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Telling stories by the sea

The Hague Bloggershuis city brand

The Hague knows the value of telling a good story.

So much so in fact, that the city’s marketing team has created the ‘Bloggershuis’, a dedicated space where visiting bloggers can stay while they discover all that the Hague has to offer. As an added bonus, the Bloggershuis is situated right on the beach! 

Placesbrands talked to Mieke Smid, public relations manager at Den Haag Marketing, to learn more about the Bloggershuis project, due to launch this summer.

Pb: What gave the city the idea for the Bloggershuis?
Mieke: Having our own Bloggershuis was on my professional wish list for several years now. This was after we heard about the first successful initiative of Blogville Emilia Romagna in Italy. But we, The Hague Marketing, the city itself and the municipality, weren’t ready for this kind of initiative yet, and we were still searching for the ultimate home to profile The Hague as a city by the sea. Now, with this beach house, our relevant experiences with bloggers & vloggers over the past few years and the ability to monitor social media properly, have made 2016 the year to open our Bloggershuis, the first in the Netherlands!

What are the unique selling points of The Hague?
The Hague has a few unique selling points: we are the only Dutch city by the sea, we are the international city of Peace & Justice (with the Peace Palace as an icon) and we are a Royal city, The Hague is where the Royal family live their lives and work. That has been the case for centuries now and you can sense the Royal allure in the city.

How does the Bloggershuis tie in with all this?
The Hague’s Bloggershuis is a beach house on the beach. This is the perfect tool to profile  and position the city as a city by the sea! It shows that you, as a tourist, can combine two type of destinations within one trip: a beach holiday and an interesting city trip.

The Hague Bloggershuis Netherlands

“The power of this bloggers house is that other people will tell the story for you. How great is it that this can be done from a building on the beach in the only Dutch city by the sea?”, said Marco Esser, director of Den Haag Marketing.

What sort of stories do you hope the bloggers will write about?
We’re looking for different kinds of stories, destination reports from the real destination geeks, and stories by niche bloggers on food, arts & culture, festivals, sports (sailing/surfing) , lifestyle and beauty or shopping. With must sees like the Girl with the Pearl Earring from the famous painter Vermeer, The Peace Palace, our Royal palaces, 11 kilometres of beach, the Victory Boogie Woogie or the museum of Escher, the range of stories can be very wide!

What do The Hague residents think of the Bloggershuis idea?
The Hague residents are enthusiastic and proud! We’re the first to have a Bloggershuis, we can show the city that we love to influencers all over the world. We would also love to hook up certain bloggers (niche) with a local expert on the same topic. Several locals have already shown interest in this idea.

Does The Hague have any additional goals for the Bloggershuis initiative?
Our main goal is, of course, to draw attention to our city by the sea in a special way and a way that’s unique for Holland. We love to see and hear from other people talking about their experience in The Hague. We strongly believe in others telling the story of The Hague and we’re curious to see all the stories, pictures and videos from our visitors.  But an initiative like this one can only be a success when your own residents believe in it, and support it. So we’re also happy that it makes residents of The Hague feel proud.

The Bloggershuis will start up at the end of March on Kijkduin Beach in The Hague. It will be open during the 2016 beach season, exclusively for Dutch and international travel bloggers and vloggers.

Place storytelling in your pocket

Vamonde Chicago

For centuries people have told stories about places. Legends of far-flung spots like Timbuktu, Constantinople, and Zanzibar had captured the European imagination long before global travel became commonplace.

Now in the 21st century, the medium of delivery has changed but the desire for stories has remained. A new startup is combining colourful stories of place with a mobile app platform.

Created in Chicago and launched just weeks ago, Vamonde is the brainchild of Anijo Mathew, an entrepreneur based in the Windy City. The platform is already gaining traction, attracting hundreds of users in its first weeks. I caught up with Anijo last week for a brief chat about Vamonde and its mission.

Vamonde is a place-based storytelling platform, designed to help connect physical and virtual places through the use of place narratives. Users log on and create place ‘adventures’, which can feature special sections to be unlocked only when the reader physically visits the place in question.

Some of the latest stories posted feature a tour of Chicago’s historical architecture, the stories of Humboldt Park, and the intersections and places that define Illinois Institute of Technology, one of the growing number of organisations that use Vamonde.

Anijo has always believed that the world is full of stories just waiting to be discovered. But he found that the question, “what happened here?” too often tended to go unanswered.

So he asked: “What if we really could make these walls talk? What if we could explore the world around us – not just seeing what’s in front of us now, but seeing who and what came before?”

At present, Vamonde’s birthplace Chicago is the main focus of the platform. But the team behind Vamonde hopes to expand the app to encompass other cities, both within America and all over the world. Anijo and I both agreed that cities with long histories, such as Istanbul, could be ideal candidates for Vamonde’s next steps.

Vamonde (vah-mond) brings together two French words – Va, meaning “Go” and Monde, meaning “World.” Put together, Vamonde means “Go World.” The idea for Vamonde came from real world needs of those wanting to tell stories of place.

“We want to help users and organisations create beautiful experiences out in the world and connect stories into amazing adventures that encourage others to get out of their offices, homes, hotel rooms to touch, feel, smell, hear and experience place!”

This is the spirit that drives Vamonde.

Vamonde is currently available only for iOS, but an Android version is in the works.

If you’re interested in learning more, follow Vamonde on Twitter or Facebook.

The city’s voice

Voice of city

The concept of audio branding for destinations is intriguing. But why should places consider using this technique in their brand strategies? Steve Keller of iV Audio Branding introduces us to the emotive power of sound and discusses how it can be used to create lasting identities for places.

Steve, why should destinations use sound in their brand strategies?
Well, what is it that draws us to a place? Our memories are not simply visual. They’re multi sensorial. So when you think about a destination, why limit your branding to a visual logo or a verbal brand claim? Sound is one of the most effective implicit drivers of emotion. If you can capture a unique sonic identity for your destination, you will have added a powerful tool to your branding/marketing toolbox.

What are some examples of destinations that have made good use of sound?
Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis and Austin all have strong ties to music, and they use that connection to appeal to tourism. However, they are not exploring the multiple touch points available to take advantage of those obvious sonic connections.

Consider Vienna, which has effectively created an audio brand woven into its transportation system, which provides a sonic association with the city itself. Art installations, like the ‘sea organ’ in Zadar, Croatia, that incorporate sound, offer opportunities for both attention and promotion.

London used a ‘sound taxi’ that recorded the city sounds around it – buses, horns, and crowds – and then transformed them into ambient sound to music that created a real-time sonic experience for tourists and locals alike.

Destination brands can also use traditional audio branding assets like a sonic logo. Coupling that audio mark with a visual logo for a city offers a way to build recognition through use in broadcast commercials, online videos, digital communication and more.

Atlanta worked with Sixième Son (an audio agency based in Paris, France) to create an audio logo based on the city’s history, heritage and culture.

Some countries and cities conjure up distinct sound associations. Can you give us an example?
If you consider national anthems as ‘brand themes,’ that’s one obvious connection between a place and a specific piece of music. Some iconic landmarks also have a sonic association, with London’s Big Ben as a prime example.

Calls to prayer, chants, or temple bells are examples of ‘sonic signatures’ that speak to spiritual connections to places and cultures. Nature sounds can also be used to effectively communicate sonic associations with a particular place.

For instance, when riding the tram at the Zurich airport in Switzerland, you will hear the sounds of cows, cowbells, Alpine horns and yodelling. Nothing says, “Welcome to Switzerland” more than these iconic sonic associations with the Swiss countryside, and they never fail to bring a smile to the faces of the travellers arriving.

What kind of sounds work best for creating positive associations with places?
I think every place has unique sound/memory associations. To some extent, it’s less about creating them, and more about listening for them. These natural associations are always a good place to start, and are usually found through interviews with local members of the city or community.

You can also ‘sound map’ a city, noting the location of unique soundscapes within the city environment. As you listen, you want to find those unique sound/place pairings that can be ‘owned’ by the destination (i.e. you won’t hear it anywhere else, or at least not quite like you hear it when you’re in a particular location).

Sound maps, sonic installations (often paired with art installations), geo-tagging and beacons can all be used to help visitors and community members take sonic scavenger hunts through the city. While these distinct sonic identifiers can be natural, a destination could also create specific audio assets as part of an audio branding strategy.

An audio logo, as previously mentioned, would be one example of this kind of distinct, flexible, congruent, recognisable and ownable audio asset. Another asset might be a ‘Brand Voice’ – a particular voice or voices used in audio communications. Over time, this ‘voice of the city’ can become a recognisable sonic extension of the destination’s personality.

How would you integrate audio into a wider brand strategy?
Building a successful audio brand takes discipline. You must first uncover your brand’s audio identity. Once you identify, create, and curate its audio assets, you then need to be disciplined in their execution across multiple touch points.

For instance, let’s use the example of the ‘voice of the city’ mentioned earlier. This voice (or voices) should be chosen based on how it reflects the essence of your brand’s personality. Then, look for all the areas where you can consistently use this voice. You might hear it in marketing and branding communications.

Perhaps it’s used in online videos found on the city website. If I call the messaging centre, I might hear it there. When I visit the city, then I might also hear it on my arrival and as I travel throughout the city on trains, buses and in airports. It’s as if the city is speaking to me in a voice that I recognise, that I become connected to, and that feels more like a familiar friend than a strange place.

Add to this the fact that technology is creating new audio touch points all the time, particularly with our mobile devices. Sound is an extremely important part of that experience.

What’s the best way to measure the effect of audio in a place branding strategy?
You can measure at various stages of the process. We can test at the developmental phase, to make sure the audio assets we’re creating and/or procuring are hitting the emotional/rational targets we’ve identified.

We can see how our audio choices are affecting the way we interpret the brand visually. We can explore the free associations that pop up in the mind of a listener when they first heard a sound or a piece of music. These developmental tests help us make sure we’re capturing the true ‘sonic essence’ of the brand.

We can also benchmark to compare the emerging audio identity with other iconic brands. We can examine consensus meaning and cued recall. We can measure likability and familiarity. All these measures then form a baseline. We can run the same tests again, a year later, two years later, three years later – and measure the changes.

Finally, we can optimise, where we might look at how different applications of the audio brand might drive purchase intent (or in the case of a destination, desire to visit), enjoyment, breakthrough, and recall. In attempting to measure benefits and outcomes, you need to define what you want to measure, and how to build the best test design to give the necessary input to make decisions and evaluate progress.

Obviously, time and money are always a consideration, but knowing the right questions to ask is the most important part of any testing initiative. Good testing doesn’t just give you answers. It also helps you identify new questions.

Which place has the best sounds? And which has the worst?
I’m going to be diplomatic here and say that this has a lot to do with my own personal tastes and preferences, rather than attempting to name destination brands that I think are using sound ‘rightly or wrongly.’

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to a number of amazing destinations all around the world, and I have fond sonic memories of them all. That said, I think there is a danger in how the world is becoming increasingly ‘noisy’. We’re losing some of the natural sounds of a place as they are masked by the noise of devices and machines around us. We’re losing the art of mindful listening, and with it the ability to be aware and present in the moment.

This is an important point: audio branding isn’t just about the intentional presence of sound. It’s also about the intentional absence. One of my fondest memories of Helsinki is the wooden Chapel of Silence there. It’s built in the middle of the city, and was designed as a sonic refuge from the hustle and the bustle going on outside its walls.

I think the idea of an ‘intentional use of sound’ is key. The use of sound in destination branding shouldn’t just be a tactic. It should be a strategy. There should be clear reasons for sonic choices, aligned with the brand vision and promise.

In your audio branding work, how do you use sound to change negative perceptions of a place?
Our associations colour our perceptions. Once we pair a stimulus with a particular place or object, the emotional outcome creates a powerful association. These paired associations are difficult, but not impossible, to break.

One way to change perception is to call attention to the paired association, and create another to replace it, or to at least offer a new perspective. The Chapel of Silence offers another experience to the sounds of a busy urban environment, a potentially strong positive association of a calm and comforting destination in a part of the city that may typically be thought of as a place of chaos and business.

The introduction of the sounds of the Swiss countryside into an airport tram actually creates a moment of surprise and enjoyment for weary travellers, suggesting to them that now that they’re entering Zurich, they can relax.

While these examples may not be specifically about changing a negative perception, they do help illustrate how sound connects with us on an implicit level, where emotional associations are most powerful and where they can affect how we interpret the information we’re receiving through our other senses.

Find out more about iV Audio Branding, or follow Steve on Twitter.

Finland’s ’emoji diplomacy’

Finland emoji

Finland made headlines this week with its release of 30 country-branding emojis, in an unique and typically quirky twist on regular promotion efforts.

Said to reflect aspects of the Finnish national character, the list includes a sauna emoji, a Nokia ‘brick phone’ emoji, and the ‘headbanger’ emoji, which is the particular favourite of Petra Theman, Finland’s Director of Public Diplomacy.

Placesbrands struggled (figuratively) through the hordes of journalists surrounding Petra to do a quick interview.

What gave you the idea to make emojis?
“The boring answer is that it relates to our Finland webpage. It was a team effort. We’ve always had this end-of-year calendar and this year we wanted to do something out of the box, related to social media, maybe talk to the younger public a little more.

The emojis idea came up because we have some great emoji designers in Finland. We liked that the emojis convey things of importance for our brand, e.g. digitalisation and being ahead of things in the digital world. They also show quirkiness as one of the Finnish characteristics. We thought the emojis reflected this very well.”

What’s your favourite out of the 30?
“The headbanger! It’s very useful for saying ‘Rock-on!’ over a text message and it appeals to a certain genre that already loves Finland. We’ve gained a reputation as the heavy rock capital of the world. It represents our attitude. We have plenty of well known rock bands with millions of fans all over the world. It’s a music form that we love.”

From a Finnish perspective, what are Finland’s most important national characteristics?
“That’s a tough question because we don’t want to go into stereotypes too much. You always have to think about the younger generation who see and experience the world so differently.

Mainly I think that if you look at statistics and rankings there are a couple of things that stand out. One is our sense of equality, of wanting to do things fairly for everyone. That’s something I find very characteristic of Finns.

The other is a certain honesty, sometimes ‘rude’ honesty until the breaking point. Here’s an example. A lot of research was done into honesty in various places. If you throw out 15 wallets, how many will come back to the owner? Finland often wins this kind of thing.

Also the Finnish handshake is something that’s for real. So equality and honesty are most important, along with this quirkiness, which is often found in the younger Finnish character. Quirky and a little bit crazy.

A while ago Newsweek did a ranking [perhaps it was this one] that stated the happiest people in the world live in Finland. Finns thought ‘this really can’t be true’ and so they went through the research material in detail and discovered that Newsweek had miscalculated the whole thing!

The Finns found there was an tiny error and that Switzerland actually won, not Finland. To have Finns being the ones doing this is hilarious and shows typical quirkiness.”

And finally, what’s next for Finland in terms of brand strategy?

“We’re all looking towards 2017, which will be Finland’s 100th birthday. We’re emphasising four themes in our brand strategy, which are:

1. Education policy
2. Pureness and cleantech
3. Functionality of government and country
4. Wellness and healthcare issues.

We’d like to see more acknowledgement of the quality of our higher education, as well as our primary education.

Cleantech reflects the problem solving attitude, which is part of our history and approach. We’re the engineer nation. Jokes between the Nordic countries often say that Sweden is the marketer and Finland is the engineer.

We have the mindset for it, which is good for cleantech and similar issues. It’s a fairly well known mindset about Finns.”


Keep an eye on the This is Finland website for the full emoji set, due out on December 1st.

In the meantime, rock on!

Global popularity contest

Country winner

The Digital Country Index is a country brand ranking with a difference.

Whereas most rankings rely either on survey data or a collection of indicators from third party sources, this one draws together almost one billion keywords used across online searches globally. The resulting data is classified into five dimensions deemed most relevant to the overall strength of a national brand: Tourism, Talent, Inward Investment, Exports, and National Prominence.

Countries that rank near the top in any of these categories demonstrate that the world is interested in them. Those near the bottom show the exact opposite; that they are of little consequence in global affairs. Some countries and territories produced no search data at all.

Online searches, in particular Google, have become the go-to reaction to anything that triggers our curiosity. For many people the act of searching for a country starts from this curiosity, perhaps about something they read in the news or hear in conversation. When we search online we are remarkably candid about the terms we type in. That means the terms used are most revealing of people’s true opinions about countries.

“The act of searching for a specific country is a clear indicator of how interesting that country is,” said José Torres, CEO of Bloom Consulting, nation branding specialists and creators of the Digital Country Index.

Critics say that country brand rankings simply perpetuate stereotypes. They point out that the big players always win, leaving little opportunity for smaller ones to be acknowledged. Those people may well be disappointed to hear which country is the overall winner of the Digital Country Index. But we can’t escape reality. Some countries are simply more prominent than others. The question should really be: how can the others leverage their unique strengths to make themselves stand out?

So, let’s dig into the Digital Country Index 2015.

Overall, there’s a predictable outcome. Right at the top of the pile, ranked top despite numerous reputation-related challenges, is the United States. The country didn’t score highly in the Good Country Index, nor did it top Futurebrand’s 2014 Country Brand Rankings. That honour went to Japan. But undeniably, the world is searching online most frequently for the United States.

In the Tourism dimension of the Digital Country Index, Spain ranked top overall, followed by Italy in second place. Turkey, despite ongoing problems with politics and security, still ranked top in the Tourism sub-category ‘Visits’, although Bloom Consulting informed me that most of the search terms were collected during the earlier part of the year. The next Index could potentially produce a very different result for Turkey, reflecting concerns in the latter part of 2015.

There are some surprises in the rest of the results. Singapore, sometimes accused of dullness, in fact ranks top out of 180 countries for ‘Leisure and Entertainment’ related searches within the Tourism dimension.

China is top overall for Inward Investment, followed by the USA. Other BRICs hog the top five, with India in third place and Brazil in fourth.

For Talent, meaning the inflows of foreign workers and students, the USA ranks first, followed by Canada, Australia, Germany and the UK. Germany’s performance here could reflect its recent decision to offer free higher education in all its universities.

For National Prominence, the USA is predictably top, followed by Australia, Japan, Germany and Canada. In the National Prominence sub-categories, an interesting result stands out under Governance. Uruguay ranks in fifth place, beating both Germany and the UK. This could be due to Uruguay’s well-publicised and unusually humble former president José Mujica.

In the Society sub-dimension, Singapore ranks top, while the USA leads in both the Sports and Culture sub-dimensions.

Unsurprisingly, ‘world’s workshop’ China ranks top overall for Exports. The USA tops the sub-dimension for ‘Flagship Companies’, but China comes top in the remaining three: ‘Made In’, ‘Export From’, and ‘Goods’. However, this still does not show whether country-of-origin goods from China are associated with high quality. Recent negative comments in reaction to China’s unveiling of its first domestically produced passenger jet would suggest that they are not. Another interesting result is found in the Flagship Companies dimension, where Colombia ranks third, ahead of both Germany and China.

Bloom Consulting created the Index using a proprietary tool (Digital Demand D2) to collect global keyword data from a range of search engines. This big data was then filtered according to keywords searched, nationality (country of origin), and time of year (month). Data was collected in nine languages.

Understanding what motivates people’s initial interest in a country can help governments make better strategic decisions. This data can be constantly monitored for changes over time and in response to specific triggers, such as significant policy changes, economic shifts, terrorist attacks, or international accolades.

“Governments need to start monitoring their digital country reputation in the same way that they monitor it in the real world. Whatever happens in the real world also happens in the digital world… and will stay there forever,” added Torres.


Find out more about the Digital Country Index, and other country brand rankings, at Bloom Consulting’s website.