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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 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.

Manifesto for place branding and citizen governance

Meeting in the city

My training is in public administration, yet I study place branding and marketing.

When attending conferences, this usually leads to people looking at me funny and asking me some variant of this question: “So how is that public administration?”

Perhaps a brief introduction to my background will help answer that – and help put it to rest in public administration research circles. While doing my doctoral studies, I worked for the City of Coral Springs, Florida. I grew up there and worked for the Communications and Marketing Department while I was in high school.

I went back to work for the city because I believe in the mission of government. I believe that government can do well, despite challenges. I watched as a department of ten people told the city’s story. Coral Springs had – and still has – everything from its own website and magazine to social media and even a television station. In other words, the city’s message is communicated through myriad channels to locals and potential stakeholders alike.

It was through observing my environment that I began to think about what was happening in other cities. I began poking around online and saw that while some cities had departments as robust as ours, others struggled to tell their story. I proposed a paper for a class about ‘cities as public relations and marketing firms’ and what that means for public administration.

That short paper turned into a dissertation project (and later into books and academic publications) where I developed a theory of the effects of place branding and marketing campaigns on cities. Much published research examined how to run campaigns well, so I wanted to add something to the conversation by creating a theory of cities through Baudrillard’s phases of the image (Zavattaro, 2012).

Put simply: cities could end up talking to themselves if they constantly market and promote rather than engage in meaningful conversations with stakeholder groups. To people studying tourism and regular readers of Placesbrands, this is not a new revelation. To people studying public administration, this idea of stakeholder engagement certainly isn’t new either. So what can we do to bridge this disconnect between place branding and public administration?

One answer relies on emerging research that shows how place branding and marketing can become key governance strategies, especially at the local level. Governance, as used in public administration research, indicates a shift from top-down, government-imposed policies and practices to a mode of governance that involves bottom-up, citizen-driven initiatives.

Using a governance strategy, administrators act as facilitators to ensure the voices of residents, business owners, and other stakeholders are included in decision-making processes. This inclusion is not always perfect. Residents may still feel marginalised or voiceless if there is a perception that what they say doesn’t matter.

This is exactly my argument when it comes to top-down place branding and marketing strategies. If citizens parrot back government-driven messaging organisations could end up ‘talking to themselves’ and not learning.

Existing research bears out this point. For example, Erik-Hans Klijn and his colleagues found that stakeholder engagement in place branding processes results in a clearer overall brand concept and attracts more of the locale’s target groups such as potential residents, visitors, business owners, or all three (Klijn et al, 2012).

If governments at all levels are moving toward place branding and marketing strategies, then how can we bridge the gap noted above? I offer the following points to show that place branding and marketing ARE the same as public administration and management.

First, two simple words: taxpayer dollars. Personally, my interest is largely in city government entities deploying place branding and marketing strategies. Those local government employees are, of course, public employees spending taxpayer dollars to fund policy decisions.

Necessarily, there is more transparency and accountability when it comes to public spending. The bottom line is this: if local governments are spending taxpayer dollars on these practices, then we need to better understand causes, effects, and measures of success.

Second, destination-marketing organisations (DMOs) such as convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) or chambers of commerce, are public or quasi-public entities. These are public managers. We can employ the same logic as above to argue that we need to use more theories from public management to understand how and why these managers do what they do, especially when resources are constrained.

My own research has found that managers in DMOs have to prove why they even exist to local stakeholders (citizens of their cities, mostly). This education process takes away from time they can spend marketing the city – which is often a legal mandate of CVBs that use hospitality taxes to fund branding and marketing efforts.

Local government officials don’t need to prove why they exist, so researchers can focus on this unique group of administrators to find out more about their daily operations and barriers.

Finally, if public organisations move toward ‘running like a business’ as was – and remains – popular in the 1990s globally, then why is it surprising that place branding and marketing are now the chief ways for governments to engage stakeholders? Branding and marketing are commonplace in private organisations, with the trend increasing in public and even nonprofit organisations. As Philip Kotler has argued, every organisation needs to tell a story, especially when competing for scarce resources.

Taxpayer dollars are scarce. Vacation dollars are scarce. Donation dollars are scarce. Branding and marketing are ways to involve stakeholders in governance strategies that often serve as antidotes to top-down, business-driven decisions in public organisations.

I recently attended a public administration conference where I explained to a colleague that I study place branding and marketing. He was the first one to say: “Good. We don’t know enough about it.”

Perhaps there’s a shift in the field, and governance can begin to serve as a link to make the study and application of place branding and marketing more acceptable in public administration and management circles.

By Staci M. Zavattaro, Ph.D.

brand morocco

Building ‘Brand Morocco’

Malcolm Allan discusses a recent conference on building Brand Morocco

By Malcolm Allan

On 27 May in Casablanca, the Ministry of Industry, Trade, Investment and the Digital Economy of the Kingdom of Morocco, Maroc Export and the Amadeus Institute held the first annual conference on developing a strategy for Brand Morocco.

As MD of Placematters, I was invited to contribute to the discussion. Specifically, I was asked to talk about how a national brand can raise awareness of the country’s products for export. I also explored how country of origin products can raise awareness of the national brand. Here are the high points of the conference discussion, along with my perspectives.

Opening up the discussion on building Marque Maroc to an audience of key domestic stakeholders and foreign interests – investors, manufacturers, tourism bodies and brand practitioners like myself, was a brave move from the Moroccan government. They were happy to invite comment, criticism and ideas for further brand development. This is an innovative approach in comparison to the UK, which has no formal brand strategy and no ongoing public conversation on what a UK brand strategy might look like.

We heard from 27 contributors in four ‘conversation sessions’, where four or five commentators discussed a key topic guided by a moderator. This format proved informative and democratic with no one dominating the discussion, everyone having their say and building on each other’s points in a positive way.

The four sessions focused on:
1. How to build the “Made in Morocco” label to promote the Kingdom as a modern democracy and also to promote its contribution to global prosperity, particularly its initiatives to support the development of other countries in the African continent
2. How might “Soft Power” contribute to the development and growth of the country’s intellectual capital?
3. How might the development of Marque Maroc be a catalyst for Africa’s nation branding?
4. What are new opportunities to develop and promote Morocco’s nation branding?

Discussion on the first topic identified the importance of Moroccans’ modelling the values of their national brand through actions and behaviours, especially when involved in outreach activity such as cultural visits, trade promotion tours, selling exports of Moroccan goods and services, and studying in foreign countries. These are all activities where Moroccans can be ambassadors for their national brand. The emergence of Morocco as a responsive modern democracy was cited many times as a key factor for changing public opinion and awareness outside the country about its positive progress, and a very positive context for other brand initiatives.

When addressing the second topic, the conversation highlighted Morocco’s developing reputation as an exporter of creative ideas, creative and innovative people to other African countries and its increasing role as a location where students from other countries in the continent come to study. Making a positive contribution to African development was cited numerous times during the day as a key objective of the national brand. Moroccans are very proud of this objective.

Morocco reflected its focus on soft power as a core vehicle for deploying the national brand by hosting the forthcoming global climate change conference later this year, an issue that the country takes very seriously as part of its brand development strategy. This event provided an opportunity to showcase many offers from Marque Maroc to the visiting government delegations over the eleven days of the conference.

On the third theme, delegates highlighted the opportunity for Morocco to share its experience with other African countries in addressing the many challenges it had faced to date in developing its national brand development strategy. These included raising awareness of Morocco’s development as a modern manufacturing and digital economy, raising awareness of its commitment to higher standards in educational provision and attainment and its commitment to democratic government in a modern monarchy.

Conversationalists identified a number of initiatives which should be developed to develop the national brand, the fourth of the themes. These included the need for greater ambition as a country, the need to expand Morocco’s role in the development of sub-Saharan Africa, the opportunity to model effective national brand development and increased sharing of brand Morocco’s development intelligence and know-how.

The conference was a bold move from the various central government ministries involved in developing the national brand. It acted as a vehicle for thoughtful conversation on:
1. Widening involvement from the private sector and bodies representing civic sectors in the brand Morocco development process
2. Critiquing brand development to date
3. Inviting ideas for developing initiatives that would exemplify brand Morocco
4. Being much more focussed in the marketing of the country’s core and image defining brand offers and the selection of key external target market audiences for those offers

At the end of the conference the mood was buoyant. Delegates were discussing how they might contribute to national brand development, how Morocco needs to be more ambitious in its development and its contribution to the rest of the world, and how to further harness the energy and creativity of its people as ambassadors for brand Morocco.

From a personal perspective I was left with a mix of reactions and emotions. I was delighted to have been asked to contribute to the conversation and impressed by the energy placed on harnessing the talents of this nation. At the same time, I felt depressed that my own country, the UK, is failing to develop its own national brand strategy to promote the creative talents of its people in the positive way that Morocco is doing, preferring an advertising campaign on how ‘great’ it is to one that focuses on its contribution to the rest of the world.

london transport

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.

Panama Papers Cameron

Panama Papers: Reputation and Misconceptions

Panama Papers Cameron
photo credit: Cameron Must Resign protest 9 April 2016 via photopin (license)

If you’d asked people a couple of weeks ago where Panama was located, they would probably say it’s somewhere on the American continent, but not be entirely sure where. They might have heard of the Panama Canal, but just like the one in Suez, we’ve all heard of it, but most can’t really point to it on a map.

But today the story is completely different. If you ask people about Panama, it’s very likely that they have heard of something called the ‘Panama Papers’, not the ‘Mossack Fonseca Papers’, which should be the real name, since this is a multinational firm based in Panama, but which, as the Guardian says ‘runs a worldwide operation.’

The Mossack Fonseca website boasts of a global network with 600 people working in 42 countries. It has franchises around the world, where separately owned affiliates sign up new customers and have exclusive rights to use its brand.”

This is one of those instances in which the news cycle, and media labelling, have had a profound effect on a nation’s brand. When looked at in detail, the activities shown in the Panama Papers deal more with the financial systems of tax havens (many of them British) such as the British Virgin Isles or Jersey, but the country getting most of the negative press is Panama; so much so that the French government reintroduced it into its list of countries failing to comply with anti-money laundering policies.

Now the odd thing is that according to the OCDE’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information “no jurisdiction is currently listed as an uncooperative tax haven by the Committee on Fiscal Affairs.” This is funny if you read the Statement from OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría on the “Panama Papers”, where she states that “Panama is the last major holdout that continues to allow funds to be hidden offshore from tax and law enforcement authorities.” In reading the activities of Mossack Fonseca, one can clearly see that there are several countries still involved in “offshore tax evasion”, like Luxembourg, Switzerland and the British Overseas Territories.

One of the most interesting side effects from this scandal is its effect on the reputations of the countries involved. Take a look at Iceland, where the Prime Minister resigned due to popular protests. This sends a message across the world of a functioning democracy, where the people have a say and their voices matter.

In contrast, Russia’s response simply reaffirms the image of a totalitarian regime controlled by the Kremlin, with similar stories from China, Azerbaijan and Iran – hardly a surprise. The undecided factor right now is the United Kingdom, where the people have yet to decide if Prime Minister David Cameron should resign, due to his father’s use of offshore trust funds to evade taxes.

But any way you look at it, the biggest loser here is Panama, so much so that even its internal image is hurt, as can be seen in this mock tourism campaign by Panamanian satirical web TV channel “La Cáscara TV” “#PanamaIsMoreThanPapers”.

Should the Panamanian government be doing more than issuing bland remarks from President Varela about “continued cooperation” with international tax authorities? Remarks that fall short of the mark since Panama is the only big tax haven that has not agreed to implement the “common reporting standard” proposed by the OECD and already agreed to by 96 countries.

Is there a way to turn this sudden interest in the Central American nation into a positive opportunity? It seems unlikely, but you never know.

By Daniel Reyes

Daniel Reyes is former Chief Communications Officer of the Colombia Country Brand Office. He now works as a private consultant in strategic communications, with an emphasis on place brands in the digital sphere. Follow Daniel on Twitter, or find him on LinkedIn.

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