Place Branders, Don’t Mess With The People’s Brand!

What does place branding look like from a designer’s perspective? In a recent article for Ion Brand Design, David F Coates makes a compelling case for civic engagement in branding. Here is what he has to say:

Emergence of the Place Branding Profession

“Over the past few decades, the specialization of place branding has emerged as a profession while cities, towns and destinations wrestle for an increasingly competitive share of global markets. Luring businesses, families and tourists as an economic driver has become imperative to keeping any place vital and sustainable.”

“Traditionally the realm of MBAs and arm wavers, this practice has often done a good job of establishing the needs of the community, but fallen short of providing an authentic representation of what the place stood for. In essence, a good start, but ultimately, a design failure. Some design firms have taken up the slack by adding civic facilitation to their strategic skill-set, including my own.”

A community is a different kind of corporation

“There’s an intrinsic difference between corporate branding and civic branding. In a corporation, where a product or service is offered, the brand is pushed to the people but owned by the corporation. In civic branding, the brand is owned by the people.”

When attempts at branding a community fail, Coates further writes, then “this is due in large part to a misunderstanding of the design process and the designer’s strategic role on the part of municipal leaders in the development of brands. But further, and maybe more to the point, it is a failure of designers to enlighten leaders about what it is they bring to the table.”

The main problem, according to him, is a lack of consultation and engagement of citizens:

Citizens are engaged on so many levels in communities, but when it comes to developing a brand they are often not consulted. I believe it’s because it isn’t seen as something that’s important in a municipal sense. Those in charge see branding as a corporate enterprise and fail to see that the brand is owned by the community. A failure to engage is indicative of a lack of leadership and equivalent to theft.

“Politicians and bureaucrats need to see that a brand in many ways is what defines a community. It is the essence of that community. It goes far, far beyond a logo. We as design strategists are anthropologists. Our role is to dig in and help reveal stories, culture, folklore, historical origins and physical characteristics by engaging and listening to citizens and stakeholders in whose minds and hearts a brand already exists.”

We need to nurture and tease out a visual manifestation of it. If done well, that manifestation will be authentic and sustainable. It will be true to itself and the community it represents. It will be shared with new audiences in compelling, memorable and evocative ways. It will bring people together with an enduring, common vision that not only seeds brand champions but builds community, culture and economy. It can change the perception of a place by revealing what is there. It can bring out the best in communities and empower them to be better.”

Via Don’t mess with the people’s brand, man! | Ion Brand Design.Featured image by member

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