Conny Moonen of Connect Limburg on Cross-Border Regional Branding in Europe

Conny Moonen of Connect Limburg, the organisation responsible for the place brand management of the Dutch region, in this interview offers insights into the work of a place brand organisation: the challenges and benefits. She also discusses the trends she observes regarding the branding of regions in Europe.

Learn about:

  • Which regions serve Conny as sources of inspiration for her work at Connect Limburg;
  • The main challenges of developing a regional brand positioning;
  • The role of political and business leaders in place branding;
  • How Connect Limburg measures the effectiveness of its brand management work;
  • Trends in regional branding in Europe.

Conny, with a professional background in product management and business development, what got you interested in the branding of places?

Having been born in Limburg, I have a very strong connection with the region. And I am convinced that the Limburg is developing at an amazing speed. Therefore, in my opinion it is key that we “spread the word”. And indeed, with a professional background in branding and business development, this role is a perfect match for me.

As head of Connect Limburg, which regions and branding initiatives serve you as inspiration for your work?

Definitely the Nordic region, but also Tuscany in Italy, and of course the success of the brand London. If you are able as a region to sell products with your brand name on it to foreigners, then you have been able to build a top brand.

Which have been the key challenges of developing Limburg’s current brand positioning?

The success or failure of building a regional or nation brand depends on the ability to connect stakeholders, to find support and acceptance within the region.

Involving companies, public organisations and administrations in the regional branding process is essential to make sure the brand is felt as something which has grown from within the community and is not being imposed upon them top down.

Another challenge is the question of how to connect with the region’s inhabitants. They are very critical for the acceptance of the brand, but at the same time difficult to engage.

The idea of the European Union is currently being challenged by rising political groups in various member countries, including the Netherlands. How does this nationalist and anti-EU sentiment affect your work and the branding of Maastricht (capital of the Limburg region) as distinctly European city? Which implications do you foresee for Limburg’s branding as cross-border region?

Despite the fact that the anti-EU sentiment is growing, we experience on a daily basis what the added value of cross-border connection within the EU can be.

Due to its unique location, the Limburg region offers the best of three countries in that it is influenced by the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. We like to think of it as a “little Europe”.

Maastricht, the “birthplace” of the European Union where the Maastricht treaty was signed in 1992, in its brand positioning focuses on its ability as capital of this international region to facilitate the discussion about the future of Europe. That’s why this year’s celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht treaty used the very inspiring theme “Europe calling”.

What role do national and regional authorities, such as ministries, play with regard to the success of Limburg’s region brand strategy?

The ministries and regional ministers play a very important role in supporting and presenting the right ‘on brand’ message about Limburg. Apart from aligning their message to the region’s brand proposition, politicians have to act ‘on brand’ as well, which means that they have to develop their strategies based on the identity of the region. By acting ‘on brand’ they motivate other organisations and business to follow suit. In our case this means that all these institutions and businesses always have to stress the importance of Limburg as cross-border connector.

How do you measure the success/effectiveness of Limburg’s place branding initiatives?

We differentiate between output/effect and throughput.

Connect Limburg is responsible for place brand management of the region. We are not accountable for Limburg’s image or reputation, which is of course influenced by many organisations and opinion leaders which are impossible to control.

The performance indicators for Connect Limburg focus on the following questions, which reflect our role as a place brand management organisation:

  • What do we do to get more ‘on brand’ projects and activities in the region;
  • What do we do to create ‘on brand’ activities;
  • How do we get more exposure by telling the Limburg story (social media, traditional media etc.);
  • How can we involve the inhabitants of the region.

Besides these indicators, we also have to answer questions linked to budget and success as organisation:

  • What is the relation between costs and results per project, and how much time do we put in a project?
  • How professional is the organisation from the point of view of other organisations in the region? Do these organisations want to work together with Connect Limburg, and would they advise other organisation to work together with us?

Which trends and challenges do you observe with regard to regional branding in Europe?

The national and regional identity is becoming more important for people personally, but also from an economic point of view (to attract new investors, tourists etc.).

I expect that we will see more regions trying to build upon their reputation. This will make it even more difficult to create a strong, distinctive brand.

How do you manage stakeholder input and relationships? In other words, how do you make sure no one is left out and all are on the same page?

As mentioned earlier, this is one of the main challenges we face as place brand management organisation. In the case of Limburg, we build our relationships more and more through concrete projects.

During the first years of Connect Limburg, our focus was on reaching out to companies whose activities align with our cross-border brand, asking them to connect as a partner of the region. Now after three years of working on this topic, we try to deepen this relationship, for example by participating in networking events.

In which ways does digital media offer new solutions and possibilities for telling a place’s story?

The social media is essential to tell the story quickly and to a wide, international audience. Since storytelling is very important for us, we have created a digital magazine which we share with our brand partners, our followers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, but also with the press.

And of course we experience that the people who have been featured in the magazine are very much willing to share their story as well. This is how we can realise growth in numbers of followers and find the qualitative retweets that we are aiming for.

Thank you, Conny.

Connect with Conny Moonen on LinkedIn.

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