How Do Emotions Influence Place Branding Success?

Emotions play a key role in place branding and marketing, judging by the many answers on the topic provided by our virtual expert panel. Emotions are what connects communities with their place brand, and often are the decisive factor for decisions where to live, visit or invest.

Here’s how our panelists describe the role and importance of emotions in place branding (in alphabetical order).

Adriana Campelo (Brazil):

“Place branding is extremely linked to emotions and sensations. Bad or good emotions will be fundamental to create place image. There is no place branding without emotion. We are always being impacted by some kind of emotion. The goal of place branding is to inspire, to touch, to make people think about places, to make people desire places.”

Andrew Hoyne (Hoyne Design, Australia):

“A place brand is doing a great job when it generates pride because this means it is tapping into the honest, authentic, central idea or emotion of a community. Good place branding is a reflection of the spirit or personality of a community and connects directly with residents, businesses, investors and visitors. Capturing the right emotional resonance will increase community cohesion and improve economic performance.”

Aparna Sharma (India):

“Emotions can be considered the soul of a campaign. Whilst not adequate on their own to drive campaigns, emotions certainly help create interest across stakeholders and sustain the place brand initiatives, especially through the troughs and the political vagaries.

In fact, to give an example – Dilli Tere Ishq Mein – which literally translates into – Delhi for the love of you – is the brand positioning and tagline for the campaign created by a group of volunteers in Delhi, India’s capital city. Slowly and steadily driven through social media, it has struck soft chords amongst the people of Delhi and created curiosity.

Whilst various events and initiatives are being planned to create a robust campaign, the tagline is founded on emotional appeal. In other words, emotions can well provide the seeds to sow the campaign, but must be backed by strategy to remain relevant. ”

Bill Baker (Total Destination Marketing, USA):

“Many place and destination marketers make the mistake of assuming customers make decisions using logic and rationale alone. While these do play a role, it’s emotion that influences and determines most decisions.

The rational or ‘thinking’ part of our brain most often comes into play to simply validate a decision that our subconscious mind has already made. We see this at work when visitors and customers make decisions and purchases. Yet, it’s amazing how many places still try to promote themselves by using uninteresting facts and lists of local assets, businesses and services. While this rational information does have a role later in their decision-making, it is rarely important at an early stage when prospects are forming their initial awareness and preferences.

Lists and facts alone don’t make emotional connections. Prospective customers first need to be convinced of what is appealing and special about the place, and how it’s going to make them feel. This applies for tourism as much as it does for relocation and economic development.”

Caio Esteves (Places for Us, Brazil):

  • If corporate branding is about emotion, place branding is even more.
  • A place has the potential to impact and transform, much more than a consumer brand.
  • Understanding the place’s affective and symbolic landscape is essential to its success.
  • It is important to emphasize the need to understand the affective and symbolic landscape internally, in the community and not only in external audiences.
  • There is no emotion without authenticity.

Christopher Hire (2thinknow, Australia):

“Emotion is critical to place branding. A place should evoke emotions true to the brand and the iconic images chosen to fit with it.”

Ed Burghard (USA):

“Ultimately the consumer’s final selection decision is emotional.

In the context of a capital investment decision, there is a rational exclusion process to winnow the possibilities down to a short list of locations capable of delivering the business must have criteria. But once that short list is identified, there is no longer a rational basis for differentiation, so the final selection is made on an emotional basis (often described as best “fit”).

Similarly, in the context of where to live or visit, the consumer runs through a set of rational assessments (cost versus budget, time required versus vacation available, etc.). But then, the final decision is emotional – “I would rather see (or live in) this place than that one”.

Smart place brand builders recognize the role emotion plays and understand how to address gaps between place image and place identity.”

Eduardo Oliveira (Switzerland):

“Both emotions and place narratives play crucial roles in the design of a place branding strategy and in the place brand governance processes. If we agree that one of the primary aims of place branding is to identify common ideas and directions for the future of communities, and thus produce collectively generated place narratives and visions, we must also agree that including citizens’ emotion in a place branding strategy can be used to enhance the quality of a place brand. Greater citizen involvement will lead to more favourable emotions, which in turn will have a positive influence on a place brand.

In addition, sporting and cultural events, often targeted activities of a place branding strategy, give emotional fuel to places, not only for placemaking interventions, but also for tourism and other business-oriented activities, and especially as an opportunity to portray an authentic image of the place and its people.”

Efe Sevin (USA):

  • Place branding sells ideas and lifestyles more than anything.
  • The easiest way to attract new businesses: tax cuts. Visitors, businesses, even residents respond positively to financial incentives. But we still want to create place brands because we want to be instrumental in establishing strong communities – not only vibrant economies. This is why place branding campaigns need to focus on feelings. The messages need to establish the basis for a community spirit.

Gordon Innes (USA):

“In place branding, emotion is a critical element in drawing audiences in, and keeping them interested. It is important, of course, to promote a destination’s assets, but the brand should evoke positive emotions as well. Showing pictures of excellent food is good; showing pictures of people having a great time while eating excellent food can connect with audiences on a deeper level. Showing videos of beautiful landscapes is nice but showing a couple or a family enjoying the landscape is a more powerful message.”

Günter Soydanbay (Soydanbay Consulting, Canada):

“Our decision-making process is based widely on emotional and unconscious processes. In other words, humans are not rational creatures; we are rationalizers. Our emotional brain decides. Then our rational brain scripts a coherent narrative. Not the other way around.

In place branding projects problems arise when marketers fail to translate their strategic conclusions into emotion-triggering messages. We live in the Attention Economy, and in this era, place promotion that lacks an emotional punch is destined to fail.

I can go as far as to claim that the most significant communications challenge faced by place brands is not rejection, but indifference. Luckily, a place could overcome this problem and move its target audience out of inertia by bringing out emotions in its messaging.”

Gustavo Koniszczer (FutureBrand, Argentina):

“Emotion is key in branding. Moreover, my favourite definition of brand is “an emotional bond”. Complete the phrase as you wish: an emotional bond between products and consumers, companies and audiences, places and visitors, and so on.

Having said that, it’s obvious that emotion is not all. It doesn’t replace a well-structured offer, a thoughtful set of characteristics and features that will make your place one to be considered by your target audiences. But once they have analyzed, filtered and weighed all details, the final decision will definitely be an irrational/ emotional one.”

Hjörtur Smárason (Scope Communications, Denmark):

“It is through emotions you make the connections. You build empathy, understanding and support for your place through an emotional connection. You become memorable through an emotional connection. How does your city and her values resonate with your target group? How do you get them to understand and support your vision and goals? Through emotions. And you communicate them through powerful stories. Without them, you are just another glossy sales brochure shouting into deaf ears.”

Irina Shafranskaya (Russia):

“Branding is emotional – this is obvious. But two things are quite important: which emotions does the place brand drive and how can we measure and manage them. A place brand’s visual and textual solutions always contain some kind of emotion – they are bright, vibrant, seem-to-be-happy. They are aimed to enhance the place image across promotion campaigns.

Unfortunately, sometimes they strongly lack differentiation and resemble each other. There is a rule of thumb for place branding campaigns: try to apply them to any other city and see if there is any difference.

I think that two aspects could add true emotions – local identity and content co-creation. Local identity expressed through pictures contains a very particular set of emotions. Sometimes not only positive – it could drive even nostalgia or regret for those who have left the place. But these emotions are strong and authentic.

Co-creation also helps to make the emotions authentic and personal. So instead of looking for the picturesque views in photo stocks, place brand managers should explore the real users’ experience, for instance by downloading geotagged pictures from Instagram.”

Jaume Marín (Spain):

  • Emotions are the primary reason why consumers prefer a brand over another, even when the price is much higher.
  • A brand is a mental representation of a product’s (or place’s) attribute in the consumer mind. Emotions play a big role in building this mental representation.
  • Brand personality, normally communicated through visual imaginery and the words used in advertising (or content), tends to be emotion-based, rather than rational.
  • Probably the best aspect of emotions is that they can push the consumer to do something, to take action.

Jonathan McClory (Singapore):

“I think the emotional side is more important for the citizens and the residents of the place that is being branded. If it doesn’t speak to them on an emotional level, and doesn’t feel authentic, it is not going to work. When speaking to external audiences, I think it’s less about raw emotion and more about creating a positive association, interest, and trust. It doesn’t have to be emotional to be effective, it can be logical too.”

Jordi de San Eugenio Vela (Spain):

“The purpose of emotional place branding is to create a bond between the people and the place by provoking the people’s emotion. We can consider the technique of place branding as a new proposal to experience – “live” – places affectively and emotionally, not only to represent them. Really, place branding represents the contemporary refounding of the creation of a sense of place, in line with a particular experience lived individually or collectively, with the place.

There is a significant gap in studies on the relationship between emotion and place branding. This is surprising if we bear in mind that one of the fundamental pillars on which place branding rests is the creation of a story that awakens an emotion or affection towards a place (place emotional storytelling).”

Juan Carlos Belloso (Spain):

“Place branding and building a place brand is about providing unique, engaging and relevant experiences to people that live in or visit a place, so that they can experience unique emotions when enjoying this experience. So, place brands are about the experiences and emotions they can deliver, and, in this sense, emotions play a fundamental role when building a place brand.”

Magdalena Florek (Poland):

“Branding is all about emotions and so are places. We like, love, miss or hate places. Some make us sad or depressed, some give us energy and boost our excitement. We are proud of our places or angry at them. Both brands and places evoke a full range of emotions, which influence our decisions.

Important from the branding point of view: the stronger the brand or place, the stronger emotions associated with it. Since emotions are personal and authentic, they are able to create deep relations between people and places. We need to, however, understand how emotions are triggered, to what extent and in which case they determine people’s behaviors and decisions, and how durable they are.”

Natasha Grand (UK):

“Places are perceived intuitively. They can make us feel relaxed, excited, alert, uncomfortable, inspired. They can be longed for and feared.

The aim of place branding is for a place to achieve a consistent emotion among all sorts of people. Not just any emotion, but the one that reflects the character and personality of the place itself. Emotion is an outcome of an experience, and a big part of our work is to define and describe, in as many and as minute details as possible, the experiences of people across all the mediums they encounter: transport, urban design, hospitality, shopping, recreation – and also across human senses: vision, hearing, taste, touch, smell.

Paradoxically, whilst working to produce an emotion, one must stay rational, knowledgeable and precise. Otherwise, it is impossible to see the personality of the place in all its diverse aspects and to maintain a clear vision of your target. That’s the main reason for having external consultants.

The locals may be too embedded in the place, their own experiences and feelings about it. They face this massive body of emotions and seek to organize it. The result: over-structured and heavily complicated visitor websites, 100-point long lists of ‘reasons to visit’ full of predictable platitudes.

Place branding that starts with emotion produces no feeling for the place. Place branding that starts with reason produces the right emotion.”

Robert Govers (Independent Advisor, Belgium):

“Emotions are essential, as place branding is about captivating foreign audiences. This can be done with three types of appeal: rational, moral and emotional. Combining all three is most powerful, so branding without emotion is challenging.”

Tom Buncle (Yellow Railroad, UK):

“Emotion is to place branding what colour is to cinema. Emotional associations with a place bring it to life. They are the sizzle to a place’s sausage. They add texture to the place’s story and make it feel alive.

A place’s physical assets, wonderful as they might be, are the canvas on which emotional associations are painted – the way the place makes people feel and the emotional take-out that makes the place characterful, distinctive and memorable, without which it would be…….just another place. Emotional associations are critical to every place’s distinctive character and therefore core to its brand.”

More about the panel and previous answers here.

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