s development through interviews with academics and practitioners. It’s a go-to resource for practitioners seeking guidance and researchers looking to push boundaries in the discipline.

Thank you, Florida

Connect with Florida Clements on LinkedIn.


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