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Month: June 2015

Tesla’s last wish

Nikola Tesla Serbia

Nikola Tesla is the most famous and influential Serb in the world.

I’m writing about him on the subject of ‘nation branding of Serbia’ because the nation branding of Serbia was in fact his last wish.

This is a story about how ‘nation branding’ is a natural thing rooted in every good person. Put simply, it’s a form of patriotism. The story of Nikola Tesla is a fine example of that. 

When I say that the nation branding of Serbia was Tesla’s last wish, it’s not my subjective view, it’s an historical fact.

Nikola Tesla repeatedly stressed that he wanted his work to raise the reputation of the Serbian nation. His address to the Serbian people and the Serbian king, ruler of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, in 1892 in Belgrade, remains the most remembered:

“There is something in me that could be a delusion, as often is the case with young and enthusiastic people. But if I am lucky to realise only some of my ideas, it will be a good deed for the entire humanity. If those hopes of mine are fulfilled, my sweetest thought will be that it is the work of a Serb…”

What is especially important – his last wish was one song to be played at his funeral. It was a Serbian folk song There, Far Away…

There, Far Away …was composed on the Greek island of Corfu in 1916 to commemorate the Serbian Army’s retreat through Albania during World War I.

 The lyrics to the song come in multiple versions, all of which end with the line “long live Serbia!”

Here I write the basic lines of this poem:

There, far away, far from the sea,
There is my village, there is Serbia.
There is my village, there is Serbia.
There, far away, where the yellow lemon tree blooms,
There was the Serbian Army to the only open way.
There was the Serbian Army to the only open way.
Without my homeland, I lived on Corfu,
But I proudly cheered “Long live Serbia!”
But I proudly cheered “Long live Serbia!”

So, Nikola Tesla, we are fulfilling your wish. We are branding Serbia with your name.

By Vjekoslav Cerovina

Vjekoslav Cerovina is a brandologist and journalist from Serbia.

Cross-border advantage

photo credit: Europe via photopin (license)
photo credit: Europe via photopin (license)

Limburg’s long-term goal is to become well known as a cross-border province. Connect Limburg, the organisation responsible for implementing brand strategy for the Dutch province, has the important task of making sure that all stakeholders are engaged with the strategy and willing to support it as it unfolds.

Having widespread buy-in is vital for success, because a good place branding strategy depends largely on having all stakeholders of the place working together towards the defined goals. Local business people play an important part in this. But it’s not always easy to get them on board.

Robert Govers, who worked on the Limburg strategy, said: “Most of the time private sector players find it very hard to understand how this [place brand] helps them to improve their business.

“In their day-to-day jobs they are mainly focused on selling products or services to consumers. They say things like ‘borders are irrelevant for us, how can they help us to sell our products?’”

This could present a significant challenge for Limburg. Nevertheless, some of the province’s most important firms are already convinced. When I visited Limburg in April, I spoke with two prominent local businessmen who support the cross-border mentality and actively leverage it in their business approach.

The first person I met was Jo Cox, director of Smurfit Kappa Roermond Papier, part of the Smurfit Kappa Group. The Limburg-based mill is one of the largest in Europe and boasts strong output growth and performance. The Smurfit Kappa group prides itself on its sustainable approach to manufacturing and the Roermond Papier mill, managed by Cox, recently won an award for Bio Strategy of the Year.

Cox said: “For a big business like this, it’s important that we have no variations in currency. Also, Germany is a very strong economy, as we all know, and so we can take the opportunities it offers. All markets are accessible from here. We deliver to France, the UK, Poland, and so on. We also have good water connections, not just motorways. Our transportation costs are low. We’re the best in class regarding transport costs, because of our superb location.”

“There are 26 million people within a small radius of here [Roermond] so that’s very important. But it’s also extremely important that we have the right work ethos. We have really good people in this area. At the end of the day, it’s all about the motivation of the people,” he continued.

Paper manufacturing is not the only industry that can benefit from a cross-border location. It makes sense that Limburg’s unique geography would be highly beneficial to a company specialising in international transportation and logistics.

Seacon Logistics is headquartered in the Limburgian town and logistical hotspot of Venlo, where it has been operating since 1985. It is now the biggest company in North Limburg.

The company has a presence in over 75 countries and uses a multi-modal approach including land, rail and sea transportation methods. Seacon Logistics understands the power of leveraging the cross-border mentality, and in doing so has become closely aligned with the wider goals of Connect Limburg.

Corné Geerts, Seacon Logistics managing director, said: “From a logistics perspective, it’s very important to have close cooperation with Germany. Germany has the perfect rail infrastructure, going deep into the hinterland of Europe.”

“Obviously it’s hard for Limburg to compete with Amsterdam, where a lot of companies settle, because it has very good international connections. I don’t think it’s feasible yet for anywhere in Limburg to compete with an international city like Amsterdam,” he continued.

“But looking one step ahead, because real estate prices are so much lower here, Limburg could become an attractive alternative for internationals, not just the Dutch. Amsterdam is so congested and expensive. Often people just want to live somewhere calm and quiet,” said Geerts.

Field notes from Jakarta

photo credit: Unclosed door via photopin (license)
photo credit: Unclosed door via photopin (license)

Samantha North, Jakarta, Indonesia

After just a few minutes in Jakarta, one thing really stood out. The traffic.

It took over two hours for the taxi to make the relatively short trek from airport to the diplomatic district, where my hotel was located.

This unfortunate fact is well documented. According to a recent survey by Castrol, Jakarta has the world’s worst congestion. Istanbul comes a close second. I was keen to compare the two.

I went to Jakarta to attend the 2015 New Cities Summit, organised by the Paris-based think tank New Cities Foundation. Delegates included academics, tourism managers, journalists, businesspeople and social entrepreneurs of all kinds. I met an interesting man who told me the story of how he created his own city in the hill stations of India.

The event began with a speech by the governor of Jakarta, in which he talked about the city’s challenges and what the government is doing to tackle them. Then the keynote by Greg Lindsay, of the New Cities Foundation’s Mobility Initiative, talked of the ‘Urban Moment’, and was followed by a panel discussion delving into that theme in greater detail.

As a result of major demographic shifts towards city dwelling, i.e. the ‘urban moment’, many cities are focusing on investing to upgrade their infrastructure and services. Combined with the latest advances in technology, as seen in the latest crop of ‘smart cities’, it appears that the future belongs to cities.

However, as might be expected, significant shifts such as these are not without their challenges. Many cities are already struggling to cope with large influx of migrants. Jakarta is certainly one of these, with its crumbling infrastructure already straining under the weight of 28 million residents.

As a casual observer, brand-new to the city, I was surprised by the distinct lack of mass transit systems, although I noticed construction work underway to build a light rail system. There is also the Trans-Jakarta bus network, which runs around the city using dedicated lanes, similar to Istanbul’s Metrobus.

Unlike the Metrobus, the pathways of the Trans-Jakarta are less regulated. Cars often use them to sneak ahead of other traffic. This behaviour compromises the efficiency of the whole bus network and does not help the congestion problems.

To overcome traffic issues, many residents of Jakarta rely on two wheels to get around. Small motorbikes fill the streets in abundance. There are also a large number of unregulated motorbike taxis, known as ojeks, which hang out on street corners looking for passengers.

photo credit: Ojek via photopin (license)
photo credit: Ojek via photopin (license)

Every year, the city faces another severe problem: flooding. Located in a valley within a network of eight rivers, Jakarta is a prime target for floods. When the monsoons come, certain areas of the city just cannot cope and experience substantial damage and loss of livelihoods.

At the summit, I discovered Peta Jakarta, a research project that aims to mitigate the flood problems by harnessing a network of social media users to provide flood warnings and information using Twitter.

On the second day of the summit I was fortunate enough to hear a talk by Nobel Peace prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, famous for his founding of Grameen Bank and his subsequent work to support social entrepreneurship worldwide.

The summit featured a variety of social entrepreneurs and researchers who showcased their projects. Some of them, like Peta Jakarta and Go-Jek (Jakarta’s answer to Uber, but for motorbikes), have been designed to tackle Jakarta’s particular urban challenges.

Jakarta has plenty of good features too. I don’t know if I was simply lucky with the people I met on the streets, but I found them to be among the friendliest I’ve known in Southeast Asia. While exploring Jakarta’s central square, my small group of colleagues and I were approached many times by groups of giggling schoolgirls, hoping to get their picture taken among foreigners.

I’ve encountered this phenomenon before in other countries, such as China, where it tended to become somewhat overwhelming after a while. But these young girls were so genuine and enthusiastic that it was impossible not to oblige their request.

In the same square, at the historic Café Batavia, I encountered some of the most incredible desserts I’ve ever seen. It was also my first opportunity to taste the famous Kopi Luwak, otherwise known as ‘cat shit’ coffee. This stuff is made from coffee beans that remain undigested after being consumed by the civet cat.

It apparently sells for £60 a cup (or even more ridiculous prices at Harrods) in trendy areas of London. Now was the perfect chance to try it out in its natural habitat. Sadly, the experience was a complete anti-climax, tasting like a slightly more watery version of regular filter coffee. No discernible special properties at all, although Indonesians say it’s full of powerful antioxidants.

The trip ended with a quick visit to the Istiqlal Mosque, where the smiling attendant told us there was no need to cover our heads, although we did anyway. The inside of the mosque was impressive, but less ornate than the ones I’ve seen in Turkey.

Jakarta currently seems to be making a name for itself as a place with fearsome congestion levels. But it’s so much more than that and I hope it can move away from the negative. Once the city has managed to sort out its transport network, which may happen over the next couple of years, it will surely become a much more enticing destination.

Hopefully that will be the point where more people decide to come and actually discover Jakarta for themselves, without being discouraged by the difficulty of getting around.

The hot tempered city

How do the characters of individual neighbourhoods affect the image of a city?

This week, we head to the US to explore the city of Chicago and some of its lesser-known neighbourhoods.

We’re in the company of Borough & Block, a Chicago-based brand agency who are engaged in the Whistlestops project, which aims to highlight the concept of ‘neighbourhood’ and explore how its nuances tie into the overall brand of a city. Placesbrands spoke to Chris Huizenga of Borough & Block.

Placesbrands: Chris, what are some of the best local tourism attractions that you’ve discovered in ‘lesser-known’ Chicago during the course of this project?

Chris Huizenga: Some interesting attractions show up as you explore each neighbourhood. For example: Superdawg by Norwood Park, Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar and Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport, City Newstand in Six Corners and the retro-era antique stores of Edgewater.

But the most interesting discoveries have been each place’s ‘functional identity’ and how that translates into brand. It is interesting to think of how these understated neighbourhoods have impacted local, national and global culture and shaped the history of politics, art, and even workforce relations here and abroad.

Take Bridgeport for instance. This neighbourhood in Chicago has always been a working class neighbourhood, but its name was originally Hardscrabble, a word that is defined as ‘involving work and struggle.’ When you’re there you can feel that tension, though you may not readily understand why you feel it, but there it is – it’s ethereal and present in the relationship between the streets and the people.

Dig a little deeper and you learn about the neighbourhood’s proximity to the former Union Stock Yard and the meat processing plants of the late 19th century.

Suddenly it dawns on you that this place, at one time, supplied an arguably overwhelming percentage of the exploited workforce Upton Sinclair describes in The Jungle. This not only changed public health thanks to the muckraking nature of the novel, but it also contributed to the chain of events that sought improvements in safer working conditions and the formation of organised labour the world over. And yet, this community also produced five of Chicago’s mayors.

Take all of this into consideration and you start to get a glimpse of the cultural DNA of this place, a sense that this surreal connection between (what amounts to be) royalty and surmounting work ethic is the brand that is passed on from one generation of community stewards to the next.

Has the Whistlestops campaign altered your personal view of Chicago in any way?

I love this project because it is absolutely changing how and what we think about this community, even having lived here for over fifteen years. When you move from one neighbourhood into another, you essentially enter into an entirely new world that has a symbiotic relationship with this larger hub of Chicago. These communities are unique, but they need one another. We are becoming profoundly aware of a (somewhat) tense and uneasy cooperation between the neighbourhoods.

For the most part these communities are warmly competitive, but there exists an opportunity for these neighbourhoods to translate their commonality and to pursue true equity with and for one another. Our methodology of immersive research has enabled us to stop seeing just block-after-block of buildings and shops. Instead we now see the city as a type of stage, complete with interesting and dynamic characters playing their part in a story that has been going on for generations. People make places fascinating.

One of our goals is to help community leaders and economic development groups see these fascinating characters as well and to understand what’s true about these places and the people that make them up. Recently we had a conversation with an economic development committee that represented one of these communities.

We were stunned to hear that they had never considered the residents living nearby as stakeholders in their ecosystem; they had only done so much research as to try and make improvements in the place that would attract certain types of visitors to certain types of retail and entertainment enterprises.

We see this as a terrific oversight on the committee’s part, where their approach was really all about place-marketing, which is fine, in theory. But historically we’ve seen time and time again how that approach can push out the very people it is trying to help.

Place-marketing aims, in part, to create/promote a place that may not exist based on what a certain customer base would want. Very little of the brand is grounded in more than economic data of what might be.

This approach is highly suggestive and largely (though not entirely) responsible for great swaths of single-use sprawl that make places indistinguishable from one another. These are the same places that become popular overnight but lack staying power and are outdated the further the sprawl reaches over time.

Borough & Block prefers to look at what is and what has been before creating strategies that draw out those positive assets of each place to set the community on a course with long-term stability and wellbeing.

Our job is to find and leverage those assets that are authentic, consistent, desirable, and ultimately inheritable – we must find those things that work and supply them with more fuel to sustain their momentum. We must always operate from a mindset that considers people first if we are to create communities and brands that are truly authentic and sustainable.

How can local residents contribute meaningfully to developing the identity of a place?

There is tremendous need for residents to participate in political and community endeavours. Unfortunately, Chicago’s political history is rife with mistrust, abuse of power, special interest and shady
deals. As a result, many residents have become passively aggressive with the government (and process thereof) and arguably the absence of their voice exacerbates the trouble.

Similarly, there are too few voices, too few ‘cultural characters’ (as Jane Jacobs describes them) to steward the unified identity of the neighbourhood, and as such, special interest developers fill that vacuum.

One recommendation is for residents to make an intentional effort at becoming neighbours. A recent survey indicates that 75% of Americans do not know their next door neighbour!

If residents organise, even informally, they will (by default) build a critical mass around ideas which can establish shared goals and help provide a vision for what the neighbourhood will (and won’t) stand for.

Residents and business owners will begin to outline the kinds of experiences they want for residents, workers and visitors alike. The neighbourhood will explore what it wants to be known for, what types of destinations and experiences it will want to make available. We must see more initiative from residents
and business owners to organise and determine the true identity of the place.

How would you sum up Chicago’s present identity in a nutshell?

Chicago is a beautiful and global city. It is a city that loves its dining, its sports teams, its cultural institutions and museums, its lake and its institutions of higher learning. It is a city that is in love with its architecture, which is constantly in (re)development.

Something is always being made, torn down and remade. It seems to happen overnight, to the point that wayfaring one’s route by landmarks is almost comical at this point. It is a city that loves to work. It has to. It can’t not work. After all, the poet Carl Sandburg called it the ‘city of the big shoulders,’ and it certainly is.

Unfortunately, Chicago is also wrought with inequities and hardship. As a couple who not only practice and teach branding, design and PR/marketing, but who live here as well, Chicago is, to us, a butcher writing love sonnets.

The butcher is surgically precise and intentional at both his crafts. He feels everything and he is impulsive, his impatience gives him little time to make those deeply needed improvements he knows he needs but struggles to grasp.

He is prone to wild mood swings, his hot temper finds solace in painting, sailing and fishing. He has a PhD in both cultural studies and street-smarts. He is as likely to show you his fine paintings as he is the scars from his fights, and he can show you how to be a blacksmith or a jazz pianist – he’s quite good at both.

Despite his faculties, he struggles to like himself. He knows he has it in him to be better, and he strives to be. His work ethic never tires, even if his soul does.

And that right here may be the grace that saves Chicago: it will never stop remaking itself into something better, try and fail though it might. Our hope with this project is to help Chicago learn a thing or two about its functional identity: who it is and why that matters. The city must have an identity to steer towards.

What gave you the idea to create Borough and Block?

Erin (my wife and business partner) and I both created and worked on EPIC. This is a nonprofit organisation that taps high-level creative talent from the design, advertising and marketing industries to volunteer their talents on behalf of other social organisations who provide incredible value but who ultimately lack the resources to pay for branding and marketing.

Both Erin and I love to teach, and part of that love is in guiding people towards making change happen. We also realised that we have highly complementary skills in design consulting, teaching, branding, advertising, public relations and marketing, and we decided to combine our strengths and see what kind of trouble we could get into.

We were compelled to look at place branding as a means to help large and small communities that are suffering from economic depression, but also from a lack of identity. We began wondering if helping a
community understand its identity could be the impetus for stability, if it could help stem the exodus of young people from leaving small towns for large metro areas, especially given that the world economy is available at one’s fingertips.

Can identity help communities become who they want to become? Can place branding unite and restore communities? Can it help centralise the population and make for a more sustainable, and even playful, society?

Finally, what do you hope to achieve by the end of the 100 days?

We hope to reignite a sense of wonderment in people about the story happening right outside their doors, and for which they have a role to play.

We hope to see residents, workers and visitors with an increased curiosity about their surroundings, and to be more aware of the assets of their community and their role in adding lines to the cultural narrative.

We want them to take the road less travelled, or in this case, the rail.

Finally, we’d love to inspire more desire to develop an entire poster series for #Whistlestops for the sake of Chicago tourism for not only out-of-towners, but also to inspire localised tourism.