How to Navigate the Place Branding Jungle – Advice for Place Leaders

In this guest post by Marc Puig, former head of marketing and communication of the city of Barcelona, learn about common place branding pitfalls and how to navigate the place branding jungle.

There are many theories about place branding and many interesting and great reflections by authors who explore and research the topic. Even if we already know the fundamentals of place branding practice, it is the nuances and new ways of viewing the field from which we can learn most. Particularly useful are guidelines on how to deal with place branding strategies from a practical point of view – for example the 5 Steps Approach to Place Branding (Quick Guide) based on the work by Robert Govers, Erik van ‘t Klooster and Gerard van Keken.

In this post I do not intend to discuss theories or offer a new set of practical steps. Instead, I will focus on four aspects of place branding which senior place managers and marketers should consider. Political representatives in charge of brand development and management need to be aware of those aspects, since they can drive or deter place branding strategies.

Having great knowledge of a territory does not necessarily make one an expert on branding. Most political representatives are ill-prepared in this regard. Keeping in mind the following points will help professionals and academics to adhere to and promote best practice in place branding:

1. Don’t misuse place branding for political purposes

Disassociate the management of you place’s brand image from the field of political dispute, that is, prevent place branding from becoming a combat weapon.

Public administration, since it represents all citizens, should lead public (place) marketing. To be able to act professionally in its decision making, it should not be subject to the pressure of partisan criticism. Political actors must refrain from the temptation to turn the image of their place into a battlefield, make it about winning elections or attack whoever is managing the brand at that moment.

To have your place – for example city, or region – succeed and prosper, keep branding initiatives separated from political battles or electoral campaigns. Allow for professional management and a responsible attitude.

2. Acknowledge different perspectives, encourage participation and co-creation

“I like friends who have independent minds, because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.”

Participation, co-creation and no discrimination are good recipes for successful place branding strategies that last. Not only politicians should feel comfortable to achieve a lasting, consistent and productive outcome. All actors and stakeholders must work together across the territory to develop a proposal for brand positioning and a framework which is broadly accepted.

Beyond mere survey research, it is necessary to find the links between and to bring together companies, cultures, associations and civil society organizations, ordinary citizens… For place branding to work, it has to become a collaborative effort which involves, among others, the world of tourism, emerging sectors, producers and exporters, cultural creators, opinion makers, brand ambassadors abroad, and the sports world.

Whether participation and management formulas are created ad hoc or through stable structures, they vary according to the task at hand. From a brand perspective, each of the stakeholders mentioned above live in their own reality and have their own view on what kind of brand strategy would suit them best. There is no universal and indisputable recipe for place branding.

3. Be consistent

Being Number 1 once can be a great satisfaction, but it is not the most important. You can spend your life reliving the moments of glory, but what matters in branding is consistency – to remain in top ranking positions over time.

Place brand rankings are alive and changing, and they include both the classics and the newcomers. Let me give an example that is very close to my work: Barcelona is seen by the established leading cities (the “classics”) as a newcomer, a “new rich”. If Barcelona finds a way to stay in the leading group of global cities, it will earn the respect of the classics and benefit from having reached the top places.

4. Be realistic, don’t bluff

The goal of place branding is credibility and authenticity, not posturing. Sensationalism that does not respond to a place’s identity is doomed to failure. Any brand strategy and positioning must correspond to reality, so it can help the city, region or destination to achieve the desired progress, in alignment with the place’s attributes and actual values.

Perhaps in the future, teenagers and university students will learn about the basics of place branding, just like they now acquire notions and principles of economics and business management. Meanwhile, we need professionals able to develop and manage brand strategies, and political leaders who understand the meaning of and need for place branding: its basic principles and what it takes to carry it out professionally and successfully.

Marc Puig About Marc Puig

Born in 1962, Marc Puig is a communication and advertising consultant specialized in place branding with broad experience in advising on political communication and electoral campaigns.

He has developed his career mostly in the private sector in advertising and com agencies (Publi/Co and Emotional ACG). He has worked in the public audio-visual sector (Board of Directors of Radio Televisión Española and RTV’s Catalan Corporation) as well as marketing and institutional communication (Secretary General of Communication of the Government of Catalonia and City Council of Barcelona).

As Chief Marketing & Communications Officer of the City of Barcelona, he managed a multi-disciplinary team of over 500 professionals.

Learn more about and connect with Marc Puig on LinkedIn.


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