Have place branding professionals, place marketers (and the rest of us) succumbed to a ranking fetish? Asks Eduardo Oliveira on the PlacesBrands Blog. “People seem to set great stock in rankings or lists such as ‘best of’ or ‘top 10′. But in reality these rankings don’t have as much power as people think. They simply divert focus, resources and effort from what is truly important in place branding.”
He laments that some people still seem to think that, when it comes to branding, places (countries, cities, regions) could be branded in a way similar to products, services or companies.
“Places, as countries or cities, are intricate phenomena, involving geographic, economic, social, and cultural components. Places are much more complex than products. Treating a city, a region, or a country as it were a product does not seem logical.”
“The discourse attempting to define “place” has been substantially transformed in the last few decades. This transformation has encompassed both the production and the meaning of place, which have both been largely influenced by commodification, devaluation and the impact of globalization upon places.”
Does it thus make sense to attempt to measure and benchmark places by means of their (brand) image and reputation, as is done by indices such as FutureBrand Country Index, the Anholt-GfK Roper City Brands Index, Bloom Consulting Country Brand Ranking, or the Saffron European City Brand Barometer (not to mention rankings and top ten lists offered by the media)?
Perhaps more important even, what is the impact of these rankings upon the communities in question? As Eduardo puts it, “place branding is more than communicating messages to create associations in people’s minds.”
The publication of these place rankings can somehow generate momentum in raising awareness of a place. If local businesses, multinationals, cultural and sporting organizations, exporters, tourism organizations, government agencies and individuals, consistently engage with the outside world referencing their place of origin with pride, it will raise awareness and may even have a slight impact on reputation.
Eduardo Oliveira is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Spatial Planning & Environment, Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen, The Netherlands. His work focuses on the theory and practice of place branding in strategic spatial planning.
About the “ranking fetish,” it is very much human nature to benchmark yourself or your organization against others. Not to mention marketing budgets being influenced by these place/brand reputation indices.
However, Eduardo quite rightly points out that place branding should go much further than just putting a nice face on what might be a sad person underneath.
Because country or city brands in particular are such powerful tools (imagine someone painting your house green without asking…), they have to be dealt with carefully and with all stakeholders in mind.
Place brands can – and indices help find out just how much by revealing place / brand reputation – be very useful to attract people and money.
Yet, the more successful they are, the more impact place brands will have on people and businesses, who might find themselves in the sometimes challenging situation of having to provide the substance behind the branding claim, such as in the case of 100% Pure New Zealand.