A country’s greatness and success are commonly measured in terms of wealth or economic prosperity. It isn’t surprising that the success of place branding initiatives is often seen through a similar lens. Cities, regions, states and countries like to refer to economic data to look at where they stand, compared to previous years – and to their peers and competitors.
But as the popular saying goes – money isn’t everything. Can we have other yardsticks to measure place branding success?
We asked our panel of place branding specialists (answers below are in alphabetical order – highlighted respondents are available for consulting, research, or as speakers): how can we communicate with and convince clients and partners that place branding is about more than “just” economic development?
Some of our takeaways from the panel discussion:
- Many stakeholders have realized that place branding is about more than just economic progress, which is a good sign.
- We should avoid using too many economic terms when discussing success measurement in place branding.
- Research tools like media monitoring, perception surveys, and rankings looking at the well-being of locals and the livability of cities – for instance – can help to determine place branding success beyond financial wealth creation.
- Participation of and feedback from community stakeholders will tell you how successful place branding initiatives are perceived to be.
- Since boosting the reputation of a location is a core objective of place branding, studying its image – changes in perception over time – is a must.
Australia | Firstly, go back to the original goals determined at the outset. Secondly, benchmark yourself against other comparative cities or destinations. These may include numerical markers, such as the local economy, investment, jobs, and the number of people moving to your city.
Numbers are not the only measures, though, and some are much harder to quantify, including happiness, quality of life and access to opportunities.
With the advent of a new wave of benchmarks, urban growth and management agendas have become far more holistic. Today, we look at factors like:
- resident and long-term liveability
- national and international identity and perceptions
- smartness, culture, and neighbourhood vibrancy
- business and institutional investment
- social cohesion and integration
- leadership and institutions
- innovation ecosystems
All these help to understand whether a city has the ingredients required to attract and stimulate growth.
Brazil | Economic data is essential, there is no doubt about it, but there is also no doubt that there are other dimensions to consider. As I consider the human capital of places (their inhabitants, entrepreneurs, et al) as essential and the starting point for place branding.
I am interested in something that until recently was considered too “new-age”: happiness.
After Charles Montgomery’s book Happy City and the advances in the science of happiness, the topic of happiness began to be accepted as something serious.
Someone said that a city is only good for visitors if it is good for residents, I totally believe that.
What does that mean? It means that, in addition to economic indicators, we must take into account the well-being of the community and understand it as an essential part of the place’s assets.
Happier people create happier places and happier places attract more visitors and talent, simple as that.
Australia | Economic success in 2thinknows’ view would be the ultimate measure of place branding. We would see that the economy should be a successful outcome. And it should be specific and measurable and targeted.
The alternative is the rather fuzzy concept of brand awareness. Which in many ways is a traditional defense of advertising passively.
We would argue place branding should increase local employment and economic benefits should be tangible.
However, you should also measure various stakeholder satisfaction levels across the local community. Because in our view, any material financial success must not be at the expense of broad community wellbeing.
USA | The economic development profession must reinvent itself or it will become obsolete. Already much of the data required by companies to make a capital investment is available online. Combine that with real estate agents and the value add of the economic development profession is reduced.
A better role for the profession is to facilitate strategy design and deployment for communities. This shift requires new skills but places the profession in a pivotal role to ensure effective place branding. A shift in professional focus creates an opportunity to shift the paradigm on success measures. Until such a shift occurs, there is little incentive to move beyond historical measures like incremental jobs per year.
Canada | Place branding might be more than economic development, but first and foremost, it is -and it will remain- primarily about economics.
The great psychologist, late James Hillman, said, “The Economy has become the God of world civilization. Economics is our current theology, regardless of how we spend Sunday.” Stripped bare that is the inconvenient truth of any place branding project.
I do believe that most place branding projects fail not because they use too much economic data to measure success but too little.
While the ROI calculation of a place branding project is a complex and challenging question, it still needs to be answered. Therefore, whatever I have to tell my clients and partners who use economic data, ROI-related messages should be the first to be conveyed.
Canada | Flip the equation around. What are the factors that fuel economic development? A virtuous cycle of economic development starts with a community that is ambitious for a better future and embraces opportunities.
Place branding helps create the conditions that allow economic development to thrive: shared goals, a compelling vision for the future, a strategic roadmap, and an effective way of focusing collective resources. It brings coherence and long-term continuity to reputation building that’s so vital to economic development initiatives.
The Netherlands | Place branding is more than economic development. Full stop. And one doesn’t exclude the other.
Clients and partners, hopefully, aren’t limited to considering economic data to measure success. In my experience, as an advisor to many cities and regions across Europe, most stakeholders agree that place branding is about something deeper and more meaningful, and are quite capable of discerning between economic success and other types of success. It is, however, something that requires adamant and frequent explanation, as it is something easily forgotten in day-to-day operations.
Belgium | Place branding is about managing reputation and economic strength is partly built on reputational strength, so – obviously – it is tremendously important. It’s an indirect effect, so not always easy to express in terms of economic outcomes, but therefore certainly not irrelevant.
Denmark | Companies not only use economic measurements but also rely on qualitative measurements like customer satisfaction or loyalty. Thus, even if you would see it only from an economic point of view (and places serve more than an economic purpose) – you need to take the other success indicators (such as satisfaction) into account.
Australia | Economic measurements are the easiest, but if we do our research correctly and we know our story we also understand what holds us back. There is a pattern of success in every place, and our job is to invite as many people as possible to be a part of it.
It’s relatively easy to use the tools of marketing and branding to make the already successful a bit more successful. The hard part is to use the brand to uplift other parts of the community. We begin by listening.
Sweden | First, place branding seems presented and is only masked by ‘economic’ terms and words. Place branding is about the social and political impact and development.
Second, a good way is to change words and vocabulary when talking to clients and partners. Debunk the myth of place branding as a pure economic tool, by talking about place branding in different terms.
For example, I see many consultants that present projects using terms like “spin-off” or “ROI” which are not understandable by many local public authorities. In other words, de-corporatize the language used to narrate and explain place branding activities (the term place branding itself is problematic… but this is another story).
India | This is a most challenging area for a branding expert to tackle, especially when convincing the audience on the necessity for place branding. Almost always hard data is asked for before a commitment can be made and it needs to be deftly tackled.
Over the years, I have realized with experience that to show economic data as a vindication of success calls for sustained effort and takes time. In the meantime, regular media audits and perception surveys serve as definite levers for building confidence amongst clients and partners.
At the same time, initiatives such as conferences, workshops, and discussions that engage the stakeholders in focussed discussion(s) around topics of relevance and ideas/opinions/perspectives expressed at such platforms serve as definite indicators of the impact being made by place branding initiatives.
These sustained over time help create a nurturing environment that can lead to the much-desired data proof points. A word of caution, to create that kind of conviction amongst clients and partners, it is extremely important to keep the narrative credible and factual.
Eventually and again based on my own experience, the change in perception is a definite indicator of the impact of place branding, which is the first phase before the much-awaited result – both in data and non-data terms – starts flowing in.
Until then, the tryst would appear complex, overwhelming, and challenging but when the first breakthrough does come in and more follows, it is a magical moment making it all well worth the effort.
Argentina | Branding is basically emotional. Not everything can be reduced to numbers. Public and private executives related to the promotion of a specific place must understand and recognize that we humans are a species that ultimately takes irrational decisions, a subject that was vastly studied.
When promoting a place you have two options: doing it well or doing it bad. Doing it well means having a consensus to clearly define place attributes, a unified vision, a solid message. All these will help others to forge a favourable emotional bias towards our place. Numbers will come later!
Russia | So far we need the reporting standard, which could help in organizing relevant information. Some numbers are available on a regular basis – for example, tourist flows, hotel nights, etc. We just need models to transform them into the metrics that make sense in terms of place branding.
Spain | Proving the ROI in any campaign is not easy, as it will depend on different factors. We can provide data about a certain campaign, but in this case, when we talk about narrative and storytelling, we need to develop a more holistic way of seeing it, and therefore, the results must be measured comparing different KPIs in the following years.
Spain | It is the one-million-dollar question. We’re talking about intangibles. How can we measure the benefits of the intangible assets of our place? How much does it cost our landscape? This is a difficult issue.
In my opinion, there doesn’t exist a final answer to these questions. “Show me the money” cannot be the unique argument to build a strong place branding campaign. Yes, you want to see the money, but any place branding strategy goes beyond this.
Where is the ‘Return on My Investment’ (ROI)? Take it easy my friend. As you know, a real place branding campaign needs some time to show its influence on the economic activity of any place. In my opinion, economic data is not the unique variable to measure the success of a place branding campaign.
Colombia | The foundation of the brand is to work to make the place visible and contribute to closing the gaps between perception and reality when it is outdated. If the brand does it well, the reputation of the place will be better, that is really what you have to measure, you say it is a consequence of the above.
Sweden | A good start is to develop KPIs that measure social sustainability factors, such as openness, diversity, tolerance, social well-being, etc, and communicate the result of these to clients and partners.
Previous questions answered by the panel here.
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