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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.

Is bigger really better?

Social community of birds

Every territorial marketing professional has been faced with the following dilemma at one point or another: “How can I get my social media community to grow?”

That inevitably leads to a slew of creative ideas from all sides. Marketing professionals advocate for social media advertising.

Creatives push great community building ideas into your hand, while graphic designers come up with cool new forms of photo tweaking to make the post more ‘shareable’ and ‘likeable’, along with so many other things to help us reach more and more people. This all happens in the name of growing our ‘digital communities’.

This is usually a laudable goal, but most people rarely stop to think about it and answer a simple question: Why?

Why do place brands need 1 million fans on Facebook, or followers on Twitter, or in Instagram or Pinterest, and so on and so forth?

Most government officials at all levels of government, be they at the city or nation level, answer with something along the lines of “bigger is better”, or “the more the merrier”, or even “because my neighbour has a bigger community”.

These answers lack focus, depth and direction, and as a result, the social media strategies of these place brands are just that, directionless.

But what happens when you keep these answers and paraphrase the question, turning it into, “What’s my place brand getting out of these efforts?” Then the answers provided by these government officials can no longer be justified.

Place brands have to rethink their strategy, and truly define what they want to accomplish from their digital activities. This gives way to the construction of real ‘place communities’.

There are some interesting examples out there, like Sweden’s Twitter profile, where each week a different Swede takes charge of the account. This has created a community of people who actually have a better understanding of Sweden, gathered on the official website.

While it’s true that all these people are Swedes, they are also a key audience of the brand, as they now have more reasons to love their country, and have become stronger advocates of the Swedish country brand.

Other place brands are more focused on churning out post after post of beautiful landscapes and incredible destinations. But sometimes the storytelling is too focused on the way they see the world, and not enough on how the rest of us see ‘them’. Once more that’s a difficulty.

To overcome this, it’s necessary to build a storytelling structure that’s universal enough yet authentic enough to engage the intended audience while retaining the local flavour. While this sounds difficult, there are many available tools at the disposal of us marketers.

Clichés are probably the most powerful of these. We may hate them, but trust me, nothing says Mexico louder than a ‘Mariachi sombrero’, or France than a ‘French beret’.

This may enrage the local population, who feel that the cliché misrepresents them. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for a skilled marketer can take that cliché and turn it into a matter of national pride, while at the same time using it to convey a message to a foreign audience. It all depends on whom you want to talk to.

It brings us back to the question: “Why is my place brand on social media?”

The answer should be simple. To build a community of likeminded people who truly like my place, and are genuinely interested in hearing about it.

A new way of approaching the problem is by turning it into an issue of quality over quantity. It’s not about how many fans/followers your brand has; it’s about how strong your online community is. That’s the only way you can get people to step away from their Facebook or Twitter page and actually go book a flight to see all the wonders you’re talking to them about.

In a sense, that’s the ultimate goal of place branding and territorial marketing, to bring people to see our homes, and if all goes well, for them to invest there.

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.

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.

Pasties, pirates and Poldark

There’s pasties, sandy beaches, cream teas, picture postcard fishing villages, pirates, surfers, and jolly old ‘seadogs’. Oh, and let’s not forget the latest addition – Poldark.

What more is there to know about Cornwall? Well, firstly, the fact that we can list all of these things about a county is pretty impressive. Most people would struggle to reel off so much about any other British county, or even city for that matter.

Whether people are aware of it or not, Cornwall has one of the strongest brands in the UK. Yes, the above list may be full of clichés, but places have been defined by stereotypes for as long as we’ve travelled. They entice you to visit somewhere then there’s a whole world of culture and spirit to discover when you arrive.

This has definitely been the case for Cornwall over the last decade with visitors to the UK’s ‘Surprise Package’ destination finding that the county has so much more going for it than you might imagine.

Geographically and culturally, Cornwall is unique. Its beautiful environment and virtual isolation from the rest of the country has drawn record visitors year on year. Cornwall’s situation has also engendered an ‘island like’ community of proud, passionate togetherness that has helped strengthen the spirit of the UK’s poorest county.

But it’s more than just geography that has made Cornwall what it is. Cornwall is recognised as one of the six ‘Celtic Nations’ and was recently granted Minority Status. The county has its own native language and its own flag: St Piran’s – the patron saint of tin mining.

For many, it’s Cornwall’s mining heritage that holds the key to its dogged spirit. Ever since the discovery of tin, the Cornish mining industry grew rapidly. At its zenith in the 19th century, Cornwall was one of the richest industrial areas in the world.

The sharp decline that followed had a major impact on Cornwall’s economy and communities with nothing to replace the wealth and livelihood that it had provided.

Cornish history is full of endeavour and struggle, with chimneystacks and engine houses as constant reminders punctuating the landscape. But this struggle has also inspired the local people to rejuvenate a new, exciting and dynamic Cornwall.

To aid this rejuvenation, Cornwall has received £100 million worth of European investment since the year 2000. This has helped grow Cornwall’s economy while changing peoples’ experiences, and therefore perceptions, of what the county has to offer.

This growth is evidenced by the emergence of major Cornish brands such as Roddas Cornish Cream, Sharps Doom Bar (The UK’s No.1 draft ale), Finnisterre (cold water surfing fashion brand), Pendennis Superyachts, Seasalt Clothing, Frugi Clothing, Rick Stein, Falmouth University (top 10 arts university), the Eden Project, Tregothnan Tea and Camel Valley Vineyard, to name but a few.

Cornwall is becoming ‘cool’ for the first time. With super-fast broadband as one of the major investments, the draw of Cornwall as a great place to live and work is becoming a reality for more and more people.

Cornwall’s brand strength has developed naturally, which is a real gift from a marketing point of view – as it speaks for itself. To contrive this, for another place brand is a challenge but it’s very possible. All brands have touch-points and are built around how they make you feel.

Places are no different. What’s more powerful than infrastructure and physical schemes is building experience through the five senses and through emotional connection. We need to define the core qualities and values of a place through its social and industrial history and develop this into a brand DNA or essence.

This essence should then be placed at the heart of every experience that one has with a place, whether it’s tasting a beer, purchasing an item of clothing, hearing a piece of music or talking to a local postman.

All should evoke a sense of place. You can use bricks and mortar and plan visitor journeys, but it’s the little things that make the biggest impact in place branding.

It’s possible to sow the right seeds by bringing together industry leaders in tourism, food and drink, business, councils and communities to a brand summit and briefing them on the essence or DNA and why it’s important to build the brand.

Engendering passion amongst the influencers and producers of experience can have a very positive effect. Empowered customers and communities create the strongest brands and this helps create a self-sustaining brand like Cornwall’s – without the clichés.

By John Lowdon

John is creative director and founder of the Cornwall based agency Changing Brands.

He has 17 years experience in branding and has developed a people-focused process based on empowering place brand ambassadors.

For more information on place branding in the UK’s south west, follow John on Twitter.