Which Are the Main Challenges Threatening Place Branding Success?

This post on the main challenges of keeping a city, regional or country brand alive and flourishing follows our earlier article on the key success factors for sustainable place brand management.

The thing is, although there is no shortage of case studies and examples on place brand strategy development, very little information exists on how cities, regions and countries can nurture and sustain (manage) their place brands, once the development phase is completed, and the strategy consultant gone.

We asked our virtual expert panel for advice on the main challenges putting the survival of place brands at risk.

Reading through the many answers, we identified the following main challenges which might prevent place brands from succeeding in the mid- to long-term.

Tip: Through our Information Scout service we can help you find answers to questions you may have linked to your very specific situation and place. If you’d like to see an example of what an information scout report looks like, please email us.

Key challenges of sustaining place brands over time

The below summary of expert answers on this topic is just a snapshot, intended to give you a quick overview of key challenges place brand managers frequently face. If place brand management is an important topic for your job, then we strongly recommend you to read through the 27 pages of answers embedded further below.

1. Securing long-term resources and continuous political engagement

Magdalena Florek says that one of the main challenges of managing a place brand is “to resist political cycles, as usually it influences the branding decisions and actions – new authorities usually propose new approaches/solutions in relation to branding.”

The majority of the members of the panel agree that the two main challenges linked to managing and sustaining a place brand consist of political and financial instability.

As Joao Freire adverts, “the public nature of the place brand is condemning it to its unsustainability.” The changing of politicians, governments and those responsible for the brand makes the maintenance of long-term strategies difficult, as goals and priorities may change together with the new governing professionals.

The same goes for the financing of the project: sustaining a place brand requires a fixed, steady budget for a long period of time (years, not months). However, this might be cut due to political change, leading to a downfall in the performance of the brand.

As Mihhalis Kavaratzis put it: “the main challenge is to go beyond the political cycle of four years that is a real curse for place branding.”

As a response, Malcolm Allan suggests that it is crucial to create “relevant and real early wins for politicians, to help them justify the expense of brand development and delivery.” This would most probably motivate politicians to maintain the goals set initially and be less influenced by temporary circumstances (such as the election period).

2. Keeping stakeholders engaged

A second major concern is the engagement of stakeholders. Remaining relevant for the different interest groups is fundamental for collaboration and for a balanced brand performance. But it is not always easy to keep the stakeholders engaged.

Several respondents expressed that making participants understand that place branding strategies are long-term projects that need constant effort and re-evaluation is a big challenge for the team of brand managers.

3. Maintaining long-term goals

In Sebastian Zenker’s opinion, “the main challenge is the short-term planning of place marketing.”

Similarly, Nikolaj Lubanski outlined the importance of securing “long-term resources and continuous political engagement and collaboration.”

Both for brand managers and the stakeholders, time, continuity and commitment are necessary for place branding projects to be successful in the long run. Short-term, temporary circumstances should not determine or influence long-term goals.

4. Representativeness of the place brand

Several panel members were concerned about the truthfulness of place brands, about how much they actually represent the views and needs of the local residents.

As Hjörtur Smárason said, “the main challenge is getting the general citizens to share the same understanding of what the place stands for and only then will most experiences of the place be in accordance with the brand you want to build.”

Rather than being an external idea conceived by industry representatives, the brand must speak about the place, its core values and its people. “The challenge is to tune the local users (contractors, souvenir producers, event organizers) into the brand values, help them apply and integrate them into their work,” as Natasha Grand expressed.

In the contrary case, a place brand strategy cannot achieve long-term sustainable goals that would serve the local community. Contradictions between the conceived and the lived reality would create discordance.

“Contradictions between what a nation says and what it does in the world present a foundational threat to its ability to maintain its brand” (Nadia Kaneva).

5. Other concerns

A few of our respondents also expressed their concerns about the threat that the lack of a correct attitude may hold for place brands. Marcus Andersson brought out the following aspects: lack of leadership; lack of appropriate governance; lack of trust or culture of collaboration between different stakeholders. All this leads to the need of informing what a place brand is about and educate those in charge of applying it on a daily basis.

Eduardo Oliveira, on the other hand, expressed his concern with the communication side of place branding. “Coordinating the messages communicated and streamlining efforts, not only across national and regional governments, but also across the private sector,” in his eyes is a key challenge.

The following panelists contributed:

Andy Levine (USA), Aparna Dutt Sharma (India), Bill Baker (USA), Björn Jacobsen (Germany), Caio Esteves (Brazil), Cecilia Pasquinelli (Italy), Ed Burghard (USA), Eduardo Oliveira (Switzerland), Günter Soydanbay (Canada), Heather Skinner (Greece), Hila Oren (Israel), Hjörtur Smárason (Denmark), Inga Hlin (Iceland), Jaume Marín (Spain), Jeannette Hanna (Canada), Joao Freire (Portugal), Jordi de San Eugenio Vela (Spain), Julian Stubbs (Sweden), Magdalena Florek (Poland), Malcolm Allan (UK), Marcus Andersson (Sweden), Martin Boisen (Netherlands), Mihalis Kavaratzis (UK), Nadia Kaneva (USA), Natasha Grand (UK), Nikolaj Lubanski (Denmark), Oliver Zöllner (Germany), Robert Govers (Belgium), Sebastian Zenker (Denmark), Todd Mayfield (USA), Tom Buncle (UK).

More about our panel here.

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