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Does place branding need a rebrand? Part 3

In our final instalment of this mini-series, Malcolm Allan of PlaceMatters shares his thoughts on how to solve the misunderstanding by placing greater emphasis on strategy, competitive advantage and the importance of a common narrative.

He also points out that discounting the value of PR and advertising agencies is unwise, as they can and do play a valuable role in a place branding process, although they cannot replace the need for good strategy.

“I’ve got sympathy with the phrase coined and used by Simon Anholt to describe the objective of place branding as being ‘Competitive Advantage’. I’ve used this phraseology to title the course that Jeannette Hanna of Trajectory and I are teaching on place branding for cities at the Schulich Business School in York University in Toronto. I think we’ll also use it for the title of a very similar course that I’m planning with Prof. Nigel Morgan for the University of Surrey.

For me, all branding is designed to help secure competitive advantage – for products, services, attractions, places, events. Competitive advantage is what place and destination is undertaken to achieve. I also use the term to describe the desired outcome of development branding – branding strategy for real estate, especially for mixed use developments.

Competitive advantage describes a benefit, an end state or an evolving state. Place branding describes a process of analyses and activities designed to create competitive advantage. End state benefits are a much more attractive proposition than is a description of the journey.

Now, while I’m happy to describe the objective of place and destination brand strategy (with emphasis on strategy) in this way, I still regard ‘place, destination and development brand strategy’ as an accurate phrase to describe the process and many of the tools and techniques involved in achieving competitive advantage of a strategic nature.

These tools include my Brand Compass, which sits alongside others such as the Locum Destination Development Model, the public and community consultation tools developed by Trajectory and more traditional economic development ones like competitor analyses and place marketing as practised by many DMO’s (Destination Management Organisations).

I agree that understanding of the practice of effective place brand strategy can be muddied by the activities of advertising agencies and brand design agencies who seek to sell a partial and less holistic approach to the creation of an effective place brand (strategy).

Some say their approach is about strategy, while others simply don’t discuss strategy. The latter assume that the objective is an agreed logo and tag line that will somehow (often undefined) secure an advantage such as a more distinctive and memorable (graphic) identity or more effective marketing campaign.

How to deal with this challenge?

Primarily I think it’s down to the practitioners of place, destination and development brand strategy to consistently and continuously explain and express what’s involved in developing such a strategy in order to achieve competitive advantage.

I don’t think the market has the mind space for arguments that rubbish the non-strategic approaches, the practices of marketing agencies and visual brand design agencies (after all I work regularly with both and they do have a role to play). If we want the market to understand these distinctions we must educate it in the differences.

On most occasions when I’ve been given the opportunity to explain what place brand strategy is and is not, the majority of people listening have quickly understood the distinctions.

So, perhaps some like-minded practitioners should get together to frame a common narrative, for consistent application, to explain what the practice is, how we practice and what it can achieve by way of benefits for places. In this way we can imply or make clear distinctions with others non-strategic practices.”

By Malcolm Allan

Cuba through a Jamaican lens

In this guest post, Dr Hume Johnson reflects on Brand Cuba from the perspective of its closest neighbour, Jamaica, and discusses what may be next for the small island nation in the wake of its revitalised relations with the United States.

Dr Johnson is Assistant Professor of public relations at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, founder of the Re-Imagine Jamaica Project, and a scholar of country branding and public diplomacy.

What does Brand Cuba consist of?

Cuba is a giant in the world. Despite decades of international isolation and sanctions designed to cripple this already poor nation, Cuba has managed to build a powerful and enviable international nation brand image anchored on successes in healthcare, sports, education, exports and for better or worse, revolutionary socialist ideas which became a model for much of Latin America.

Cuba’s medical brand is the key to its strong global image. The island boasts one of the best medical services in the world, as well as medical expertise, technology, superior facilities and standards of care which are models for other countries to follow. Cuba is also busy sharing this medical expertise on the international stage and is celebrated even by Western media for this. For example, Cuban doctors were at the forefront of the battle against the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, sending the largest contingent of foreign medical professionals to combat the disease.

The strength of Brand Cuba also lies in the fact that despite being a poor Third World society, crippled by international sanctions, it has nevertheless made significant developmental strides. Cuba ranks very highly on the Human Development Index in education and literacy – having the 4th highest literacy rate in Latin America, and in terms of life expectancy, and infant mortality and so on.

Cuba’s sports brand is also well- known, fielding strong players in baseball and boxing at the Olympics and World levels. In terms of export products, Cuba’s brand of tobacco has elevated Cuban cigars to become the most sought after in the world.

What do Jamaicans think of Cuba?

Jamaicans are not easily propagandised and have generally not bought into historically misleading and biased notions about Cuba and Fidel Castro purported by the West.

Jamaica has had a longstanding and positive diplomatic relationship with Cuba since the 1970s under the leadership of former Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley. Jamaica’s position has always been one of respect for Cuba’s sovereign right to its own ideological and political policy positions.

In Jamaican society, where inequality is a major concern and the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ is so vast, Cuba was a model for radical change and for policies that favour equal access to social goods, and rights for the poor.

Jamaicans have also largely celebrated Cuba for its contributions to education, sports and healthcare in Jamaica. Secondary schools such as Jose Marti High and GC Foster College – which train many of Jamaica’s outstanding athletes and coaches – are gifts from Cuba to Jamaica. Many of our young doctors are trained in Cuba, and the country benefits from Cuba’s medical expertise, so Jamaicans have and will remain unwavering in our support for Cuba.

What does the future hold for Brand Cuba?

After Obama’s historic decision to normalise relations with Cuba, people’s perception of Cuba will change. Mind you, there has always been a mystique and magnetism about Cuba, based on its history, culture and the appeal of its natural environment. Yet, after five decades of communist rule over this small Caribbean society with ancient infrastructure, outdated modes of transportation, electricity and communication, the curiosity and wonderment about Cuba will be heightened.

Cuba also has the chance to open up to the world, and truly enter the global market and compete for tourists, investment, students and capital. Its prime location in the Caribbean Basin, its proximity to Panama Canal and large markets such as the United States, as well as its skilled and educated workforce make it a magnet for foreign direct investment.

A new dawn for Cuba has arrived, and, as one Jamaican commentator remarked, a sleeping giant has been awakened.