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Tolerance wins in London

We live in an increasingly intolerant era defined by the rise of Donald Trump and his ilk. Far-right parties are cropping up across Europe like an especially virulent rash. Much of popular sentiment towards refugees is inhumanly negative, as evidenced both in the press and in social media comments sections.

But happily, there is at least some cause for optimism. Today’s appointment of Sadiq Khan as the third Mayor of London is a prime case in point. Khan comes from humble beginnings. He is the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver, born and raised on a council estate.

From that starting point, he became a lawyer, then an MP. Today, Khan reaches the significant heights of leading one of the world’s most influential cities and global powerhouses: London.

This is no small achievement, especially in light of the current zeitgeist both in the UK and beyond. Khan overcame a particularly nasty smear campaign from his main rival, Tory challenger Zac Goldsmith, to win the mayorship.

Goldsmith’s PR people orchestrated a campaign that associated Khan with extremism and support for terrorists. Luckily, Londoners weren’t fooled. At the polls, they lived up to their city’s global reputation for tolerance, progressiveness and inclusivity by voting Khan.

So what’s next for London? Although it makes for an impactful symbol, coming from a working-class Muslim background is of course not enough to make Khan an effective leader. What about his policies?

Well, they’re pretty much on point.

Khan empathised with the challenges facing ordinary Londoners when laying out his manifesto as Mayor. He pledged to tackle one of London’s most pressing concerns: spiralling housing prices. He’s going to build more housing, including social housing, while taking measures to improve the situation for London’s renters. He’ll rein in London’s landlords by regulating them through a city-wide licensing scheme and lettings agency.

In terms of the buyers market, new homes will be offered to Londoners first. London’s transport expenses, which rose to near-unaffordable levels under the previous mayor, are set to be frozen for the next four years. Khan has also promised to improve cycle lanes and make London better for walking.

These are two of Khan’s most significant policies, both of which will make everyday life easier for ordinary Londoners. For a change, there’s a leader who is not from the wealthy, Eton-educated, over-privileged class that seems to overrun our government presently. Instead there’s a politician who knows exactly what its like to struggle with ‘normal’ concerns.

In contrast, Tory competitor Goldsmith comes across as out of touch with ordinary Londoners, as he is from a background of wealth and privilege. People are fed up with this kind of thing. It’s about time that our country’s elected leaders were drawn from among those who have lived normal lives, faced normal problems and overcome them through sheer grit. The significance of Khan’s win is not just about Khan’s Muslim roots, but also his working-class origins.

London has lately developed another reputation alongside its existing one for tolerance and multiculturalism. It has become infamous for its intimidating costs of living, seen by outsiders as a place only for the wealthy. If Sadiq Khan’s policies are realised, that may begin to change.

With his pledge to ‘make London a fairer and more tolerant city’, having Khan as mayor is likely to repair some of the damage, improve London’s global image and make it a more appealing and accessible place to live, work, study and visit.

Kostroma place branding

Branding the Golden Ring: Case Study of Kostroma, Russia

Kostroma place branding

Now that destination branding has become popular worldwide, Russia is trying to catch up. However, the whole thing is seen by many as yet another way of money laundering and/or budget wasting. Russians are traditionally pretty pessimistic about most things that promise time-delayed results. They think their lives are likely to change drastically by then, so why bother?

The place branding industry has just started taking shape in Russia. Those involved in the field are mainly specialists in design and company branding, with an additional sprinkling of passionate amateurs. The main issue they face is strategy building for a destination. According to experts, in order to truly have a strategy and follow it, a city should rely on government, business, or the local community – ideally all three.

But in Russia, city branding is mainly initiated and supported by local governments. On one hand, this ensures necessary budgeting and coverage. On the other hand, though, governors often use city branding to their own political and business advantage, and once the regional head is gone, the branding process is discontinued – or slammed and U- turned by his successor. That said, city managers rarely engage specialists to work out long-term strategies as they need results to be seen (or rather shown off) while they are still in office. The measures they take are often bold, costly yet pointless, such as reviving an airport no-one uses, or trying to drive culture in a region with a programme that includes closing 200 libraries and 300 leisure centres.

Examples of businesspeople who encourage city branding are rarely found in Russia because the branding process requires tight cooperation between competitors, and a feeling of stability; while today, businesses hardly perceive themselves as a community and just try to survive. It’s every company for itself. Several places in Russia have movers and shakers that invest time and money into destination branding just for the love of the city. These people often work bottom-up and start by engaging locals into discussions on what makes their hometown unique and what should be done to highlight it.

This is a slow process as people often appear skeptical and reluctant. If you start a topic at a city forum and tell people you are writing a city guide, the first response will probably be, “You do this rubbish out of boredom – better start a family or, if you won’t, then write about poverty and drinking issues”. However, persistent attempts have proven successful in some regions – yet even there, measures are isolated and mainly driven by the efforts of individuals.

As a result, most destinations in this huge country are still largely unknown outside their immediate vicinities, and cannot benefit from the immense potential many of them have. 

Kostroma is an ancient Russian town included in Russia’s Golden Ring, a tourist route first introduced in the 1960s. Back in Soviet times, Kostroma attracted numerous visitors as internal tourism was the only option available for USSR citizens.

The city had no need to attract people in any special way, and the infrastructure was limited and low-quality. Still, when the Iron Curtain came down, people discovered places such as Turkey and Egypt that had better facilities, warmer climates, exotic sightseeing and even lower prices due to market competition.

Russia’s Golden Ring towns developed a reputation of being outdated, overpriced, comfortless ruins only suitable for low-income seniors. Meanwhile, SMB started to develop as the economy turned to capitalism, and little yet comfortable hotels and restaurants opened in Kostroma, transforming the place into a nice surprise for visitors.

Local farmers tried to capitalise on the Soviet-time fame of local cheeses and beef, and even discovered marble meat in Kostroma-bred cows. Russian Orthodox Church supported restoration of the old churches and turned local monasteries into blossoming gardens.

As a result of the recent economic recession and following the events of the Arab Spring, some Russians turned back to internal tourism and were happy to find proper infrastructure in Kostroma. Nowadays, the tourist traffic in the town is slowly growing year on year. But still, the town faces a number of problems.

The previous Governor of the Kostroma Region was a typical attention-seeker who initiated film festivals and Faberge exhibitions in Kostroma but left the economy exhausted and aggravated many problems. Branding-wise, he introduced a logo and a slogan that were lame and obviously imitated those of Putin’s party the Governor tried to please.

The current Governor now tries to make up for all the problems at once and chooses to restrict any culture-oriented costs. Thus, the town had hardly any celebrations planned for the Romanov Dynasty 400th Jubilee in 2013, an event that Kostroma played an important role in, and that could bring IMMENSE tourist traffic to the town. This swinging approach does absolutely no good to a town that is very rich in historical heritage.

It is clear that Kostroma lacks the necessary vision of the city brand. It also lacks local support, as the Governors’ policy is so misleading and the visitors do not directly influence the lives of many local people. The city’s businesses struggle all on their own but receive no support from the community or authorities.

This spotty, sketchy approach is well illustrated by public transport stops in the city centre that feature posters divided in 16 squares called ‘Our Touristic Brands’. The ‘brands’ are pictures of different sights in Kostroma and region, chosen with no logic or order. Some of those have good coverage and access while others are neglected.

Here are several suggestions for proper Kostroma branding.

1. Kostroma’s roads perfectly match the famous saying, Russia has two problems, roads and fools. To encourage individual tourism, motorways, railroads, and region-wide helicopter routes must be optimised, developed, and well cared for. The region is pretty big (about a Switzerland and a half) and covered in thick undisturbed forests where little beautiful towns are scattered, some of them about 900 years old. All the towns (that the region can also benefit a lot from) need to be easily accessed from Kostroma and surrounding regions despite the swampy soils and tight freeze-thaw conditions. Kostroma stands on the Volga, and water tourism infrastructure should be seen as a priority.

2. The government should not merely rely on SMB but should support it by maintaining stability within the region and initiating new tourism projects while keeping an eye on monopolies arising. This would bring more logic to tourism evolving throughout the region.

3. A balance should be kept between old and new, local and global, public and commercial. Today, we see projects to transform unique 18th century shopping arcades into ultramodern malls, which include total restructuring of the place and destruction of most of the actual buildings. This is unacceptable and frightening. Instead, we should make good use of the old constructions, but only together with archaeologists and historians. The town’s cosy, relaxed, 19th century atmosphere should be preserved by all means.

4. A committee should be formed to work out a long-term strategy for the town branding, featuring all stakeholders, e.g. government, local community (bloggers and other opinion leaders), hospitality, museum professionals, environmentalists, and industry. Tourism is not the only thing that can interest visitors. Kostroma has the largest college-per-person ratio in Russia, a strong cultural background, and industrial legacy/potential.

5. A customer-oriented approach should be encouraged in the hospitality industry as well in the whole of city management. The system of public transport is leftover from Soviet times and is not efficient enough today, meaning many hotels, sights, and museums are tricky to reach. Hotels, however warm in greeting guests, do not have free-of-charge town maps and are not proactive in offering extra services like excursions, shops, or places to eat. Best practices and international standards should be promoted, and training sessions should be held. The town should be as comfortable and inspirational for both citizens and visitors as possible.

6. Awareness of Kostroma should be promoted in Russia and internationally, using a tight-knit vision, SMART goals, and clearly defined identity. Kostroma is a town that Russia should be proud of!


By Oksana Klyuchinskaya

The Hague Bloggershuis city brand

Telling stories by the sea

The Hague Bloggershuis city brand

The Hague knows the value of telling a good story.

So much so in fact, that the city’s marketing team has created the ‘Bloggershuis’, a dedicated space where visiting bloggers can stay while they discover all that the Hague has to offer. As an added bonus, the Bloggershuis is situated right on the beach! 

Placesbrands talked to Mieke Smid, public relations manager at Den Haag Marketing, to learn more about the Bloggershuis project, due to launch this summer.

Pb: What gave the city the idea for the Bloggershuis?
Mieke: Having our own Bloggershuis was on my professional wish list for several years now. This was after we heard about the first successful initiative of Blogville Emilia Romagna in Italy. But we, The Hague Marketing, the city itself and the municipality, weren’t ready for this kind of initiative yet, and we were still searching for the ultimate home to profile The Hague as a city by the sea. Now, with this beach house, our relevant experiences with bloggers & vloggers over the past few years and the ability to monitor social media properly, have made 2016 the year to open our Bloggershuis, the first in the Netherlands!

What are the unique selling points of The Hague?
The Hague has a few unique selling points: we are the only Dutch city by the sea, we are the international city of Peace & Justice (with the Peace Palace as an icon) and we are a Royal city, The Hague is where the Royal family live their lives and work. That has been the case for centuries now and you can sense the Royal allure in the city.

How does the Bloggershuis tie in with all this?
The Hague’s Bloggershuis is a beach house on the beach. This is the perfect tool to profile  and position the city as a city by the sea! It shows that you, as a tourist, can combine two type of destinations within one trip: a beach holiday and an interesting city trip.

The Hague Bloggershuis Netherlands

“The power of this bloggers house is that other people will tell the story for you. How great is it that this can be done from a building on the beach in the only Dutch city by the sea?”, said Marco Esser, director of Den Haag Marketing.

What sort of stories do you hope the bloggers will write about?
We’re looking for different kinds of stories, destination reports from the real destination geeks, and stories by niche bloggers on food, arts & culture, festivals, sports (sailing/surfing) , lifestyle and beauty or shopping. With must sees like the Girl with the Pearl Earring from the famous painter Vermeer, The Peace Palace, our Royal palaces, 11 kilometres of beach, the Victory Boogie Woogie or the museum of Escher, the range of stories can be very wide!

What do The Hague residents think of the Bloggershuis idea?
The Hague residents are enthusiastic and proud! We’re the first to have a Bloggershuis, we can show the city that we love to influencers all over the world. We would also love to hook up certain bloggers (niche) with a local expert on the same topic. Several locals have already shown interest in this idea.

Does The Hague have any additional goals for the Bloggershuis initiative?
Our main goal is, of course, to draw attention to our city by the sea in a special way and a way that’s unique for Holland. We love to see and hear from other people talking about their experience in The Hague. We strongly believe in others telling the story of The Hague and we’re curious to see all the stories, pictures and videos from our visitors.  But an initiative like this one can only be a success when your own residents believe in it, and support it. So we’re also happy that it makes residents of The Hague feel proud.

The Bloggershuis will start up at the end of March on Kijkduin Beach in The Hague. It will be open during the 2016 beach season, exclusively for Dutch and international travel bloggers and vloggers.

New York city branding

What makes destination brands succeed?

New York city branding

This post is by Michelle Polizzi at Brandfolder, the world’s most powerfully simple digital asset management platform.

Imagine you’ve just stepped into a yellow taxi on Fifth Avenue.

You glide along the pavement beneath giant, shining skyscrapers while the smell of fresh pizza wafts in through the window to ignite your appetite, and suddenly, you step out into the bright lights of Times Square where the energy is nearly palpable.

Even if you’ve never been to New York, you knew which city I was describing because New York’s destination branding is universally recognisable.

Destination branding is a marketing concept that involves communicating the feelings, culture, and overall mindset people experience when visiting a place.

Branding a destination is challenging because it involves variables that can’t be fully controlled, like how food tastes at a restaurant or what the weather is like.

If destination branding is so abstract, what does it take to successfully market a destination?

To answer this question, here’s an explanation of why destination branding is so important, as well as three examples of brands who succeed at the challenge.

When Milton Glaser designed the “I Love New York” logo in 1977, he intended the campaign to last just a few months. Much to his surprise, that slab serif typeface and pop art heart became a lasting icon for the city that reigns today, almost 40 years later!

The “I Love New York” campaign succeeded because it has consistently brought international tourists to New York, and along with them, their wallets.

In 2013, the World Travel and Tourism Council released a report that placed the global economic contribution of the tourism industry at nearly 7 trillion dollars.

Because the tourism industry is so valuable to economies at the city, state and national level, it’s no surprise the industry is fiercely competitive. Tourism brands have to convince travellers why they should visit their city instead of another one, and they have to create an experience which keeps visitors coming back for more.

Montréal, Minnesota, and British Columbia are three examples of destination brands that have recently launched new campaigns to deepen their connection with consumers, attract new visitors, and more accurately reflect their modern identities.

Check out the full post for Brandfolder’s take on destination branding, and case studies of Montreal, Minnesota,and British Columbia, focusing on how these destinations have used community feedback, social media, and more!

Voice of city

The city’s voice

Voice of city

The concept of audio branding for destinations is intriguing. But why should places consider using this technique in their brand strategies? Steve Keller of iV Audio Branding introduces us to the emotive power of sound and discusses how it can be used to create lasting identities for places.

Steve, why should destinations use sound in their brand strategies?
Well, what is it that draws us to a place? Our memories are not simply visual. They’re multi sensorial. So when you think about a destination, why limit your branding to a visual logo or a verbal brand claim? Sound is one of the most effective implicit drivers of emotion. If you can capture a unique sonic identity for your destination, you will have added a powerful tool to your branding/marketing toolbox.

What are some examples of destinations that have made good use of sound?
Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis and Austin all have strong ties to music, and they use that connection to appeal to tourism. However, they are not exploring the multiple touch points available to take advantage of those obvious sonic connections.

Consider Vienna, which has effectively created an audio brand woven into its transportation system, which provides a sonic association with the city itself. Art installations, like the ‘sea organ’ in Zadar, Croatia, that incorporate sound, offer opportunities for both attention and promotion.

London used a ‘sound taxi’ that recorded the city sounds around it – buses, horns, and crowds – and then transformed them into ambient sound to music that created a real-time sonic experience for tourists and locals alike.

Destination brands can also use traditional audio branding assets like a sonic logo. Coupling that audio mark with a visual logo for a city offers a way to build recognition through use in broadcast commercials, online videos, digital communication and more.

Atlanta worked with Sixième Son (an audio agency based in Paris, France) to create an audio logo based on the city’s history, heritage and culture.

Some countries and cities conjure up distinct sound associations. Can you give us an example?
If you consider national anthems as ‘brand themes,’ that’s one obvious connection between a place and a specific piece of music. Some iconic landmarks also have a sonic association, with London’s Big Ben as a prime example.

Calls to prayer, chants, or temple bells are examples of ‘sonic signatures’ that speak to spiritual connections to places and cultures. Nature sounds can also be used to effectively communicate sonic associations with a particular place.

For instance, when riding the tram at the Zurich airport in Switzerland, you will hear the sounds of cows, cowbells, Alpine horns and yodelling. Nothing says, “Welcome to Switzerland” more than these iconic sonic associations with the Swiss countryside, and they never fail to bring a smile to the faces of the travellers arriving.

What kind of sounds work best for creating positive associations with places?
I think every place has unique sound/memory associations. To some extent, it’s less about creating them, and more about listening for them. These natural associations are always a good place to start, and are usually found through interviews with local members of the city or community.

You can also ‘sound map’ a city, noting the location of unique soundscapes within the city environment. As you listen, you want to find those unique sound/place pairings that can be ‘owned’ by the destination (i.e. you won’t hear it anywhere else, or at least not quite like you hear it when you’re in a particular location).

Sound maps, sonic installations (often paired with art installations), geo-tagging and beacons can all be used to help visitors and community members take sonic scavenger hunts through the city. While these distinct sonic identifiers can be natural, a destination could also create specific audio assets as part of an audio branding strategy.

An audio logo, as previously mentioned, would be one example of this kind of distinct, flexible, congruent, recognisable and ownable audio asset. Another asset might be a ‘Brand Voice’ – a particular voice or voices used in audio communications. Over time, this ‘voice of the city’ can become a recognisable sonic extension of the destination’s personality.

How would you integrate audio into a wider brand strategy?
Building a successful audio brand takes discipline. You must first uncover your brand’s audio identity. Once you identify, create, and curate its audio assets, you then need to be disciplined in their execution across multiple touch points.

For instance, let’s use the example of the ‘voice of the city’ mentioned earlier. This voice (or voices) should be chosen based on how it reflects the essence of your brand’s personality. Then, look for all the areas where you can consistently use this voice. You might hear it in marketing and branding communications.

Perhaps it’s used in online videos found on the city website. If I call the messaging centre, I might hear it there. When I visit the city, then I might also hear it on my arrival and as I travel throughout the city on trains, buses and in airports. It’s as if the city is speaking to me in a voice that I recognise, that I become connected to, and that feels more like a familiar friend than a strange place.

Add to this the fact that technology is creating new audio touch points all the time, particularly with our mobile devices. Sound is an extremely important part of that experience.

What’s the best way to measure the effect of audio in a place branding strategy?
You can measure at various stages of the process. We can test at the developmental phase, to make sure the audio assets we’re creating and/or procuring are hitting the emotional/rational targets we’ve identified.

We can see how our audio choices are affecting the way we interpret the brand visually. We can explore the free associations that pop up in the mind of a listener when they first heard a sound or a piece of music. These developmental tests help us make sure we’re capturing the true ‘sonic essence’ of the brand.

We can also benchmark to compare the emerging audio identity with other iconic brands. We can examine consensus meaning and cued recall. We can measure likability and familiarity. All these measures then form a baseline. We can run the same tests again, a year later, two years later, three years later – and measure the changes.

Finally, we can optimise, where we might look at how different applications of the audio brand might drive purchase intent (or in the case of a destination, desire to visit), enjoyment, breakthrough, and recall. In attempting to measure benefits and outcomes, you need to define what you want to measure, and how to build the best test design to give the necessary input to make decisions and evaluate progress.

Obviously, time and money are always a consideration, but knowing the right questions to ask is the most important part of any testing initiative. Good testing doesn’t just give you answers. It also helps you identify new questions.

Which place has the best sounds? And which has the worst?
I’m going to be diplomatic here and say that this has a lot to do with my own personal tastes and preferences, rather than attempting to name destination brands that I think are using sound ‘rightly or wrongly.’

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to a number of amazing destinations all around the world, and I have fond sonic memories of them all. That said, I think there is a danger in how the world is becoming increasingly ‘noisy’. We’re losing some of the natural sounds of a place as they are masked by the noise of devices and machines around us. We’re losing the art of mindful listening, and with it the ability to be aware and present in the moment.

This is an important point: audio branding isn’t just about the intentional presence of sound. It’s also about the intentional absence. One of my fondest memories of Helsinki is the wooden Chapel of Silence there. It’s built in the middle of the city, and was designed as a sonic refuge from the hustle and the bustle going on outside its walls.

I think the idea of an ‘intentional use of sound’ is key. The use of sound in destination branding shouldn’t just be a tactic. It should be a strategy. There should be clear reasons for sonic choices, aligned with the brand vision and promise.

In your audio branding work, how do you use sound to change negative perceptions of a place?
Our associations colour our perceptions. Once we pair a stimulus with a particular place or object, the emotional outcome creates a powerful association. These paired associations are difficult, but not impossible, to break.

One way to change perception is to call attention to the paired association, and create another to replace it, or to at least offer a new perspective. The Chapel of Silence offers another experience to the sounds of a busy urban environment, a potentially strong positive association of a calm and comforting destination in a part of the city that may typically be thought of as a place of chaos and business.

The introduction of the sounds of the Swiss countryside into an airport tram actually creates a moment of surprise and enjoyment for weary travellers, suggesting to them that now that they’re entering Zurich, they can relax.

While these examples may not be specifically about changing a negative perception, they do help illustrate how sound connects with us on an implicit level, where emotional associations are most powerful and where they can affect how we interpret the information we’re receiving through our other senses.

Find out more about iV Audio Branding, or follow Steve on Twitter.