Interview with Julian Stubbs on City Branding of Liverpool, Stockholm, Place Marketing Challenges and Trends

Julian Stubbs in this interview reflects on the maturing practice of place branding and shares his thoughts on destination and city marketing trends, challenges and developments, with a special focus on Stockholm and Liverpool.

Learn about:

  • How the Liverpool Place Branding 2018 event will support and inspire place professionals;
  • Why modern place branding has moved beyond logos and taglines;
  • The priorities for established places in their second phase of branding and marketing;
  • The main challenges of switching from traditional place marketing to more long-term, strategic place branding;
  • Digital marketing trends and opportunities for cities, regions and destinations.

Julian, as organizer of the upcoming Liverpool Place Branding event, how important are such get togethers, in your view, in terms of city branding success?

City and place branding, in its modern form, is still a relatively young discipline. Aside from hearing first hand some great presentations, I think it’s important that people in the area get together and share their experiences and get time to network.

Learning from others, being inspired by people doing things in new ways and taking time out to think about your own situation is really important.

We want the Liverpool Place Branding event 2018 to be an inspiration session, so the format is going to be much more dynamic than other such events I’ve been to. We’ll have shorter, Ted style presentations and then Q&A sessions with a great BBC journalist, Maddy Savage, acting as moderator.

As a speaker at the event, which aspects of your recent work will you share with the audience?

As we have so many great presentations from some really notable cities, I wanted my own presentation to take a slightly different approach. So, I’m going to look at the huge opportunities presented by the gig and digital economy for cities and places.

It used to be that people went where the work was. We moved to cities for jobs. This has been turned around and now money follows people. It’s something I passionately believe in. My own company, UP THERE, EVERYWHERE, is proof of the importance of this new way of working and the possibilities it presents for cities, regions and places.

Attracting high value digital residents can become an important new area for many places that have faced de-population. But you have to put the right infrastructure, social fabric and resources in place to attract them.

Basically, it enables people to make new choices about where they want to live and where they will pay their taxes.

The theme of the event is Place Branding? It’s not about the logo – a statement which has been repeated over and over in our more than 120 expert interviews so far. Why do you think is it so difficult for city and destination marketers to let go of outdated marketing thinking and instead put their money and effort into creating and maintaining great experiences and brand platforms?

As a consultancy we still see too many places who focus solely on the visible aspects of marketing – logotypes and identities. We always use the iceberg analogy, that the most important things are the ones you don’t see.

As I said earlier, place branding is still a relatively new business, in its current form, and many people in it come from a different background – public sector, so their view of the important issues when it comes to promoting a place might be out of step with what’s needed to truly be competitive.

Many places are now entering a second phase of promotion – Stockholm, Liverpool, Rotterdam, Barcelona, etc. where they have established their brands, been successful and are now wanting to move the narrative and story of the place on. They typically get questions and pressure from their city politicians about changing the brand / logotype etc., and many of them have to resist these pressures. Do you have advice on how to accomplish this?

As consultants we hear from a lot of places that they are entering the ‘second phase’ in their Place Branding. Many places have had their brand established for over ten years and face pressure, normally internally, to change things.

Typically, the logotype comes up as a point of discussion. As we all know, constant change is not good for brands. Brands need to be consistent, persistent and simple. So, it’s important that there are some traditional brand disciplines applied to cities, regions and places as well.

What are the priorities for places in this second phase of their branding and marketing?

The focus for place brands in the second phase of their development should be to move the narrative on. Find new ways of telling the story of the place and promoting it. A constant challenge is getting tight working relationships with key stakeholders – this is nonstop work.

The reason we named the Liverpool event Place Branding? It’s not about the logo is to look at all those other things places, including cities, should now be focusing on. So, turn up and find out!

You are about to publish your second book on place branding, focusing on Liverpool. Reflecting on the time since your first book on Stockholm, which new insights will you share with readers?

My first book, Wish You Were Here – The Branding of Stockholm and Destinations, had an initial print run of 1,000 copies. When we had to do a second print run within 12 months we were amazed that the book sold so well. It has now sold over 2,500 copies and is still selling well on Amazon, which for a very niche subject is pretty good.

The new book will be called Wish You Were Here Too and will focus on the city of Liverpool, a place I’m truly fascinated by. We will look at some of the issues the city has faced, how it has dealt with these and the challenges it faces for the future.

We will also put in an update section on the Stockholm branding, looking at the results achieved, as well as future issues the city needs to address.

And we’ll look at a few other topics in the book, such as ‘are cities more important than countries’, a view I’m more and more a believer in.

The style of the new book will be the same as the original, a very graphic, visual style, with easy to read sections and learnings. I just need to find time to finish writing it!

Which are the main challenges in switching from traditional destination or city marketing, to a more long-term, place branding strategy?

I think one of the big general challenges is the mental one – of switching from thinking like a public authority or being part of the city administration to that of a commercial organisation. As I’ve said a few times already this is a relatively new phase the industry is in. Acting as a marketing driven, customer focused organisation is obviously critical.

Then two of the major challenges we see for these organisations is developing a truly long-term strategy and defining a realistic and supportable positioning. To put this kind of thinking in place you need people with a strong marketing background and this isn’t always the case with people who come from a more traditional destination or city marketing role.

For place branding to succeed, defining a long-term strategic vision for the place and a strategy to help reach it is vital. It’s hard enough work in a regular, branded goods company, but far tougher in a destination, city, region or country with the multitude of stakeholders.

As founder and CEO of Up There Everywhere, a cloud-based branding and design agency, you are an expert in anything digital. To your mind, are cities and destinations paying enough attention to digital marketing tools and strategies?

In every field digital is becoming more critical every day. Certainly this is true when it comes to places, like destinations and cities. Because we work across a wide range of disciplines, as an agency we tend to spot trends early.

One area we see a tremendous uptake in is with Inbound and Content Marketing. We have been working in this area ourselves for over 8 years and were one of the first in Europe to use an American marketing automation system called HubSpot, for which we are now a Platinum Agency Partner.

One client at UP we work with across Europe is Microsoft, helping them develop their own content marketing programmes with their re-sellers. You learn an awful lot by working with people like Microsoft and we have a huge experience now in running such programmes.

We’re sure that more and more places will start to use marketing automation, premium content, and more sophisticated digital marketing.

Although most companies engage in some form of social media marketing, we reckon over 90% are not currently engaging in true inbound and content marketing. That’s an opportunity for places.

Thank you, Julian.

Connect with Julian Stubbs on LinkedIn or find out more about his work and services offered here. You can also listen to a podcast on the Stockholm case (as well as NY, Boston and Liverpool) here.


This interview forms part of a special series with distinguished speakers of the Liverpool Place Branding event in England, May 31 – June 1, 2018.


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