Who is Who

Dr. Natasha Grand Norman

Dr. Natasha Grand Norman is a co-founder and a leading strategist at INSTID (Institute for Identity), specializing in place branding and identity creation for communities and regions. Her work, grounded in cultural studies and identity politics, involves consulting with cities, regions, and countries worldwide to craft compelling, cohesive identities that foster a sense of belonging and pride among diverse populations.

Based in London, UK, Natasha's expertise spans research, consulting, and public speaking, focusing on the dynamics between place identity and community engagement. She is a sought-after advisor for projects aimed at sustainable development and cultural coherence.

As a public speaker and thought leader, Natasha shares her insights into place branding, leveraging her extensive portfolio of international projects. She contributes to both academic and professional circles, bridging theoretical knowledge with practical applications to enhance global place visibility and attractiveness.

Q & A

Natasha, what is your ‘perch’ in place branding?

My specialty is place identity. Our clients are those in charge of developing or marketing places. We help them with ‘what’ they promote: the personality of their place.

Why is place personality important?

Because if a place is not clear what sets it apart from the others and holds it together, it won’t be clear to any of its target audiences, including its own residents.

Most places can reasonably claim to have a great lifestyle and to be diverse, welcoming, and safe. All good and true, but so what? A place that has too generic a proposition that ticks the right boxes is like a speech that mentions everyone and inspires no one.

Instead of being all things to all people, a generic ‘we are great’, it is arguably better to take a stand and specify what we are great at, and what not so much.

For example, we have worked with places that were ‘scientists’, ‘artists’, ‘mothers’, ‘rebels’, ‘innocents’, and ‘good neighbours’. Knowledge of their place personality gave them, among other things, a clear tourism angle: the ‘science’ place prioritised MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions tourism), the ‘mother’ focused on creating an endless choice of tourism products and services, the ‘innocent’ offered some peace and quiet, and the ‘good neighbour’ welcomed lonely souls.

So, place personality points to your natural strengths and also to your organic target audiences. Place personality is also a common hymn sheet for various stakeholders to sing from – and achieve synergy between talent, investment, and visitor attraction.

As a result, the place gets a focus, a clear image – much easier to be noticed by the outsiders and to be appreciated by the residents.

How do you discover the place personality?

Through conversation and observation. The Guardian wrote, ‘Natasha Grand’s work requires a heroic amount of conversation’. We talk to the local people of all walks of life about what matters to them. How they run their businesses, how they spend their free time, how they raise their children, what success looks like to them, what motivates them. These conversations produce a realistic, veritable and deep understanding of what moves people who live here, what matters to them and what they have in common. These get distilled into the place values.

Observation is very useful. We watch how things are done: fast or thoroughly, alone or together, what is socially accepted and what is not. All these point to a way of living in a place; what one does to fit in, and what is not accepted. Academically speaking, this method is called Rapid Ethnographic Assessment (REA), but onlookers compare it to collective therapy, because the process itself opens people’s eyes on what they appreciate, love, and share.

Our deliverable is a profile of values, natural strengths, and character of a place – not dissimilar to a psychological profile, applied to a whole population. We also show how this personality is best used in tourism, investment, talent, and student attraction, and make policy suggestions for economic and cultural development. It is much easier to grow when you know yourself.

Can places define their personality by themselves? After all, don’t the local people know the place best?

People certainly have ideas what is special about them! Paradoxically, what they think is special is something out of the ordinary, something exceptional, hardest to do: introverts say they are open-hearted, or creatives say they are so organized. In fact, the real personality of a place lies in the realm of normal and mundane, the things that go without saying and hardly get noticed. So, if your residents have a certain self-perception, turn it 180 degrees and look at the opposite – you are much likely to find your place personality there.

Another difficulty with ‘self-diagnosis’ is that it may end up being very generic, as such things are often decided by a committee, and nobody wants to take risks. Having a qualified outsider who takes responsibility for defining the brand personality allows for more confident, and bolder, decisions.

You talk of a common profile but most places have residents of different ethnicities, religions, languages… How do you account for the diversity of people living in a place?

I may be controversial, but I wouldn’t try and give a nod to every group; this wrong path leads to a ‘salad’ rather than a clear image: a bit of this, and also a bit of that, and we should not forget that either. This is a recipe for oblivion. Instead, we work very hard – and it is very hard – to find something in common among all the people who call this place home.

We believe that each place, with its specific climate, particular geography, own history dictates an optimal way of life for its residents. It encourages certain behaviours as effective for prosperity and discourages others as futile. This is deeper, more fundamental, visceral if you like, than ethnicity or religion. To see the connection between the place and the people is one of the most fascinating aspects of our work.

The short answer is that we seek common values and behavioural patterns among the diversity of residents, rather than simply acknowledging such diversity.

Do place personalities differ between cities, regions and nations? Is there a ‘personality’ architecture?

In an ideal world, if place personalities are properly defined, they should fit each other like Russian dolls: going from towns to regions and the nations. As you progress, the unifying values become more and more abstract. So a village personality can focus on a local tradition but a national personality will be in the realm of values and behavioural traits.

Regions are considered the hardest to ‘brand’ as they sit between cities and the country, but I find them most interesting!

In your LinkedIN profile, you talk about ‘shopping list’ of values and say it is wrong. Can you explain?

Most places have at least a tourism destination ‘brand’, and a brand book, and in that brand book they have a list of values, and maybe even ‘the tone of voice’, or character. If you look at those values, they are often random, generic and easily forgettable. Why? Because they do not add up to one coherent image. But many would have ‘caring’ and ‘daring’ on the same page without a blink of an eyelid – whereas caring people do not tend to be daring, these are antonyms!

Human brains are systematic, therefore, your values must add up to a certain type that we already know: a carer, a darer, an inventor, an explorer – you can be any type, but it should be a clear type, not a mixture of 4 or 5 different types. Otherwise, your values are a random list, and they do nothing for creating a clear place image for your audiences.

We offer an ‘identity check up’ for DMOs who have their place values defined but are not sure if they add up to a clear focus.

Is your work then primarily for places who have not done branding yet?

One may think so, but interestingly, place brand values have come full circle from the early days of branding and are back on the agenda. Geerte Udo, who is in charge of Amsterdam's brand, said at the last PlacexNordics conference that values are top of her agenda, alongside data – this is after 20 years of leading one of the world's most successful place brands!

Place brands typically grow out of tourism, who have the most mandate to promote a place. As they mature, talent and investment attraction tend to either come up with their own ‘brand’, leading to discord, or stretch the tourism brand, which is insufficient. A unified brand value proposition, that works across and for different agencies, is very much in demand.

So, the place branding journey tends to need a constant value check and development.

How do you see the KPI of place branding?

Our own measure of success is to hear from the locals: ‘we have always felt this but did not know how to put it ourselves’… or ‘you have found something we can love ourselves for’.

Successful place branding can be measured not in clicks and visitor spend, although these are useful. Ultimately, working with place identity gives local residents confidence, the words to express their love for their place. Places that know themselves are happier, more peaceful, and more economically successful.

What advice can you offer to our readers?

Assuming they are civil servants, first of all, be brave. It takes guts and commitment to create a place brand, involving extensive conversations across departments, but the results are profoundly rewarding both professionally and personally.

Second, if you have an anthropological interest, observe how your place affects people. Investigate the stories told to children, the values imparted, and the local role models. This can offer deep insights into your place's identity.

Third, get in touch. Even for a chat, especially if you're uncertain. Our experience with diverse place personalities could offer valuable advice or direction. Consider joining the women in place branding group on LinkedIn, or reach out directly. Remember, "She who dares connects!" It might be intimidating, but it's worth it.

Speaker Profile

Natasha is a dynamic speaker known for her insightful exploration of place identity, the emotional bonds with locations, and practical place branding insights. Her ability to reveal 'never-thought-of-it-before' moments makes her sessions invaluable for professionals in tourism, communication, and place promotion.

Her talks, such as 'Irresistible Attraction,' 'Don’t be “good”,' and 'Mind Rotten Tomatoes,' are designed to inspire and provide actionable strategies. Using hashtags like #I-know-what-to-do-now and #bring-on-the-future, Natasha promises to open new horizons and equip her audience with the tools needed for success.

Whether it’s through inspirational keynotes or practical workshops, Natasha's expertise is perfect for anyone looking to understand the intricacies of place branding or to forge stronger connections between people and places.

Recent Presentations

  • "Finding the Special in Every Place
    Place and Cultural Heritage Branding Conference, University of Udine, Gorizia, Italy, 11-12 December 2023

  • Pitching for Investment: Why Nobody Cares About Your Brochure
    City Nation Place Global conference, London, 9-10 November 2023

  • Good Places, Great Characters
    Nordic Place Branding Conference, Helsinki, 2 May 2023

  • Place for Food
    CityNationPlace Global, London, 6 November 2022


INSTID specializes in amplifying the unique identity of overlooked places, delivering tailored branding, marketing, and communication services. Their comprehensive approach encompasses strategy development, visual and textual branding, community engagement, and global promotion. By deeply understanding the culture, assets, and dynamics of a place, INSTID crafts authentic narratives that resonate locally and internationally, ensuring a genuine and impactful representation of each location's identity and potential.

"Natasha's work requires heroic amount of conversation. Fortunately, she is quite good at it. She is interested when she listens and interesting when she talks." - The Guardian


  • “Nation branding and national identity: a practitioner’s perspective” in Dinnie, K 2022 “Nation Branding: Concepts, Issues, Practice” (3rd ed); Routledge.
  • “Rise of the Storyteller-in-Chief” by Justin Webb, Governance Matters, Chandler Institute of Governance, 2021.
  • EuroNews TV Channel Debates: Nation Branding in the Changing World (2021).
  • “How to Create a Resilient National Brand”, Chandler Good Government Index.
  • Guardian Long Read — “How to sell a country: the booming business of nation branding”.
  • Apolitical — “Cities are turning to brand consultants to improve their image — does it work?”
  • Folch Insights — “Where do you choose to spend your life? How can a place persuade you to stay rather than go somewhere else?”
  • The Place Brand Observer — “Interview with Natasha Grand on Creating Place Identity”.

Contact Natasha