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Branding a cross-border mentality

The Dutch province of Limburg has a notable history. In its capital city, Maastricht, 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.

As well, Limburg is famous for its cross-border mentality. 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 people at Connect Limburg, talking about their long-term place branding strategy for the province and their goals for the next ten years.

Robert Govers, who helped devise 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. Stakeholders were convinced that ‘crossing borders’ forms a core part of the Limburg DNA and that it was vital to include this in 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 point when she told me that, in Limburg, most people see borders not as obstacles, but as interfaces.

She said: “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 to 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, highlights Maastricht and its attempts to create a distinctive identity within the umbrella of Limburg’s cross-border mentality.

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