Cornwall: From struggle to rejuvenation

photo credit: red boat via photopin (license)
photo credit: red boat via photopin (license)

What comes to mind when you think of the word Cornwall?

John Lowdon of ChangingBrands explores the roots of place branding in Britain’s most remote corner.

There’s pasties, sandy beaches, cream teas, picture postcard fishing villages, pirates, surfers, and jolly old ‘seadogs’. Oh, and let’s not forget the latest addition – Poldark.

What more is there to know about Cornwall? Well, firstly, the fact that we can list all of these things about a county is pretty impressive. Most people would struggle to reel off so much about any other British county, or even city for that matter.

Whether people are aware of it or not, Cornwall has one of the strongest brands in the UK. Yes, the above list may be full of clichés, but places have been defined by stereotypes for as long as we’ve travelled. They entice you to visit somewhere then there’s a whole world of culture and spirit to discover when you arrive.

This has definitely been the case for Cornwall over the last decade with visitors to the UK’s ‘Surprise Package’ destination finding that the county has so much more going for it than you might imagine.

Geographically and culturally, Cornwall is unique. Its beautiful environment and virtual isolation from the rest of the country has drawn record visitors year on year. Cornwall’s situation has also engendered an ‘island like’ community of proud, passionate togetherness that has helped strengthen the spirit of the UK’s poorest county.

But it’s more than just geography that has made Cornwall what it is. Cornwall is recognised as one of the six ‘Celtic Nations’ and was recently granted Minority Status. The county has its own native language and its own flag: St Piran’s – the patron saint of tin mining. 

For many, it’s Cornwall’s mining heritage that holds the key to its dogged spirit. Ever since the discovery of tin, the Cornish mining industry grew rapidly. At its zenith in the 19th century, Cornwall was one of the richest industrial areas in the world. The sharp decline that followed had a major impact on Cornwall’s economy and communities with nothing to replace the wealth and livelihood that it had provided.

Cornish history is full of endeavour and struggle, with chimneystacks and engine houses as constant reminders punctuating the landscape. But this struggle has also inspired the local people to rejuvenate a new, exciting and dynamic Cornwall. 

To aid this rejuvenation, Cornwall has received £100 million worth of European investment since the year 2000. This has helped grow Cornwall’s economy while changing peoples’ experiences, and therefore perceptions, of what the county has to offer.

This growth is evidenced by the emergence of major Cornish brands such as Roddas Cornish Cream, Sharps Doom Bar (The UK’s No.1 draft ale), Finnisterre (cold water surfing fashion brand), Pendennis Superyachts, Seasalt Clothing, Frugi Clothing, Rick Stein, Falmouth University (top 10 arts university), the Eden Project, Tregothnan Tea and Camel Valley Vineyard, to name but a few.

Cornwall is becoming ‘cool’ for the first time. With superfast broadband as one of the major investments, the draw of Cornwall as a great place to live and work is becoming a reality for more and more people.

Cornwall’s brand strength has developed naturally, which is a real gift from a marketing point of view – as it speaks for itself. To contrive this, for another place brand is a challenge but it’s very possible. All brands have touch-points and are built around how they make you feel.

Places are no different. What’s more powerful than infrastructure and physical schemes is building experience through the five senses and through emotional connection. We need to define the core qualities and values of a place through its social and industrial history and develop this into a brand DNA or essence.

This essence should then be placed at the heart of every experience that one has with a place, whether it’s tasting a beer, purchasing an item of clothing, hearing a piece of music or talking to a local postman.

All should evoke a sense of place. You can use bricks and mortar and plan visitor journeys, but it’s the little things that make the biggest impact in place branding.

It’s possible to sow the right seeds by bringing together industry leaders in tourism, food and drink, business, councils and communities to a brand summit and briefing them on the essence or DNA and why it’s important to build the brand.

Engendering passion amongst the influencers and producers of experience can have a very positive effect. Empowered customers and communities create the strongest brands and this helps create a self-sustaining brand like Cornwall’s – without the clichés.

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About John Lowdon

My new promo image (colour)

John is creative director and founder of the Cornwall based agency Changing Brands.

He has 17 years experience in branding and has developed a people-focused process based on empowering place brand ambassadors.

For more information on place branding in the UK’s south west, follow John on Twitter.

 

Interview: New Cities Foundation

photo credit: Chicago Gold Coast at Sunrise via photopin (license)
photo credit: Chicago Gold Coast at Sunrise via photopin (license)

Cities are on the rise.

As they expand, cities are becoming increasingly influential players in shaping our world. But will the growth of the city help solve global problems? Or will smaller cities get left behind in the wake of mega-cities? And how can city branding play a role?

The New Cities Foundation aims to address these questions and many more, in its global summit next month in Jakarta. PlacesBrands speaks to Marina Bradbury, director of communications, ahead of the event. 

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Marina, tell us, how exactly was the New Cities Foundation concept created?

Marina Bradbury: The New Cities Foundation was set up in 2010 in order to provide a much-needed, neutral, cross-sector platform to shape the cities of today and tomorrow. Our belief is that cities are centres for economic, social and environmental progress. In order to tap into this potential we need to adopt a more collaborative approach to city planning and governance. At the Foundation we foster collaboration through international events, research and innovation projects. 

What are your thoughts on the rise of the city-state? 

MB: Urban statistics prove to us that cities are becoming increasingly important on the world stage. Today, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities and this trend is only increasing. The UN predicts that by 2050 the urban populace will rise to 66 per cent. As a result, cities are fast becoming major political and economic players, attracting business and investment and developing their own strong brand identities. People often feel more engaged in their local environment. This can be advantageous in building more collaborative modes of governance and finding new ways to address social problems. Some urbanists and forecasters argue that encouraging the growth and dominance of megacities such as Tokyo or London can help solve national challenges. However, it could prove detrimental to lay too much focus on the importance of megacities, without also fostering the creativity and potential of smaller cities. Smaller urban metropolises like Manchester and Osaka also play a significant role in the society of today and tomorrow, providing jobs and nurturing innovation alongside their bigger counterparts.

Do you think that cities will eventually overcome nation-states and reshape the world?

MB: In a world where technology is transforming the way we live and offering many possibilities to solve social issues, cities can act as important hubs for social progress and innovation. They are increasingly the key places where problems are solved and where new ideas are tested out. In this way, cities will definitely take a leading role in reshaping the way we live, work and plan for the future.

What’s the difference between running a city and governing a country?

MB: Since a city is a smaller geographical entity than a nation, the issues it deals with are more specific and local. The governor or mayor of a city therefore has the advantage of being able to listen more closely to citizens and respond accordingly with tailored solutions. Take the City of Paris, which has recently launched two fantastic citizen participation initiatives: the world’s largest-ever city-wide participatory budget and a global call for projects that will transform 23 derelict municipal-owned sites. These are fantastic, highly ambitious projects that engage huge numbers of people, but still have an acute “local” significance. If these projects were to be run on a national level they would be completely different. They would take a lot longer to plan and manage, and it may be more difficult to engage people in projects that don’t directly impact them. 

How do you think the world can benefit from a problem-solving approach that transcends national borders?

MB: In this digital age, individuals and communities across the world are able to communicate and exchange ideas in ways not possible before. The benefits of pooling expertise and sharing great ideas cannot be underestimated when it comes to urban development. Take the Parisian Participatory budget: unprecedented in its sheer scale, with 65 million euros allocated between 2014 and 2020. Yet it isn’t a completely new idea. Recife in Brazil had already experimented with this innovative model beforehand, providing inspiration for other cities in Brazil, and indeed the world. This is a good example of how, if an idea works in one city, others can reap the benefits. 

How do local communities help revitalise struggling cities?

MB: Community participation is absolutely vital. Take the fantastic initiative called Renew Newcastle in Australia, which allowed artists, artisans and designers the possibility to set up shop in disused buildings and go on to rebuild the city’s struggling economy. Or take the many citizen participation apps out there, that connect citizens with responsive city authorities to help report and fix city problems: Colab in Brazil, PublicStuff in the US and QLUE in Indonesia are just a few inspiring examples. The High Line in New York is also an interesting example of a decaying municipal site that, thanks to community residents, became a dynamic public space that has revitalised the neighbourhood and gained international recognition.

Is the future all about cities?

MB: Yes! Cities may encapsulate many of today’s challenges but they are also major drivers of positive change. It’s up to all of us to tap into this potential by fostering collaboration, innovation and openness.
 
And finally, how can developing a city’s image help make life better for its residents? 

MB: Developing a city’s image or brand identity is crucial in order to instil a sense of engagement and belonging among citizens, and also to attract new residents, investors and tourists. A dose of healthy competition between cities is therefore a good thing. City branding can ensure that city leaders think strategically about what they want their city to be now, and in the future. It goes without saying that citizens play a crucial role in shaping their city’s brand identity. A great example is the area of Shoreditch in London: artists, designers and tech innovators began flocking to the area in the early 2000s and helped make it into a hub for creativity. By 2009, the ugly Old Street roundabout became known as “Silicon Roundabout”. The government went on to brand the area “Tech City”, helping to draw even more talent and tech-expertise. This transformation could not have worked if both local government and inhabitants hadn’t invested in and implemented the brand when making key decisions. City governance can help foster change and shape identity, but the identity also needs to grow organically. 

Thanks Marina. See you in Jakarta! 

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About New Cities Foundation

The New Cities Foundation has a mission ‘to shape a better urban future for all by generating and scaling ideas and solutions through events, research and urban innovation projects.’ The foundation works with leaders from business, government, academia, civil society, the media and the arts. Find out more here, or follow New Cities Foundation on Twitter.

Place branding as part of place making: Report

place branding poster
photo credit: publicidad hotel via photopin (license)

What value does place brand strategy offer as part of a wider place making process?

We’d like to share with you a report by Malcolm Allan of Place Matters.

In the recent presentation, delivered at the Academy of Urbanism in London, Malcolm focuses on the importance of place branding strategy as an integrated part of good place making.

To begin, he reiterates an important point: this is not about logos and tag lines. Far from it, this is about strategy. The audience are encouraged to think strategically. Malcolm goes on to discuss the evolution of place and destination brand strategy, illustrated with some classic destination marketing posters (which are fantastic!). As Malcolm said:

“place brand strategies plan and tell the story of the current and planned offer of a place and the experience to be had there.”

The report goes into great detail about the nuts and bolts of preparing a place brand strategy. It’s full of helpful takeaways and definitely worth a read. 

View the full report here.

 

Beyond the ‘logo-fetish’ – place branding event

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Sustainability, liveability and connectivity in place branding strategy

These were the main themes for the 3rd Institute of Place Management (IPM) conference, held in May 2015 in the Polish city of Poznań. The event brought together a range of perspectives from international scholars, practitioners and policy-makers on place management, place branding and the influence of global trends on places.

Place management and place branding are popular in practice as well as in academic research. The growth in scholarly debate combined with the accumulation of practical experience suggests a need for the re-examination of theory and practice. The Poznań conference aimed to make a contribution to this  by showcasing original presentations by 79 authors from around the world. Some took a more business-oriented approach, while others focused more on the theoretical underpinnings of place management and branding. The conference clearly offered new perspectives on the topics under discussion as well as helping to further bridge the gap between theory and practice.

The conference programme was designed as a platform to exchange ideas, concepts, and best practices, aiming for a deeper understanding of how theory and practice reconcile the conflicting pressures of global forces with the need for sustainability – to increase the quality of life for place residents – all within the context of increased connectivity – real and virtual.

In addition to the conference, a number of other social and networking events, including a “sweet conference-climax” with a live show at the Rogalowe Muzeum Poznania, which revealed the secrets of Saint Martin Croissants, brought together the participants in a relaxing and friendly environment in the lovely city of Poznań.

I had high expectations of this event. I was confident that it would offer me different yet complementary viewpoints to strengthen my knowledge of the core topics under debate. From the moment I stepped in the conference venue I was met with a warm welcome by the organising team followed by an enthusiastic opening speech by Simon Quin, director of the IPM. Simon has recently been involved in the Institute’s work with UK high streets and the future of public markets (for example – Markets Matter: Reviewing the evidence & detecting the market effect by Professor Alan Hallsworth, Nikos Ntounis, Professor Cathy Parker and Simon Quin).

But rather than exhaustively describing the papers from the conference, I will instead highlight key concepts and ideas, as well as theoretical and methodological approaches that I believe contribute to the interdisciplinary of place research and the interplay with the main concepts – sustainability, liveability and connectivity. The contributions were high quality and the cases critically identified here should not diminish the value of the remaining ones.

The first day was composed of four sessions. From session one I would like to highlight the presentation by Nikos Ntounis, Javier Lloveras, Cathy Parker – A Review Of Epistemological Issues And Philosophical Positons For The Development Of Theory In Place Marketing (page 59 of the conference proceedings). The three researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University avoid presenting definitions. Instead they have critically reviewed various philosophical assumptions within place marketing. This kind of research is vital as there is already a portfolio of conceptual definitions, so it is important to bring something new into the discussion, to bring alternatives views to the theory-building.

In a session chaired by Martin Boisen two common topics were discussed: 1) Stakeholders involvement in place marketing and branding processes; 2) Political leadership in city branding. From those insightful talks I underline the presentation by Jasper Eshuis, Erik Braun, Erik-Hans Klijn, Sebastan Zenker – How Stakeholder Involvement Influences The Impact That Place Marketing Has On Other Policy Fields (page 26 of the conference proceedings). Their presentation highlights the fact that stakeholders’ involvement in place marketing processes increases the role place marketing can play in other fields, such as in spatial planning and tourism policies.

Empirical evidence was built by exploring the differences between Germany and the Netherlands. Different methodological approaches to place branding and marketing as well as critics of policy-making and power relations in branding places have made the first day of the conference an intellectual pleasure. After the first day of the conference in which the role of stakeholders in place marketing and branding as well as the interplay with other disciplines, such as strategic spatial planning, politics as well as more ontological debates have clearly contributed to the maturation of place branding theory and practice. Importantly, the welcome cocktail, which closed the day, was the perfect spot to consolidate ideas, network and whet the appetite for the second day of the conference.

That second day promised more fruitful discussions. Some of the contributions touched upon the Interaction Between City And Life Satisfaction (by Irina Shafranskaya, Anastasiya Bozhya-Volya and Dmitriy Potapov – page 70 of the conference proceedings), the Challenges In Fostering A Public Debate On Strategic Place Brand Management: The Case Of Rio De Janeiro (by Raquel Goulart and Massimo Giovanardi – page 34 of the conference proceedings) and A Review Of The Impacts Of International Summits For Host Cites (by Andrea Insch – page 42 of the conference proceedings). Among the valuable contributions I underline here the paper nominated as the best paper of the conference – Urban Brandscape As Value Ecosystem: The ‘Cultural Destination Strategy’ Of Fashion Brands by Nicola Bellini and Cecilia Pasquinelli (page 21 of the conference proceedings). Bellini and Pasquinelli paid special attention to the relation between luxury fashion industries and city tourism by discussing how companies that are not conventionally part of the local tourism cluster, nevertheless established forms of cultural destination strategies entangled within the urban landscapes. The paper sheds light on the interplay fashion brands and the city by taking Florence (Italy) as case study.

The discussions on day three covered paramount topics in today’s place management and branding discussion: 1) the use of social media in place branding, by employing difference methodologies and conducted from a more anthropological point of view while others a more network-theory stance; 2) the relation between theory and practice as well as the roles of academicians and practitioners in making place branding and marketing into more robust disciplines.

The special session, Theory meets Practice, was chaired by Massimo Giovanardi and assembled the key findings of research developed by top scholars and practitioners. For instance, Mihalis Kavaratzis presented key ideas from the work with Helen Donnelan and Rosa Roma by critically debating how the theory on place branding can be informed by practice and vice versa. The second presentation number 2 by Cathy Parker, Simon Quinn as well as the presentation number three by Magdalena Florek and Adam Mikołajczyk deepen the reflections of Kavaratzis et al. This special session was one of the sessions with more intense and ‘hot’ debate, proving that scholars and consultants have so much to discuss that we could all have stayed in Poznań for an extra day – which would have positively impacted the consumption of local beer and food…

Even if some of the presenters were preoccupied by providing definitions in the first minutes of their talks, later on critical thinking about the topics in discussion became fruitful in contributing to the disciplinary re-thinking. However, in my view point, there remains a lack of geo-spatial thinking in place branding as well as understanding to what extent places need to develop a brand strategy and use marketing techniques.

Everybody talks about place branding in support of place management, yet only a handful of scholars have successfully conveyed a more spatial approach to branding and marketing places. In addition, my thoughts keep returning to the need to understand whether or not cities and/or regions are prepared to develop place branding or whether groundwork should be done before undertaking such efforts, which are often time and money consuming. Despite the most needed maturation of place branding as a discipline of relevant importance, we must clarify how to operationalise it beyond the ‘logo-fetish’, thus helping make places better environments to live, to work, to study, to play and to dream.

The conference was absolutely great in terms of its organisation, the quality and originality of the content of all the presentations as well as adding to the theory and practice of place management and place branding. However, more thought provoking discussions would be able “to set the conference room on fire”, as the final session did. I do not want to say here that the participants should “harshly argue” with each other, as street markets vendors might, but perhaps sit together around a table with extra time to discuss methodologies, and the intertwining between disciplines.

Perhaps next time we could reserve an afternoon for workshops or special groups for this purpose. However, sometimes workshops are time consuming and less effective as not everybody feels comfortable to share ideas. Round tables, for example during extended coffee breaks could also boost the interaction between scholars and practitioners as well as between young and senior researchers. Coffee and cookies could be a good starting point for discussions where academics present their theories and philosophies with the views and experience of businesspeople preoccupied with profit-making rather that “better-place-making”.

As a final thought it would be great to see debate between contributors from different backgrounds (economists v.s. marketers; spatial planners v.s. corporate brand experts; geographers v.s. consultants, etc), thus complementing Cathy Parker’s request to exacerbate the philosophical discussions and positionality on place management, place branding and marketing.

This is my view on the 3rd IPM conference that surely I would like to attend again. Together with knowledge and cultural enrichment it is a great moment to establish wider networks and strengthen cooperative links.

On Limburg: Place branding across borders

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At the end of last month I took a short trip to explore the place branding strategy being used by the Dutch province of Limburg. The capital of Limburg is the city of Maastricht, where the treaty that created the European Union was signed back in 1992. Limburg is also home to the laboratory that invented the world’s first synthetic hamburger, and the mountainous smugglers’ maze that helped saved valuable Dutch artwork from the Nazis during the Second World War.  

On top of all these exciting things, Limburg is also well-known for its cross-border approach. This comes from the province’s unique location snuggled in-between Belgium and Germany. In fact, when I entered Limburg, my flight from Istanbul landed at Düsseldorf airport. I then travelled by road all the way from Germany into the Netherlands (which really isn’t very far). But it illustrates how closely overlapping these border regions are. Many Limburgians speak French and German as well as their native Dutch, and often travel between the three countries for shopping, work and leisure. Some Limburgians even say that they feel more in common with the neighbouring countries than with fellow Dutch in the Hague or in Amsterdam.

While staying in Limburg, I talked with a wide range of people, including local businessmen, museum managers, the mayor of Maastricht, and the governor of Limburg. I also spent time with the folks at Connect Limburg, talking about their long-term place branding strategy for the province and what they hope to achieve over the next ten years.

Interestingly, Robert Govers, the man mainly responsible for devising the initial Limburg place branding strategy, told me that it was fairly straightforward to reach agreement with all stakeholders on how the Limburg brand should look. They were convinced that ‘crossing borders’ is such a strong part of the Limburg DNA that it was vital to include this as a core part of the strategy. Usually, it takes much time and juggling to get all stakeholders on board with a new place branding strategy. But in Limburg’s case, the identity was already so strong that few people needed to question it.

Conny Moonen, head of Connect Limburg, reinforced this when she pointed out that, in Limburg, most people see borders not as obstacles, but as interfaces.

She continued:  “We want to focus on creating options, being open-minded, and connecting across borders. We hope that Limburg will become a benchmark for how countries should interact across borders.

“In ten years time I’d like to see Limburg known as the ‘heartbeat of Europe’ – the place where it all began.”

There’s a lot more I could say about Limburg, but for now I’d like to point you in the direction of two published pieces I wrote recently for the UK press. In the first, for City Nation Place, I explore the overall Limburg place branding approach in more detail, including my interviews with key figures in the province. The second piece, for City Metric, zooms in on the city of Maastricht and its attempts to carve out a distinctive identity within the umbrella of Limburg’s cross-border mentality.