photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

Time, ancestry, landscape and community are common aspects of every place. Similar attributes with different meanings are everywhere. The combination of those elements is what creates the uniqueness of the place – its particular sense of place.

Sense of place is a combination of social constructions interacting with physical settings. Human engagement within a place connects materiality to meaning (Harvey 1996), in an open and on-going process, that brings together social, cultural, historical and physical dimensions of place. While geographic location and physical landscape are tangible, the meanings they engender, though often less tangible, are equally significant in terms of personal and collective experiences, social interactions and affective engagements. What constitutes a sense of place is primarily determined by the meanings given to it by those whose place it is.

A growing number of studies have theorized that place brand should portray an alluring image highlighting place’s core competences, identity, and culture. The strategies for branding places systematically adopt corporate branding techniques and adapt them to places. Frequently, residents are left aside in the branding process leading to brands that communicate only tacit connections to and simplistic understanding of the sense of the place to be promoted.

Unlike branding in product and service marketing where the brand is created as an artifice to represent tangible or intangible associations, places already have their brand essence albeit in a generic or raw and as yet un-managed state (Papadopoulos and Heslop 2002). It is fundamental for a place branding strategy to recognize the cultural characteristics of the place, to understand the people who live in that place, and to appreciate how a shared sense of place is constituted and experienced. Sense of place is based on and creates the uniqueness of place experience.

From a strategic perspective, sense of place provides the basis of how places are defined and how place brands are articulated. Sense of place goes beyond merely representing the atmosphere of a place, to deal with local habitudes and communal practices that colour the place experience (Casey 1996, 2001a).

Research conducted on the Chatham Islands in New Zealand revealed the constructs of time, ancestry, landscape and community as determinants for the sense of place by inhabitants of the Islands (Campelo et al 2013). The archipelago of ten islands and an area of 966 km² and a population of 609 people provided the features of an extreme case. Atypical or extreme cases reveal deeper information because they can activate basic mechanisms in the situation studied. The constructs that emerged from the analysis represent a pattern of responses and meanings across the data set. They are not only intrinsically related to social reproductions, but also inherently to broader structures of meanings.

The interactions between the physical and social environments determine the constructs of Time, Landscape, Ancestry, and Community. They also characterise the participants’ attitudes and their habitus. The habitus influences and is influenced by these interactions that shape culture and its manifestations, systems of beliefs and practices, community organization, and, the value and utilization of resources.

The study published at the Journal of Travel Research provide a sense of place model to support scholarship in place and destination branding. The model emphasizes the importance of understanding sense of place and positioning the people of the place at the centre of a branding strategy for the development of an effective place brand.

Sense of Place model (Campelo et al 2013)

Sense of Place model (Campelo et al 2013)

The social, cultural and natural attributes of the place coalesce to influence its habitus and its uniqueness. Sense of place is in a permanent state of co-creation through the social constructions and social reproductions of life in a physical setting. These social reproductions are influenced by cultural and historical ties, and by everyday experiences. The four constructs of time, ancestry, landscape and community that define sense of place are recognized in all other places, but what matters is how their permutations define sense of place based on contextual and culturally bounded significance.

The meanings for each construct depends on how they are socially created and shared based on the particular interactions experienced by a group of people living at a particular site. The how leads to particular ways of doing things in that place, which is linked to the reasons they are done in that particular way, and moreover, why they have cultural significance. To understand what the constructs are, how they work and why they are experienced and performed in that way is to understand the habitus of the place (Bourdieu 1986).

The Sense of Place Model, presented above, provides a basis to begin an investigation into the set of meanings held by each of these constructs in other places. It is important to make clear that it is not the presence of the four constructs that shape the sense of place, but the significance and meanings of each construct that determines the sense of place. Applying this model to other places should help to appreciate local social reproductions and to more clearly understand their cultural significance.

Understanding the constructs that determine sense of place has important implications for the development of place branding. Recognising the presence and permutations of these constructs and how they determine the sense of place provides an understanding of the layers of meanings upon which the uniqueness of each place is generated. Such understanding matters for developing an effective and consistent brand that is both culturally cognisant and socially informed.

Sense of place is peculiar and unique to each place. So it matters in terms of defining brand meanings and representations; and, also, in terms of establishing managerial practices that encapsulate a place’s habitudes. The importance of sense of place for place branding is twofold. Firstly, the constructs that determine sense of place reveal the habitus of the place in terms of the symbols, meanings and attributes that shape its identity and the behaviour that represents its experience.

A place brand is a mode of communication involving representations of this identity as informed by a place’s culture, economy, history and people.

Secondly, sense of place is related to habitus. According to Bourdieu (1989, 19), habitus entails a ‘sense of one’s place’ but also a ‘sense of the place of others’, providing a way of understanding different behaviours in similar places. The constructs identified in the Chatham Islands’ research (Campelo et al 2013) reveal habitus in terms of meaningful practices and particular ways of doing things. As such, these practices should inform decisions in terms of networking, brand management and governance to develop cooperation with local stakeholders who contribute to the place brand experience.

The omission of sense of place from place brand would deprive the brand of significant social and cultural meaning resulting in a brand image inconsistent with place identity. Leaving residents aside in the branding process would lead to a lack of recognition, acceptance and commitment by the local community.

Ultimately, a farsighted strategic plan for a place brand should build on the day-to-day practices of a place.

The sense of place model contributes to destination branding strategies as a guide to investigate the set of meanings within each of these four constructs in other places and as a basis for the identification of new ones. Place marketers should investigate the layers of meaning of each construct to understand how, individually and collectively, they contribute to the creation and perception of sense of place. The model provides practical guidance for marketers in assisting them with a tool that helps to identify which elements might be considered in developing a brand and, more importantly, in understanding how and why these elements have cultural significance.

Time, for instance, differs qualitatively amongst different societies (Harvey 1990). What is important is to understand how cultural constraints determine each permutation of a place’s sense of time (and vice-versa), and to recognise how it impacts the social reproductions of place. Time as a construct is locally created and understood in relation to local cultural constraints (Bender 2002). This connection determines the frames of time, and, consequently, establishes the rhythm of a place. The implications for destination branding would be related to how time impacts the lifestyle of the place (traditional, modern, slow-pace, busy) and its significance in the processes of social reproduction, communal and collective practices and behavior.

Ancestry is an important construct in terms of how genealogy, tradition and historical facts influence and inform the contemporary practices of everyday life. Place marketers should investigate ancestry not only to understand contemporary practices but to comprehend symbols and the images that exist in the repertoire of place’s culture. The construct of landscape influences sense of place by providing a pictorial reference for place. It holds a set of meanings very particular to and reflective of a group of people who engage with that landscape in terms of emotional bonds that permeate social and cultural meanings and activities.

Mediating between people and place, landscape reflects the way we deal with our external, tangible and visible world and forms part of our on-going social exchange. The interactions with landscape lead to practices that link culture to particular locations and create meanings that are both responses to the present and reflections of the past. It matters for marketers to understand the possible interactions between people and landscape, and consequently how it can be related to tourism experiences beyond its role in providing iconic or representative images.

Time, ancestry and landscape are constructs that overlap influencing one another, and are represented in the habitus of a community. By exploring these constructs, marketers would recognise the meanings and characteristics of social interactions and social reproductions of a community.

The sense of place model helps to understand what constitutes sense of place as an antecedent to developing a place brand strategy. Also, the model should help to reveal narratives, descriptions, images and symbols which can be used to design the brand communication. I believe this understanding is a stepping stone for a consistent place brand because it positions the community at the heart of the branding strategy.

On the other hand, a lack of connection between the brand and the local sense of place threatens brand sustainability and its authenticity. By positioning the sense of place, as it is constituted and experienced by residents, at the centre of the brand strategy creates an inclusive, collaborative, and effective branding process.