How to Use Storytelling for Place Branding: Five Ways to Spread Place Stories

Günter Soydanbay in this guest post illustrates why the act of creating place strategy is too important to be left to the city officials, and how to use storytelling for place branding.


Have you ever tried an Air Sandwich? In case you don't know what it is, here is how Nilofer Merchant, the renowned business strategist and the creator of the concept describes it:

"Strategy gets created incompletely mostly because strategy creation is perceived as an elite exercise, something that only an executive group of people can and should do in a hotel ballroom with walls covered in flip- chart paper. […] The thinking is that execs are empowered to create strategy, so they hole up in long meetings, using models, complex frameworks, and vast amounts of vetted data to decide things. […] Obviously, this approach lacks collaboration, debates, discussions, and the necessary engagement of the (entire) organization. […] In Silicon Valley, we call that gap an "Air Sandwich": the empty void in an organization between the high-level strategy conjured up in the stratosphere and the realization of that vision down on the ground."


Every place has its own Air Sandwich

Place branding projects are highly susceptible to the Air Sandwich. On the one hand, key decision-makers come up with a vision and future direction. On the other side, locals live not in a distant, utopian future, but right here, right now. Sadly, there is little practical understanding that connects the two layers.

Let me go a step further and claim that this is "the" challenge of place branding: to align the new direction with appropriate actions. When there is a disconnect between the vision and the behaviours, the place ends up with an under-delivered brand promise, which, in return, weakens the place brand. When that happens, a mutual blamestorming ensues. Stakeholders claim that "citizens failed to live the brand," whereas locals think, "the people in power didn't get the strategy right."


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