Which Are the Main Place Branding Challenges and Trends in 2019?

City Nation Place recently published a list of 8 emerging challenges and key place branding trends in 2019. We asked our virtual panel of place brand experts which of those they’d consider the most relevant for the community they live in, or the places and clients they work with.

You have a question about place branding? Put it to the panel here – or use our Information Scout service for a fast, custom-tailored answer.

Key place branding challenges and trends in 2019:

Andrew HoyneAndrew Hoyne, Australia:

Business profile | speaker profile

At Hoyne we believe the following trends are most relevant to our work – “Connecting the dots between “place making” or “place shaping” and “place marketing” is an increasingly prevalent objective. Your place brand is as much about your architecture, infrastructure, and physical attractions as it is about your values and your people. Developing your individual attractiveness, avoiding the looming but dreaded homogeneity between places, is increasingly important.”

This is the core of our work now. We see placemaking as an umbrella concept that covers myriad crucial collaborations and activations. Placemaking is not an orphan.

Today much of our work with clients begins with the creation of a place vision for the place, precinct or project. This is essentially a strategic blueprint, representing a plan for overarching growth and development, something that cannot be achieved by an icon on marketing material.

A sassy slogan and cool logo are not strategic drivers for improved liveability and pride, new platforms for business opportunities and job growth, or ways to increase visitation.

Successful places need high-quality visioning, placemaking, planning and design. To avoid the trap of homogeneity, places also need a point of difference – an existing asset or something that can be created, with delivery guaranteed.

Branding and its associated tools must convey the spirit of a place, helping people understand what makes it distinct and magnetic. Marketing should be tactical, bringing the strategy to life through short-term activations and long-term campaigns.

Town planning, urbanism and architecture create magnetic and meaningful destinations. Such physical attributes are the best form of a place brand. This is very important. Actions speak louder than logos. Your audience wants to see the unique attributes of their city manifested in everyday life.

Place branding can enhance outcomes at all levels but requires various skills and disciplines to create destinations that meet the needs of different people across various geographic and cultural places.

Efe Sevin, USA:

Researcher profile

Understanding and leveraging the brand hierarchy of your nation, region, city and place.

Sustainability is a term that is taking on an increasingly complex relevance.

Attracting and developing talent is being talked about by more and more of the places we speak to and competition is fierce. 

For the community I live in (Woodstock & Cherokee County, Georgia, US) the above three challenges are very much related. The region is just to the north of Atlanta. Some parts are considered to be inside the metro Atlanta region for census purposes. This particular proximity creates various opportunities – such as access to metropolitan infrastructure – yet is not without its perils. Atlanta is one of the largest cities in the country and has played a significant role in American history. The city is home to several large businesses (e.g. CNN, Coca Cola, Delta Airlines) and tourist destinations (e.g. Olympic Park, Coca Cola Museum, Center for Civil and Human Rights, Oakland Cemetery).

Northern Georgia needs to be cognizant of this giant in place branding. Positioning the cities as residential areas for Atlanta-based professionals creates the danger of becoming bedroom communities. Attempting to ’steal’ tourists from Atlanta is a tough strategy. More and more we see cities relying on day-or weekend-trips from Atlanta. However, this strategy creates a sustainability issue. If you position a region as a short-term destination, your market is limited. In the long-run, you rely on repeat visitors, which might be difficult to retain.

Similarly, Atlanta is a challenge in both attracting and developing talent. The city houses several nationally-known universities, such as Georgia Tech, Emory, and Georgia State University. Universities in Northern Georgia do not have the necessary resources to recruit from the same student pool, so students tend to move to the city from the region. The same goes for professional careers after college. Organizations in Atlanta are able to offer better pay, benefits, and opportunities to their employees compared to the smaller businesses in the North.

Heather SkinnerHeather Skinner, Greece:

Researcher profile

Are you an effective advocate for your place brand to your citizens and to government?

I live on an island (Corfu) heavily dependent upon tourism in the summer season. There have been some infrastructure problems here that have been growing over the past few years, including roads with large potholes remaining in a state of disrepair, with some roads having collapsed completely, and piling up of mountains of trash along the roadsides, leading to demonstrations and tensions between police and residents that has seen riot police being brought in to have a highly visible presence over the past year.

The changing nature of information agents due to the rise of social media usage now means that anyone can post photographs and stories about these problems all around the world and discuss the problems in open social media platforms. This has led to large numbers of tourists expressing their intention not to revisit.

This is damaging the place brand, but only because in many cases, what is being put out on social media is the truth, rather than the more ‘sanitised’ place brand identity that is being presented by government and many tour operators. We need to better understand how to manage these issues if all place brand stakeholders are to effectively advocate the place brand. Regular and potential tourists will hear these other stories, we cannot simply sweep them under the carpet and pretend they do not exist.

Connecting the dots between “placemaking” or “place shaping” and “place marketing”.

Many terms continue to be used relatively interchangeably. We will never “connect the dots” between the concepts if academics and practitioners cannot even agree on what they mean.

“Place making” and “place shaping” have become trendy concepts, and so developers are latching onto these, even though what they are describing as place making may not be how we would want the term to be used. 

Networks are key.

Places are made, managed and marketed through a whole raft of relationships between a wide and diverse range of stakeholders in the public, private and non-profit sectors. The acknowledgement and understanding of these networks, and effective communication between them is definitely key to being effective in any place management and marketing efforts.

Hjörtur SmárasonHjörtur Smárason, Denmark:

Business profile | speaker profile

The economic uncertainty and shifts in global trade opens up great opportunities for places, and at the same time a fierce competition for the shifting resources.

Brexit opens up a new competition between European cities to attract companies that want to leave Britain, trade wars change market conditions and create new opportunities for the revival of before struggling cities. It is important that governments understand this, and that if you do not invest in the branding of your place chances are your place will lose out in the shift that is happening.

Sustainability is another of the primary trends that are driving change in the global economy. Understanding the impact of climate change as well as the change in demand and needs of both tourists, investors and talent is crucial to the success of your place and your future economic development.

Places way too often isolate themselves based on their political boundaries and fail to understand that these invisible boarders make absolutely no difference to investors, tourists or talents.

It is important to understand first, that your competition is rarely the next village. That is rather you ally.

And secondly, just like you find a series of the same type of shops at the same street and the benefits of cluster cooperation, it can be beneficial for you to work closely together with your main competitors and create a network where you share access to resources, knowledge and talent supporting the growth all the participating places. Understanding these network dynamics can have a profound impact on the success of your place branding strategy.

Jeannette Hanna panelJeannette Hanna, Canada:

Business profile | speaker profile

Understanding and leveraging the brand hierarchy of your nation, region, city and place – we’re seeing a growing interest in the nature of the brand relationship between nation, region and city, and in the benefits of leveraging this for more effective communication on the global stage.

Networks are key: we’re seeing more and more examples of collaboration between places with similar attractions and/or objectives, and more creativity around how such collaborations are structured. It’s never been more important for nation, city and place branding teams to meet their peers and come up with new ideas together.

There are critical inter-dependencies and synergies across place brand relationships at the nation, region, city/locale and neighborhood levels. Each type of jurisdiction has specific brand experience drivers that it can “own” and, beyond its borders, a great deal it can influence as well.

These distinct brands can be aligned as “constellations” – each locale shining in its own right but all contributing to a larger, coherent image based on shared values and cultural DNA.

It’s important to consider how linked place brands complement each other and enrich each other’s value (e.g. a highly urbanized downtown core can promote its proximity to unique natural features and vice versa). However, these mutually supportive relationships rarely happen spontaneously. They demand ongoing “care and feeding” through incentives, shared resources, governance and metrics.

The Øresund Region, in which Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden) market their region jointly, is often highlighted as a European model for cross-border cooperation.

Sustainability is a term that is taking on an increasingly complex relevance – we’re not just talking about the environmental impact of tourism, but also the need to develop tourism and economic development strategies that contribute to sustainable growth for your place without alienating your citizenry or changing your identity and attractiveness.

Long-term sustainability and resilience are closely related topics that are gaining traction with forward-looking destinations based on increasingly sophisticated understanding of life-cycle planning and the challenges that come with too much of a good thing.

Destinations are looking at a variety of creative strategies to tackle these issues. Palau is the first nation to only issue visas to tourists who sign an eco-pledge, promising to act in an environmentally responsible way. New Zealand is imposing a tax on most international visitors to fund infrastructure and ease strains on the nation’s booming tourist sector that grew by 30% last year. Many cities have appointed Chief Resilience Officers to develop the kind of risk management strategies that cities need.

Attracting and developing talent is being talked about by more and more of the places we speak to and competition is fierce. How do you engage universities and other education providers, key stakeholders and contributors to your place brand?

This is such a common-sense issue that we are constantly amazed how many places and post-secondary institutions are just waking up to the opportunities. The “town/gown” divide unfortunately has a long history, at least in North America.

Progressive institutions and places are putting in creative programs to attracting and retain talent – students, faculty and staff – recognizing that this vital to the long-term sustainability of both.

Many institutions have suffered wake-up calls when top faculty have responded to an offer of employment with, “I love your institution, but I can’t see myself living in that location.” Likewise, for many major employers, having top ranked educational and research facilities close at hand are “must-haves” in their decision criteria.

A great example of a powerful talent-retention initiative is the The Edinburgh Guarantee. The Scottish capital ensures that every young person leaves school with the offer of a job, apprenticeship, training or further educational opportunity. Edinburgh works with partners to identify these employment opportunities. The scheme offers support to employers and young people, through wage subsidies, financial support, and training courses. These ensure that it benefits young people and businesses alike.

Juan Carlos Belloso panelJuan Carlos Belloso, Spain:

Speaker profile

I would say:

Are you an effective advocate for your place brand to your citizens and to government? Or, in other words, how to engage all key city stakeholders in making and promoting (telling) the brand (story).

Connecting the dots between “placemaking” or “place shaping” and “place marketing”: Making a great, attractive place to live, work, invest, visit, etc. is the key to a great brand.

Networks are key: Today, networking and developing alliances and partnerships (internal and external) is fundamental for any kind of project, even more for places and place brands.

Magdalena FlorekMagdalena Florek, Poland:

Recently, I noticed two challenges which are of special interest for the place managers I work with. The first challenge is the issue of brand architecture in various contexts. The relations between particular aspects of place activities are often difficult to translate to branding. Having already many brands which co-exist (areas within particular regions, various institutions, events, commercial products etc.) poses a huge challenge when it comes to effective and efficient place brand management.

Deep analysis of the links between the brands is necessary to find the exact solution for their management and communication (e.g. common versus specific areas). These links are often difficult to systematize, but necessary to prioritize. Things that are very significant here are the ambitions, available funds and political issues, which make it even more complicated.

Secondly, there is a need to build networks and to collaborate. A crucial point is not only to cooperate but to build partnerships in order not to downgrade the roles of the participants. Today they want to be important and feel needed.

In other words, there is a need to be a part of a place where one can be heard and is able to act. At the same time, clear rules and the division of roles are required due to the fact that duplicating activities and responsibilities is very common in place brand management.

Paertel-Peeter PerePärtel-Peeter Pere, Estonia:

Business profile

The key trend in place branding for years now has been what we call Talent Attraction Management. It is not about only attracting them but providing them a service throughout their stay.

The need for talents is particularly pronounced in Europe and the Nordic countries. Big places that have managed to successfully attract talent will need to continue to do so. In big cities, retaining talent (because of, for example, housing issues) creates a different set of challenges. At the same time, non-capital and smaller cities are at a disadvantage by default and for many, the right talent attraction strategy can be a question of survival.

All cities and towns need talent – and increasingly so.

Sustainability is a problem and with 2030 looming, we do not have much time to change everything about everything. The Nordic Place Branding Conference 2019 focuses on the triple bottom line as well, whether we talk about investment promotion, talents, placemaking or tourism.

Digital transformation of places is vital for their survival. Like companies, cities need to have digital services.

Having a PDF form of a paper is NOT digitalisation. Digitising services is one thing, digitalisation another, and digital transformation a third thing. Digital transformation is what cities and regions need to do. Cities need to not only use digitalisation to do things better, they need to transform themselves digitally to be able to do better things.

We are just concluding a Nordic cities project Digitalisation for Attractive Places and will publish a handbook on this in March.

Robert Govers, Belgium:

Business profile | researcher profile | speaker profile

Based on that list I’d say that the biggest challenge is to stay true to your “purpose” and positioning and not to get dragged down to the level of protectionism, competition (also between geographical scales) and the political flavor of the day.

Tom Buncle, United Kingdom:

Business profile | speaker profile

Sustainability: A perennial, and increasingly acute challenge. But ‘sustainability’ needs to be clearly defined in order to be widely understood and not seen as pious jargon – i.e.: economic sustainability = creating and maintaining long-term jobs; environmental sustainability = contributing to the conservation of natural, built and cultural environments; social sustainability = contributing to keeping communities alive and thriving – residents must be involved as participants, not treated as bystanders in the future development of their place.

Economic impact of current global uncertainty over trading and political relationships: Another hardy perennial and no-brainer. This is critical to immediate, and fluctuating, economic performance; but it is a temporary challenge. A strong place brand should enable places to ride out the vagaries and vicissitudes of temporary trading difficulties and political uncertainties……unless of course they are enduring and undermine respect for the brand, which would have a long-term impact……All the more reason to develop a robust, compelling place brand, rooted in both market insight and community endorsement.

Networks: Improved networking and joined-up thinking are essential WITHIN a place to ensure cooperation across the myriad of players who contribute to the implementation of place brand values amongst a wide range of audiences, and to avoid suboptimal performance, which arises from a silo mentality. But they are also enlightening BETWEEN places, to help practitioners learn from others with varied experiences and different ways of thinking – “no man is an island” (John Donne).

Adam Mikołajczyk, Poland:

Connecting the dots between “placemaking” or “place shaping” and “place marketing”.

From a marketing point of view, placemaking has one important function that has been marginalized so far – it directly influences and shapes a competitive identity (in other words – the brand) not only of the given space, but also of the entire city. It works that way.

One of the “by-products” of good placemaking was to attract visitors to the new public spaces. And because visitors (and residents) more and more often share their experiences in social channels, i.e. Facebook and Instagram, placemaking has become a powerful tool for creating and promoting city brands.

It seems, therefore, that placemaking perfectly fits the classic marketing mix – 4P, not so much replacing the entire marketing approach, but replacing one of P – Product that from the perspective of places was not understandable and strongly affecting another P – Promotion. In other words, placemaking is shaping the “urban product” dedicated to selected groups of clients (most often residents, but also entrepreneurs, investors and tourists), which is an increasingly important component of the place brand, as well as the subject of promotion.

How to be a digitally native place brand.

Sustainability is a term that is taking on an increasingly complex relevance. Sustainability, or circular economy, as I call it today, is a response to the challenges of the modern world, which replaced the old-fashioned “sustainable development” term.

Unfortunately, a universal model has not been worked out so far. We are rather witnessing the development of new technologies and business models based on circular economy, implemented by individual companies.

The year 2019 will probably abound in the declarations of many brands about being circular, which is part of the idea of effective recovery.

Similarly, cities that attract more and more residents and thus “produce” the most waste, will implement both more and more effective waste management systems, but also will have to effectively encourage residents to properly segregate waste (to become zero waste city). It will not be an easy task.

Eduardo Oliveira, Portugal:

Connecting the dots between “placemaking” or “place shaping” and “place marketing”. 

Sustainability is a term that is taking on an increasingly complex relevance.

Understanding and leveraging the brand hierarchy of your nation, region, city and place.

Certainly the 1) and 2) topics are interconnected – securing a socially and environmentally sustainable place is on the agenda of place managers and should be on the priority list of place branding experts.

With an increase in digital platforms, it would be crucial to align place branding strategies at different levels. For instance, how to align place branding strategies of a small village engaging actively on social media, such as Mürren & Gimmelwald Tourism, with place branding strategies developed by the Canton of Bern?

Is an umbrella brand at the higher spatial level the way forward, or should be sub-brands determine the content and strategies of the core place brand?

Gordon Innes, USA:

Many of our client cities face the following challenge: Understanding and leveraging the brand hierarchy of your nation, region, city and place.

Governments at every level – naturally – want to promote their region in order to build its reputation and attract investment, talent and visitor spend. As a result, most cities need to collaborate (or compete!) with their neighborhoods and surrounding regions and nations in order to communicate with their target audiences. Take the Paris region: according to data.gouv.fr, in 2014 there were 123 tourism offices in Ile-de-France!

The problem is that the target audience rarely cares about a country’s political or administrative boundaries. So, the promotion, which focuses on geography, rather than on audience needs, wants and desires, is less effective.

Promotional agencies also often find it difficult to collaborate and to lead with their strongest consumer brand, and then up-sell their lesser known brands – as would be sensible.

Despite this, there is strong evidence that a city and surrounding region which work together to encourage visitors to travel from the city to parts of the region, will both benefit – and will be more effective and efficient than when they work alone.

Gregory Pomerantsev, Belarus:

For the community I currently live in (Minsk, Belarus) all 8 emerging challenges and key place branding trends in 2019 seem to be highly relevant, however, the top-3 are the following:

Ever growing necessity to balance and connect “place making” or “place shaping” and “place marketing”;

Understanding and leveraging the brand hierarchy of the nation, region, city and place;

The economic impact of current global uncertainty over trading and political relationships.

Jaume Marín, Spain:

The three topics most important for our small Mediterranean destination (Girona, Costa Brava, Pyrenees) are:

  1. Sustainability will be very much into the agenda of every one of the stakeholders.
  2. Networks will be absolutely needed, to work together and create synergies and cooperate and not to compete among us.
  3. And of course – and very very relevant – define the brand hierarchy with the different establishments like region, city, and destination….. It is very complex but we will have to set up new roles for everyone involved.

Jeremy Tamanini, USA:

For my community in New York City, I would say:

Are you an effective advocate for your place brand to your citizens and to government? The links between community and governance are becoming increasingly tenuous. Established links tend to favor entrenched interests or older residents who have more of a history at community activism.

Also, foreign investment is starting to erode community cohesion. There are many neighborhoods with empty apartments or residents who float in and out of town with no real interest in the community. This is also eroding the capture of taxes to provide community services.

Sustainability is a term that is taking on an increasingly complex relevance. People need more tangible ways to understand how they can improve the sustainability of places around them, as well as influence more macro trends and policy making. I think social media is a blessing and a curse in this regard. It makes people think they are participating but then how is this participation (often in an echo chamber of like-minded peers) really impacting policy and change?

Connecting the dots between “placemaking” or “place shaping” and “place marketing”. This is an interesting debate, too, that I see Pärtel Peeter Pere posted about.

José Pablo Arango, Colombia:

  1. Understand and take advantage of the brand hierarchy of your country, region, city and place.
  2. Are you an effective advocate for your place brand for your citizens and for the government?
  3. How to be a digitally native place brand.

Oliver Zöllner, Germany:

Attracting and developing talent is being talked about more and more, and competition is fierce –> It is – and more and more campaigns seem to be focusing on this aspect. Rightly so!

Are you an effective advocate for your place brand to your citizens and to government? –> Self-critical evaluation and reflection is needed, indeed. Much of what is communicated by way of campaigns is too glossy, that is, not realistic enough. And that might backfire.

How to be a digitally native place brand –> This is an issue, obviously, but what does it really mean? Is its focus way too much on young people or those segments of society that are well-educated and hip? I sometimes see the danger of leaving ‘the rest’ behind, thus creating new digital gaps.

Sebastian Zenker, Denmark:

Are you an effective advocate for your place brand to your citizens and to government?

Attracting and developing talent is being talked about more and more, and competition is fierce.

Connecting the dots between “placemaking” or “place shaping” and “place marketing”.

Developing from place promotion to more advanced approaches, issues like placemaking become more and more a “hot topic” in the discussion. Especially the focus on the activation of residents remains the most dominant question for many of the places I know.

Teemu Moilaanen, Finland:

In order of importance:

Are you an effective advocate for your place brand to your citizens and to government?

How to be a digitally native place brand.

Understanding and leveraging the brand hierarchy of your nation, region, city and place.

More about our panel and previous answers to frequent questions on place branding here.

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