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Year in review: 2015

Fireworks and champagne

2015 has been a rollercoaster of a year.

Placesbrands brought you stories from Jakarta, Kingston, Amman, Limburg, Budapest and Washington DC.

As 2015 draws to a close, let’s revisit this year’s most popular posts. They focus on perspectives from around the world, from Jamaica and Cuba to Cornwall and Nashville.

2015 was a critical year for US-Cuban relations. Jamaican-born academic Dr Hume Johnson reflects on the opening up of Cuba, from the perspective of its closest neighbour.

City branding is a hot topic, but why do so many campaigns fail to achieve the desired impact? Jose Torres of Bloom Consulting talks us through the lesser-known secrets of image crafting, with a focus on the important role of digital tools.

In the UK it’s mostly about London. Unless it’s about Cornwall. The county at the tail end of England experienced a resurgence in popularity in 2015, partly driven by the hit TV series Poldark. John Lowdon of local brand agency Changing Brands explores the ins and outs of the shifting Cornish image, pirates and all.

Foreign Policy magazine is known for its commentary on world affairs, geopolitics and diplomacy. Now the group behind the magazine is branching out in a new direction and establishing a Nation Brand Institute. Its goal is to provide consulting, research and events services to foreign ministries around the world. Placesbrands met with FP to find out more about the plans.

Have you ever thought about the sounds that conjure up memories of places visited in the past? The practice of audio branding leverages the power of sound to promote place image. Steve Keller of iV Audio Branding tells us which places are making good use of their unique sounds and explains how to integrate audio as part of a wider brand strategy.

Placesbrands wishes everyone great success for 2016. Happy New Year!

Beyond the logo fetish

Sustainability, liveability and connectivity in place branding strategy were the main themes for the 3rd Institute of Place Management (IPM) conference, held in May 2015 in the Polish city of Poznań.

The event brought together perspectives from international scholars, practitioners and policy-makers on place management, place branding and the influence of global trends on places.

Place management and place branding are popular in practice as well as in academic research. The growth in scholarly debate combined with the accumulation of practical experience suggests a need for the re-examination of theory and practice.

The Poznań conference showcased original presentations by 79 authors from around the world. Some took a more business-oriented approach, while others focused more on the theoretical underpinnings of place management and branding. The conference clearly offered new perspectives on the topics under discussion as well as helping to further bridge the gap between theory and practice.

The programme was designed as a platform to exchange ideas, concepts, and best practices, aiming for a deeper understanding of how theory and practice reconcile the conflicting pressures of global forces with the need for sustainability – to increase the quality of life for place residents – all within the context of increased connectivity – real and virtual.

In addition to the conference, a number of other social and networking events, including a “sweet conference-climax” with a live show at the Rogalowe Muzeum Poznania, which revealed the secrets of Saint Martin Croissants, brought together the participants in a relaxing and friendly environment in the lovely city of Poznań.

I had high expectations of this event. I was confident that it would offer different yet complementary viewpoints to strengthen my knowledge of the core topics under debate. From the moment I stepped intp the conference venue I was met with a warm welcome by the organising team. This was followed by an enthusiastic opening speech by Simon Quin, director of the IPM.

Simon has recently been involved in the Institute’s work with UK high streets and the future of public markets (for example – Markets Matter: Reviewing the evidence & detecting the market effect by Professor Alan Hallsworth, Nikos Ntounis, Professor Cathy Parker and Simon Quin).

But rather than exhaustively describing the papers from the conference, I will instead highlight key concepts and ideas, as well as theoretical and methodological approaches that I believe contribute to the interdisciplinary of place research and the interplay with the main concepts – sustainability, liveability and connectivity. The contributions were high quality and the cases critically identified here should not diminish the value of the remaining ones.

The first day was composed of four sessions. From session one I would like to highlight the presentation by Nikos Ntounis, Javier Lloveras, Cathy Parker – A Review Of Epistemological Issues And Philosophical Positons For The Development Of Theory In Place Marketing (page 59 of the conference proceedings).

The three researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University avoided presenting definitions. Instead they have critically reviewed various philosophical assumptions within place marketing. This kind of research is vital as there is already a portfolio of conceptual definitions, so it is important to bring something new into the discussion, to bring alternatives views to the theory-building.

In a session chaired by Martin Boisen two common topics were discussed: 1) Stakeholders involvement in place marketing and branding processes; 2) Political leadership in city branding. From those insightful talks I underline the presentation by Jasper Eshuis, Erik Braun, Erik-Hans Klijn, Sebastan Zenker – How Stakeholder Involvement Influences The Impact That Place Marketing Has On Other Policy Fields (page 26 of the conference proceedings).

Their presentation highlights the fact that stakeholders’ involvement in place marketing processes increases the role place marketing can play in other fields, such as in spatial planning and tourism policies.

Empirical evidence was built by exploring the differences between Germany and the Netherlands. Different methodological approaches to place branding and marketing as well as critics of policy-making and power relations in branding places have made the first day of the conference an intellectual pleasure.

After the first day of the conference in which the role of stakeholders in place marketing and branding as well as the interplay with other disciplines, such as strategic spatial planning, politics as well as more ontological debates have clearly contributed to the maturation of place branding theory and practice. Importantly, the welcome cocktail, which closed the day, was the perfect spot to consolidate ideas, network and whet the appetite for the second day.

That second day promised more fruitful discussions. Some of the contributions touched upon the Interaction Between City And Life Satisfaction (by Irina Shafranskaya, Anastasiya Bozhya-Volya and Dmitriy Potapov – page 70 of the conference proceedings), the Challenges In Fostering A Public Debate On Strategic Place Brand Management: The Case Of Rio De Janeiro (by Raquel Goulart and Massimo Giovanardi – page 34 of the conference proceedings) and A Review Of The Impacts Of International Summits For Host Cites (by Andrea Insch – page 42 of the conference proceedings).

Among the valuable contributions I underline here was the paper nominated as the best of the conference – Urban Brandscape As Value Ecosystem: The ‘Cultural Destination Strategy’ Of Fashion Brands by Nicola Bellini and Cecilia Pasquinelli (page 21 of the conference proceedings).

Bellini and Pasquinelli paid special attention to the relation between luxury fashion industries and city tourism by discussing how companies that are not conventionally part of the local tourism cluster, nevertheless established forms of cultural destination strategies entangled within the urban landscapes. The paper sheds light on the interplay fashion brands and the city by taking Florence (Italy) as a case study.

Day three covered paramount topics in today’s place management and branding discussion:

1) the use of social media in place branding, by employing difference methodologies and conducted from a more anthropological point of view while others a more network-theory stance;

2) the relation between theory and practice as well as the roles of academicians and practitioners in making place branding and marketing into more robust disciplines.

The special session, Theory meets Practice, was chaired by Massimo Giovanardi. It assembled the key findings of research developed by top scholars and practitioners. For instance, Mihalis Kavaratzis presented key ideas from his work with Helen Donnelan and Rosa Roma by critically debating how the theory on place branding can be informed by practice and vice versa.

The second presentation number 2 by Cathy Parker, Simon Quinn as well as the presentation number three by Magdalena Florek and Adam Mikołajczyk deepen the reflections of Kavaratzis et al. This special session involved more intense and ‘hot’ debate, proving that scholars and consultants have so much to discuss that we could all have stayed in Poznań for an extra day – which would have positively impacted the consumption of local beer and food…

Even if some of the presenters were preoccupied by providing definitions in the first minutes of their talks, later on critical thinking about the topics in discussion became fruitful in contributing to the disciplinary re-thinking. However, in my view point, there remains a lack of geo-spatial thinking in place branding as well as understanding to what extent places need to develop a brand strategy and use marketing techniques.

Everybody talks about place branding in support of place management, yet only a handful of scholars have successfully conveyed a more spatial approach to branding and marketing places. In addition, my thoughts keep returning to the need to understand whether or not cities and/or regions are prepared to develop place branding or whether groundwork should be done before undertaking such efforts, which are often time and money consuming.

Despite the most needed maturation of place branding as a discipline of relevant importance, we must clarify how to operationalise it beyond the ‘logo-fetish’, thus helping make places better environments to live, to work, to study, to play and to dream.

The conference was absolutely great in terms of its organisation, the quality and originality of the content of all the presentations as well as adding to the theory and practice of place management and place branding.

However, more thought provoking discussions would be able “to set the conference room on fire”, as the final session did. I don’t want to say here that the participants should “harshly argue” with each other, as street markets vendors might, but perhaps they should sit together around a table with extra time to discuss methodologies, and the intertwining between disciplines.

Perhaps next time we could reserve an afternoon for workshops or special groups for this purpose. However, sometimes workshops are time consuming and less effective as not everybody feels comfortable to share ideas. Round tables, for example during extended coffee breaks could also boost the interaction between scholars and practitioners as well as between young and senior researchers.

Coffee and cookies could be a good starting point for discussions where academics present their theories and philosophies with the views and experience of businesspeople preoccupied with profit-making rather that “better-place-making”.

As a final thought it would be great to see debate between contributors from different backgrounds (economists vs. marketers; spatial planners vs. corporate brand experts; geographers vs. consultants, and so on). This would complement Cathy Parker’s request to extend philosophical discussions and positions on place management, place branding and marketing.

Together with knowledge and cultural enrichment the conference was a great moment to establish wider networks and strengthen cooperative links.

Save our town centres

I remember the local market very well. It was an important part of my early life growing up in rural Devon. It took place every Saturday in the nearest big town, a gloriously messy mingling of delicious smells, bizarre yet useful items and intriguing homegrown veggies.

“Markets are unique, quirky, unusual, and always a bargain.” – VisitBritain

But in recent years Britain’s town centres have started to suffer from loss of interest as a result of the current spate of out-of-town shopping malls. In both the public and private sector, various initiatives have sprung up to try and combat this trend and save the country’s town centres.

A new report takes things a step further. Published by the Institute of Place Management and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), this research focuses specifically on the value of markets as significant drivers for the economic, social and political health of Britain’s towns and cities.

Based on a combination of footfall data analyses and reviews of published evidence, the report offers 25 concrete reasons why markets still matter for our towns and cities. Conclusions drawn from the research also demonstrate that markets can act as vital catalysts for city centre change.

The full report is well worth a read. You can find it here on the MMU website.

Does place branding need a rebrand? Part 3

In our final instalment of this mini-series, Malcolm Allan of PlaceMatters shares his thoughts on how to solve the misunderstanding by placing greater emphasis on strategy, competitive advantage and the importance of a common narrative.

He also points out that discounting the value of PR and advertising agencies is unwise, as they can and do play a valuable role in a place branding process, although they cannot replace the need for good strategy.

“I’ve got sympathy with the phrase coined and used by Simon Anholt to describe the objective of place branding as being ‘Competitive Advantage’. I’ve used this phraseology to title the course that Jeannette Hanna of Trajectory and I are teaching on place branding for cities at the Schulich Business School in York University in Toronto. I think we’ll also use it for the title of a very similar course that I’m planning with Prof. Nigel Morgan for the University of Surrey.

For me, all branding is designed to help secure competitive advantage – for products, services, attractions, places, events. Competitive advantage is what place and destination is undertaken to achieve. I also use the term to describe the desired outcome of development branding – branding strategy for real estate, especially for mixed use developments.

Competitive advantage describes a benefit, an end state or an evolving state. Place branding describes a process of analyses and activities designed to create competitive advantage. End state benefits are a much more attractive proposition than is a description of the journey.

Now, while I’m happy to describe the objective of place and destination brand strategy (with emphasis on strategy) in this way, I still regard ‘place, destination and development brand strategy’ as an accurate phrase to describe the process and many of the tools and techniques involved in achieving competitive advantage of a strategic nature.

These tools include my Brand Compass, which sits alongside others such as the Locum Destination Development Model, the public and community consultation tools developed by Trajectory and more traditional economic development ones like competitor analyses and place marketing as practised by many DMO’s (Destination Management Organisations).

I agree that understanding of the practice of effective place brand strategy can be muddied by the activities of advertising agencies and brand design agencies who seek to sell a partial and less holistic approach to the creation of an effective place brand (strategy).

Some say their approach is about strategy, while others simply don’t discuss strategy. The latter assume that the objective is an agreed logo and tag line that will somehow (often undefined) secure an advantage such as a more distinctive and memorable (graphic) identity or more effective marketing campaign.

How to deal with this challenge?

Primarily I think it’s down to the practitioners of place, destination and development brand strategy to consistently and continuously explain and express what’s involved in developing such a strategy in order to achieve competitive advantage.

I don’t think the market has the mind space for arguments that rubbish the non-strategic approaches, the practices of marketing agencies and visual brand design agencies (after all I work regularly with both and they do have a role to play). If we want the market to understand these distinctions we must educate it in the differences.

On most occasions when I’ve been given the opportunity to explain what place brand strategy is and is not, the majority of people listening have quickly understood the distinctions.

So, perhaps some like-minded practitioners should get together to frame a common narrative, for consistent application, to explain what the practice is, how we practice and what it can achieve by way of benefits for places. In this way we can imply or make clear distinctions with others non-strategic practices.”

By Malcolm Allan

Does place branding need a rebrand? Part 2

This is part two of a mini-series debating whether place branding needs a new name. The issue arose from the fact that use of the term ‘branding’ carries the risk that the uninformed will equate the discipline largely with advertising. We wanted to explore whether giving it a new name would help to overcome this.

Last week, in part one, Günter Soydanbay spelled out the key difference between ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ – one which is so often misinterpreted.

He said: “If we are under the illusion that our objective is to create ‘a brand’, then all we get would be a yummy logo, catchy tagline, and an over-promising campaign.”

Bill Baker, president of Total Destination Marketing, shares another viewpoint…

“I agree with the sentiment that there are many misunderstandings relating to the branding of places. I also think it’s true that far too many places start out with the idea of branding and mistakenly have a narrow view of what branding is. They don’t fully engage it as a powerful strategic guidance system.

Many set out on their brand journey because they think it’s time for a new look or a snappy tagline or slogan. I think that an even more common pitfall is to consider it as a new campaign. I think that many states and nations are particularly guilty of this. They then proceed to announce a new ‘brand’ every few years.

But despite these challenges, I don’t believe that there’s a need to rebrand the concept of place branding.

We have to keep in mind that many on the client side who are involved in place branding projects may be encountering the concepts of branding for the first time in their careers.

Hence, so much of our everyday work at TDM has always been education and building the capacity of our client communities. I believe this is where the emphasis needs to be. Rebranding or introducing a new vocabulary may simply add to the confusion and will still require intensive educational focus.”

The final post in this series will be published next week.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments – or tweet us!