Brands and Branding: Definition, Concepts, Theory

Most of us read about and use the terms brand and branding all the time. But what exactly is a brand, or why does the way we brand something like a city or country matter such a great deal?

Learn about:

  • The definition of brand and branding;
  • The value of brands;
  • Branding tourist destinations;
  • How brands help to build trust and respect.

Definition of brand and branding

Brand is a term closely linked to a product or place’s image and reputation in that it “captures the idea of reputation observed, reputation valued and reputation managed” (Anholt, 2010, p. 20).

At its simplest, a brand is “a product or service or organisation, considered in combination with its name, its identity and its reputation” (Anholt, 2007, p. 4).

As “trust broadcast system” (Anholt, 2010, p. 23), branding is the process of promoting selected images (Gold & Ward, 1994) in order to establish a favorable reputation (Anholt, 2007). Branding plays a role in most spheres of life, including “political, social, and cultural, official and unofficial, private and public” (Anholt, 2010, p. 23).

Value of brands

Provided they manage to create a favorable impression in the consumer’s mind (Moilanen & Rainisto, 2009), brands can be of immense value:

If a place, product or service acquires a positive, powerful and solid reputation, this becomes an asset of enormous value – probably more valuable, in fact, than all its tangible assets, because it represents the ability of the place or organisation to continue to trade at a healthy margin for as long as its brand image stays intact. (Anholt, 2010, p. 92)

Indeed, various scholars have argued that a place’s prosperity and progress can only be ensured through creating and maintaining positive brand images (Govers & Go, 2009; Pride, 2011; van Ham, 2008; Widler, 2007). Places unwilling or unable to develop a competitive brand will find it increasingly difficult to win their share of the world’s consumers, capital, investment, talent, cultural exchange, respect and attention (Anholt, 2007).

A strong, positive brand image helps places to differentiate themselves from others (Kotler & Gertner, 2002, 2004; Kotler, Jatusripitak, & Maesincee, 1997). Brands’ differentiating and identifying functions (Aitken & Campelo, 2011) make them a powerful influence on consumer thinking, attitudes, and behavior (Heilbrunn, 2006).

A strong brand can “enable premium pricing, as well as the market segmentation that makes it possible to communicate a coherent message to a target customer group” (Berthon, Holbrook, Hulbert, & Pitt, 2011, p. 41).

Brands are a powerful device to communicate a preferred image of products, services, or indeed places (Aitken, 2011; Campelo et al., 2011; Morgan, Pritchard, & Pride, 2004).

Branding tourist destinations

As intangible “product,” tourist destinations in particular depend on place brands to attract visitors (Hanna & Rowley, 2008). As Morgan and Pritchard (2000) have noted, the battle for customers in the tourism industry will be fought not over price but over the hearts and minds, where branding will be the key to success.

While tourism is frequently referred to as one component, or “output,” of a nation’s branding activities (Anholt, 2007; Hanna & Rowley, 2008), the high visibility of destination brands make them stand out as a crucial part of any nation brand (Giannopoulos et al., 2011), sometimes even making it difficult to distinguish between the two.

Brands: about trust and respect

Importantly, brands represent more than a set of images to promote a product or place; they are about trust and respect (Bell, 2005).

The meanings, symbols, and values represented by brands (Berthon, Holbrook, Hulbert, & Pitt, 2007) “not only reinforce the identity and uniqueness of destinations but also reassure the people, habitus, values, and symbols of their own culture, thus preserving the…‘state of being’ of the place” (Campelo et al., 2011, p. 11).

The potential of brands to re-construct individual identities and re-connect collective ones is particularly relevant “in a post-modern world where identity is fragmented and purpose is unclear” (Aitken, 2011, p. 295).

As Berthon et al. (2011, p. 41) put it, brands are “symbols around which social actors – including firms, suppliers, supplementary organisations, the public, and indeed customers – construct identities.”

Academic literature has referred to this inward-focused function of place brands as national branding (Olins & Hildreth, 2011).


Aitken, R. (2011). Shifting brands: Reception, resistance and revision. In M. Uncles (Ed.), Perspectives on brand management (pp. 291-305). Prahran, Australia: Tilde University Press.

Aitken, R., & Campelo, A. (2011). The four Rs of place branding. Journal of Marketing Management, 27(9/10), 913-933. doi: 10.1080/0267257X.2011.560718

Anholt, S. (2007). Competitive identity: The new brand management for nations, cities and regions. Houndsmills, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.

Anholt, S. (2010). Places: Identity, image and reputation. Houndsmills, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bell, C. (2005). Branding New Zealand: The national green-wash. British Review of New Zealand Studies, 15, 13-27.

Berthon, P., Holbrook, M.B., Hulbert, J.M., & Pitt, L.F. (2007). Viewing brands in multiple dimensions. MIT Sloan Management Review, 48(2), 37-43.

Berthon, P., Holbrook, M.B., Hulbert, J.M., & Pitt, L.F. (2011). Brand manifold: Managing the temporal and socio-cultural dimensions of brands. In M. Uncles (Ed.), Perspectives on brand management (pp. 40-60). Prahran, Australia: Tilde University Press.

Campelo, A., Aitken, R., & Gnoth, J. (2011). Visual rhetoric and ethics in marketing of destinations. Journal of Travel Research, 50(1), 3-14. doi: 10.1177/0047287510362777

Giannopoulos, A.A., Piha, P.L., & Avlonitis, G.J. (2011). ‘Desti-Nation Branding’: What for? From the notions of tourism and nation branding to an integrated framework. Paper presented at the Berlin International Economics Congress 2011: An international conference on the future of nation branding, tourism and international investments in a globalized world, Berlin, Germany. Link

Gold, J.R., & Ward, B. (Eds.). (1994). Place promotion: The use of publicity and marketing to sell towns and regions. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Govers, R., & Go, F. (2009). Place branding: Glocal, virtual and physical identities, constructed, imagined and experienced. Basingstoke, United Kingdom Palgrave Macmillan.

Hanna, S., & Rowley, J. (2008). An analysis of terminology in place branding. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 4(1), 61-75. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.pb.6000084

Heilbrunn, B. (2006). Brave new brands. In J. Schroeder & M. Salzer-Morling (Eds.), Brand culture (pp. 103-117). London, UK: Routledge.

Kotler, P., & Gertner, D. (2002). Country as brand, product, and beyond: A place marketing and brand management perspective. Brand Management, 9(4-5), 249-261. doi: 10.1057/

Kotler, P., & Gertner, D. (2004). Country as brand, product and beyond: A place marketing and brand management perspective. In N. Morgan, A. Pritchard & R. Pride (Eds.), Destination branding: Creating the unique destination proposition (2nd ed., pp. 40-56). Oxford, United Kingdom: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.

Kotler, P., Jatusripitak, S., & Maesincee, S. (1997). The marketing of nations: A strategic approach to building national wealth. New York, NY: Free Press.

Moilanen, T., & Rainisto, S. (2009). How to brand nations, cities and destinations. London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.

Morgan, N., & Pritchard, A. (2000). Advertising in tourism and leisure. Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Morgan, N., Pritchard, A., & Pride, R. (Eds.). (2004). Destination branding: Creating the unique destination proposition. Oxford, United Kingdom: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.

Olins, W., & Hildreth, J. (2011). Nation branding: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. In N. Morgan, A. Pritchard & R. Pride (Eds.), Destination brands: Managing place reputation (3rd ed., pp. 55-66). Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Pride, R. (2011). The tone of voice challenge. In N. Morgan, A. Pritchard & R. Pride (Eds.), Destination brands: Managing place reputation (3rd ed., pp. 129-140). Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann.

van Ham, P. (2008). Place branding: The state of the art. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 616(1), 126-149. doi: 10.1177/0002716207312274

Widler, J. (2007). Nation branding: With pride against prejudice. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 3(2), 144-150. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.pb.6000055

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