Branding a frontier mentality

In the Turkish city of Izmir, a gigantic rock carving of the country’s secular founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, displayed prominently over one of the major highways, shows the city’s continuing allegiance to a certain set of values.

Such rebellion suggests a trait in the people of Izmir, a mentality that marks the city out among its rivals.

Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey. The megacity Istanbul is ‘the capital of everything’ and is the best-known city in Turkey. Ankara, the second largest city, is the country’s official capital. Izmir has beautiful geography, excellent weather, an extremely rich history and great cuisine.

But so do Barcelona, Marseille, Athens or Beirut. Nature or historical artefacts are not strong enough differentiators to build a unique city brand upon.

In a recent interview with Placesbrands, Canadian-Turkish brand strategist Günter Soydanbay said, “Izmir’s pioneer mindset is what makes it unique, not its natural beauty.”

Izmir was the first Turkish city ever to go through a formal branding process. That was an interesting starting point. Throughout history, Izmir, known as Smyrna in ancient times, has always been a magnet for pioneers and pioneer thinking.

Many ‘firsts’ of the region took place in Izmir, and many are still taking place. It is a city of numerous frontiers, both physically and mentally. Izmir is located at the western extremity of Turkey, and has the largest port in the country.

Izmir is also the place where parchment paper was invented, where Homer wrote Odysseus, where the first geometrical city layout was implemented, and where the first hospital of Eurasia was built.

The people of Izmir retain their frontier mentality. The region’s first natural life park, and Europe’s first sport-specific hotel have recently opened in Izmir. There are endless such examples, because the ‘frontier mentality’ is Izmir’s genius loci, or ‘spirit of the place’.

According to Soydanbay, “Reading about a place’s history, learning about its celebrities and heroes are all helpful ways to discover its genius loci. This is part of successful place branding.

“The key is to start with what the place already has and then find audiences that might be interested in it. Not the other way around. Place branding should not be perceived as a silver bullet for a place, but as a galvaniser to focus the place’s improvement efforts.”

Place branding is still a relatively new concept in Turkey. The country’s central government and some of its city mayors have started work on some branding projects. But veteran Turkish place branding consultant Muhterem Ilgüner believes they still have far to go.

Ilgüner said: “The Turkish government is catching onto the idea of branding, but only in terms of creating a nice logo or slogan. They only understand the tangibles, not the intangibles, i.e. the storylines or genius loci.”

He continued, “Turkey has a complicated and mixed up nation brand. It needs to be simplified and narrowed down to a few strong key themes. Turkey’s main storyline should be drawn from its rich history and culture.

“For sustainable branding we should look back into history and draw out its themes to build a long-lasting and genuine brand story for Turkey.”

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