How to Maintain the Successful Brand of a City, Region or Country?

Over the last three years we have featured many cases and examples of place brand strategy development, but so far know little about how cities, regions and countries nurture and sustain (manage) their place brands, once the development phase is completed.

We asked our virtual expert panel for advice on the key success factors for maintaining and sustaining a place brand, and the main challenges putting the survival of place brands at risk.

Reading through the many answers, we identified five keys to success for making place brands succeed in the mid- to long term. A summary of expert views on the main challenges follows in our next post.

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 such an information scout report looks like, please email us.

How to maintain a place brand: 5 keys to success

As expected, there is no one secret to successfully managing and sustaining a city, region or country brand. The following five points are a mere snapshot of expert views on what it takes to successfully manage a place brand.

We received a long list of different suggestions on how to lead a long-term, sustainable place brand project. Those are all freely available to our subscribers further below, so you can uncover the keys to success most relevant for your specific situation or place.

The most common experience-based recommendations were the following:

1. Setting long-term goals and creating mechanisms that impede sudden changes

Place branding strategies require time for their creation and implementation. Political cycles do not always respect these timings. For this reason, place branding experts underline the importance of education and communication as a means of brand maintenance.

Ed Burghard wrote: “ensuring all constituents in a community understand the brand promise and how their efforts support its delivery is an ongoing educational challenge.”

If stakeholders (politicians, industry professionals, businesses, residents) understand the function of a place brand from the inside, they are more likely to give credibility and long-term support to the brand.

Nikolaj Lubanski said it is essential to “have support from a wide range of stakeholders who furthermore should be willing to invest in the brand long term; it takes time to build up a brand.” He also added, “the city brand should also be authentic and true to the region it is representing.”

This leads us to the second key aspect to successful place branding: authenticity.

2. Authenticity through involvement of the local community 

Many of our panelists underlined the importance of making sure that visual and verbal brand identity is in accordance with the essence of the place and its community. Furthermore, once established, the message and the narratives must be constantly ‘hacked’ to assure they correspond to the changes that take place over time.

Oliver Zöllner put it as follows:

Managing and sustaining a city/region/country brand calls for a constant cross-checking if the brand message is still in tune with the place under question, as storylines, narratives, values, moods, etc. (the ‘realities’ of the place), tend to change and shift constantly. As place branders, we don’t want to communicate brand stories that are fancy make-believe – we must seek to grasp the spirit of the place, and its essence.

In terms of authenticity, Cecilia Pasquinelli calls for the ‘ordinarity’ of the place brand, in contrast to the widely spread practice of creating original, extraordinary brand stories:

There is a need to legitimize the brand not as a matter of exceptionality or extraordinarity (…) but, instead, as a matter of ordinarity (evident and present in community’s everyday life, on the bus when going to work, in the supermarket when buying products, amongst your apps when you need some help, in order for the brand to be “used” progressively).

3. Leadership: involving the right partners and stakeholders

Hila Oren believes that “collaboration between the Municipal body, the private sector and civil society is imperative to ensure the city brand is successful.” From this perspective, responsibility for the place brand should be spread between the industry partners and the political figures who oversee implementing the strategy.

However, some of our panel members emphasize the importance of getting branding professionals involved. “Branding needs to be run by professionals who understand branding and who are empowered to independently sustain the campaign till the strategy and vision are met with,” according to Aparna Dutt Sharma.

Tom Buncle suggests creating positions such as brand advocates and a brand guardian, while training new brand “champions”.

Marcus Andersson marks the importance of leadership: “a team of dedicated change leaders – ideally representing both the public and the private sector – that drive and sustain the branding process.”

Günter Soydanbay agrees upon the importance of a strong leader who must be “internally-motivated”. He suggests that this person could be the mayor, the governor, or the head of the development agency. “Regardless, that person must envision, protect, and nurture the brand.” Protecting the brand can mean a plethora of things; including guarding against fraud attacks that can diminish the brand’s value. Brands often hire companies who offer services to protect your company brand against fraudulent activity.

On the other hand, Bill Baker puts emphasis on the collaboration of the branding professionals and other stakeholders:

It is important that the brand is defined in a consultative manner and reveals its competitive and distinctive values and essence that are perennial. Key stakeholders should be engaged throughout the brand planning process to rally support for the long term.

Similarly, Andy Levine underlines that:

The success of any place branding exercise relies heavily on getting credible third parties – local residents, corporate executives in your community, industry/subject matter experts and the news media – to embrace and communicate the community’s assets to their networks.

4. Regulations and measuring

From a more technical side, Martin Boisen outlined various criteria that should help maintain the place brand. In first place, he suggested that it’s important to make sure all the organizations involved have clear mandates.

Secondly, distinctions between key performance indicators, and key perception indicators must be made to evaluate both individual projects and the way in which generic efforts and budgets have been spent.

Importantly, Martin Boisen also puts emphasis on harnessing the “creativity of the place in a continuous process of inviting stakeholders and citizens with good ideas.”

Similarly, Björn Jacobsen underlined the importance of establishing a measurement (KPIs) for success of place branding activities, while Inga Hlin recommended to establish clear objectives that are measurable, to keep focus – long term thinking and alertness.

From another perspective, in order to guarantee the longevity of a place brand, Nadia Kaneva suggests strengthening “transnational institutions and legal frameworks that keep nation-states accountable for their actions, both to their citizens and to the global community.”

5. Imagination

Finally, Robert Govers shares the biggest lesson from his long experience with place branding, saying that in the end it all comes down to having a lot of imagination:

The key success factor is “imagination”. If you agree that place brands are built and reinforced through concerted focused action (not words), you need a constant stream of imaginative, communicative, innovative, creative ideas, projects, investments, infrastructures, policies and events that are uniquely and unmistakably from city/country X.

That’s the end of our short summary of expert views on key success factors. More recommendations for successful place brand management further below in our report with full-length answers – essential reading for anyone professionally involved in place branding, destination management or economic development.

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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