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The DNA of places: Q&A with John Till

Place branding city branding

How does the DNA of a place help to inform its story?

John Till has been creating place brand campaigns for many years. Now heading up the place branding agency Thinking Place, John talks to Placesbrands about the DNA of places, creating a shared sense of purpose among stakeholders, and what he’s learned from more than a decade at the front lines of place branding.

Placesbrands: John, what’s your core philosophy of place?
John Till: We’ve always believed that there’s a problem with the word ‘brand’. This word creates a lot of unhelpful images in people’s minds, about logos, advertising and so on, none of which really figure in what we do. Place branding is about looking into the future about what a place can be for, who it’s for, and how it’s distinct, and how it should focus its development.

It’s a strategic process. Much of what we do is try to bring stakeholders together behind a shared sense of purpose. That’s always been important, and even more so in UK at present because of austerity. At the heart of everything we do is creating a place story. That’s the centre of our universe and we believe in it passionately. It’s the mechanism that we use to engage people throughout the process.

Place branding is also about developing strong engagement with different stakeholders in different ways depending on who they are, which could be business owners, media, youth, community, and so on. It’s important to engage rather than just consulting. Listening to people is about them starting on the journey as ambassadors for that story. We want them to do that for the place long after we’ve gone, as it’s absolutely critical. We spend a lot of time on the ground getting a feel for the place, walking, talking, taking photos, and understanding spatial relationships.

What have you learned from a decade working in place branding?
After ten years we’ve gained the benefits of comparisons and of having a variety of perspectives coming together to create the story. It’s like a funnelling process getting rid of what’s less important and working towards the most important. It’s a forward projection of where they are and where they could be. We view history as a continuum.

The DNA of a place is very important and should be used to project a place forward. Take Belfast for example. They once created the biggest ships in the world, based on vision and strong work ethic. Belfast doesn’t make ships anymore, but the city is using the same qualities in its cyber-security approach: “From ships to chips.”

Momentum is very important. Sometimes the time just isn’t right, but then three or four years later the place gets some major new investments, or different leadership. It’s important to remember that places are the fastest moving and most dynamic entities you can imagine. There are multiple audiences, demands, and challenges, so you need an approach that’s completely flexible. You can flex stories according to which audience you’re talking to.

A logo just isn’t enough. Logos are rigid and inflexible. You want people to embrace the place brand, but you can never get any organisation to use a logo that effectively competes with their own brand. Getting them to talk it up is the only route to success, so you need a flexible way to engage with them. We’ve created an approach called ‘the visual language’, which can work like a logo or a watermark. Places can use it without needing logos. It’s much more subtle while still engaging with the brand, and has proven very popular.

What’s been your most satisfying project, and why?
Working on Lancashire, my home county. It’s a real privilege to be working on my own county. South Downs National Park would come close because it’s not actually an entity. Everyone told us it couldn’t have a shared story or a shared visual representation, but we managed to do that and get it signed off through the governance of the national park, which can be quite tough. I think that’s a major achievement.

What sort of challenges did you face promoting the image of Hull?
Hull’s an interesting one. I formed my attachment to place branding there. I spent seven years as chief executive, way before many views about place branding became prevalent. My remit was to transform the image and investment climate of Hull. We’ve been back since to refresh the story and promote the city as Hull and Humber. Hull isn’t a clone town. It has a strong relationship with the Baltic ports, it has fishing and trade, plus it oozes character and quirkiness.

Hull’s location is actually an important port to Europe. Hull has a very European outlook. It also has a good university and a very strong business cohort. The project was about mobilising people’s passion and bringing the assets together. Now Hull is booming and has been awarded City of Culture for 2017. The fact that Hull bid for City of Culture at all is largely thanks to the early work in building up the city’s confidence.

So what’s next for Thinking Place?
Being ten years old is a landmark. We’ve prospered through the recession, which is a great acknowledgement of the quality of work I think we’ve done. This year will be about doing what we don’t do so much of; celebrating our achievements. The greatest success is when we go to Burnley, Coventry, and many other places and see everything we achieved still bearing fruit. There’s great opportunity in the UK at present, as place has never been higher on the agenda. There are lots of opportunities for us to help places translate what they do into something meaningful for their customers.

For more, follow Thinking Place on Twitter.

Turkey to join the great Trans-Europe walk

Via Francigena Way Turkey
Hiking on the Via Francigena Way (photo: Kate Clow)

Recent months have been difficult for Turkey.

How has the country brand been affected?

Turkey is still reeling from damage suffered after a string of unfortunate incidents.  Since summer 2015 there has been growing unrest in Turkey’s east, combined with increasing security concerns and an unfolding diplomatic crisis with Russia. These events have had an unsurprising effect on perceptions of Turkey, causing tourism numbers to drop significantly.

Tourism is one of the biggest drivers of country brand.

Although tourism suffers when perceptions of a country are bad, it is possible to use a good strategy to reconfigure country brand perceptions and regain losses.

Fortunately, package holidays are not the only kind of arrangement that brings inbound tourism to Turkey. Turkey’s best strategy in the current climate is likely to involve diversifying its tourism offering to appeal more strongly to more adventurous and independent types of visitors.

As far as being adventurous goes, walking from England all the way to Turkey via the Balkans may be one of the most exciting journeys that anyone could hope for!

Turkey’s tourism credentials are set to receive an extra boost from its plans to join the Via Francigena Cultural Route. Once Turkey gets connected to this trans-Europe walking network, it will open up many possibilities for new kinds of tourism.

Placesbrands spoke to Kate Clow, head of the Culture Routes Society of Turkey, and Hüseyin Eryurt, head of PR, about the project.

Pb: Where did the idea for this project come from?
KC, HE: The Lycian Way route was established in 1999 as the first walking trail in Turkey. In 2012 the Culture Routes Society of Turkey was formed to run everything more efficiently. We have close relations with the European Institute of Cultural Routes, which is important because they set the standards for all cultural routes in the EU. Turkey has been approved to join this agreement and will sign it very soon.

In 2014 we decided to work together with the Via Francigena route, on a plan to join it to Turkey using the Via Egnatia. The latter is the original Roman road to Constantinople and passes through Albania, Macedonia and northern Greece.

Historical Patara, situated along Turkey's Lycian Way (photo: Kate Clow)
Historical Patara, situated along Turkey’s Lycian Way (photo: Kate Clow)

In Turkey, we plan to link three existing routes together into one longer route, rather than starting from scratch. The St Paul route has a strong Christian history, while the Lycian Way is very historical in general, and the Evliya Celebi route is more Islamic. (Evliya Celebi was a famous Ottoman traveller, who described many of the villages he visited in colourful detail).

Alternative and sustainable tourism is important because it can be aimed at a wide variety of tourists, including those from the Arab world as well as Europeans.

What are the key project milestones over the coming year?
The Culture Routes Society is working with three different Turkish municipalities along the route. Each of these areas will plan the route through their territory, improving accommodations, making masterplans, and holding exhibitions. One of them will host a group of Italian visitors along the route.

Another very important goal is to present the Tourism and Culture Ministry with alternative methods of providing a legal framework for the routes, to protect and preserve them by providing stability and maintenance, including forestry, dams, damaged roads, mining, and so on. This will hopefully be easier now as the ministry have already approached us to discuss the issue.

The timing of the project is good in that sense, because it is necessary now, to raise the issue even more. During the project we will present the ministry with a case study for laying the foundations for extending the Via Francigena right the way through Turkey. January 2017 will be the closing conference of the project.

What’s your opinion on the current situation of Turkish tourism?
Our members dealing with sustainable tourism have not been quite so badly affected [as package tours] because they are catering for more adventurous individuals and they put more effort into finding new markets. But in general, we’re seeing a big fall off in visitor numbers. We plan to meet the government soon to discuss how to secure this area of the market on a fairly low budget. We don’t have the resources to get this message across as much as we’d like to. So we do it through our member travel agencies, and they keep their customers on side as much as they can.

Sustainable tourism will be a growing sector in the long-term, that’s for sure.

How will the Via Francigena route be marketed?
Mainly by using social media and via our partner travel agencies. There will also be joint marketing efforts with Italy, at the festivals, and by bringing Italian students over to blog about the routes in Turkey as part of this project. We’re keen to develop strong connections with Italy.

Some areas get better promotion efforts than others, for example Via Francigena has been promoted in Italy via a series of summer festivals in various towns along the route. Promotion efforts have also included a marathon, music events, and so on. It’s an extensive programme.

What’s the value of cultural routes for improving country brand?
Europe approaches its long distance walking routes in a very different way to the rest of the world. Only in Europe do routes have a solid cultural basis. They may be based on historical themes or perhaps the routes of a particular traveller. One key advantage is to preserve the local culture and use that as a marketing hook to attract people interested in cultural themes.

Turkey tourism country brand
Turkish villagers along the Cultural Route (photo: Kate Clow)

Another big advantage is the participation of local people along the route. The Lycian Way is a great example. Tourists walking this route enjoy interacting with the locals and experiencing the culture as it is today.

This type of tourism is quite different from mass tourism, where people stay in big hotels without learning anything or giving money directly to the local people.

Unlike mass tourism, cultural routes generate alternative income for villagers. In fact, we’ve seen the villagers sometimes get up in the middle of the night and adjust the route markers to make sure the route goes through their door, or their part of the village!!

Find out more about the work of the Culture Routes Society Turkey on Facebook, or at the official website


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Polar opposites

photo credit: Justin celebrates Diwali (Photo by Joe Pacione) via photopin (license)
photo credit: Justin celebrates Diwali (Photo by Joe Pacione) via photopin (license)

What’s next for Brand Canada?

Canada has been engulfed by a whirl of publicity over the last few days as its Liberal party swept the boards in the national elections. The new leader, Justin Trudeau, is young and dynamic, the polar opposite of his predecessor Harper.

Trudeau has already made some bold statements. Just 24 hours after winning the elections, he informed Obama that Canada would no longer participate in bombing Isis. He also promised to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees to start new lives in Canada.

Will Trudeau make Canada into the definition of a ‘good country’? What damage did the previous government do, and how can it be undone? Does Trudeau represent the true Canadian identity?

“We’ve become knuckle-draggers on the international scene, someone told me recently,” says Jeannette Hanna, founder of Trajectory and Toronto resident.

“People will be watching Canada carefully, especially at the upcoming climate change conference in Paris [COP21 in November/December]. If we offer something open and collaborative, it will say a lot for Canada’s willingness to reclaim strength by being a global citizen and a progressive society.”

“We [Canada] have a lot of ground to make up in international goodwill,” says Hanna. “We lost a lot of territory in our own self-image as well as global image.”

Canada has long been seen as a progressive and welcoming place. In the past it became a popular destination for those seeking to start a new life, many of them leaving behind difficult environments in countries such as Iran.

But the actions of the previous government began to erode Canada’s reputation for tolerance, in particular through its ‘control freak’ actions towards Syrian refugees. Harper admitted that his officials had been running ‘security audits’ on refugees’ files that had already been approved by the UN. As a result, the resettlement process for these people was slowed down, in a time of crisis.

Canada’s record on tolerance was severely tested again by Harper’s stance on the hijab. Over recent years there have been just three incidents of women refusing to remove the hijab during their Canadian citizenship ceremony.

“The Harper government tried to make this into a big national and divisive issue. But everyone asked ‘why?’ Because it had very little to do with anything. He was playing to people’s worst fears, but it clearly didn’t work,” commented Hanna.

“Canada was seen in the past as a ‘great multi-cultural success story’ – so to call into question our stance on refugees and tolerance, cuts pretty close to the bone.”

Jamie Black is a brand strategist and founder of Nouveau North, an online initiative to reclaim Brand Canada through media.

Black says: “It’s a fresh opportunity for a new government to address some of our biggest challenges – from climate change to indigenous rights and inclusion. Under Harper things were moving in a direction, which ultimately the majority wasn’t content with.”

“It was like a one-man vision to push us in a direction that was fundamentally against our nature. I’m glad it stopped in its tracks.”

Hanna added: “This [election] has been a pivot on the values that really define our sense of place and what we care about as a nation. That was really what the election was all about. It was more than just a rational discussion about the economy,”

“We’re going to be a different voice in the global conversation, an alternative voice – not US-lite.”

In search of the big picture

Washington DC

Nation branding seems a natural fit for Foreign Policy Magazine. Since its founding in 1970 the magazine has become known for reporting diplomatic and political developments from around the world.

That’s where the Nation Brand Institute (NBI) comes into the picture. To be launched in the near future, the Institute aims to provide a high-level research and knowledge sharing forum, bringing together insights from practitioners, academics and diplomats worldwide.

Placesbrands travelled to Washington D.C. to speak with Amer Yaqub and Emily Simon, who are leading the NBI, in an exclusive interview about the Institute and its goals.

Why did Foreign Policy decide to start a nation brand initiative?

Amer Yaqub: Our clients told us that they needed it. The traditional partnerships that media companies have had with countries have normally been based on advertising. But countries now see the need for much more sophisticated strategic advice.

The Nation Brand Institute (NBI) will focus on best practices around the world, on practitioners, on all of the academic knowledge that’s out there. It will apply all this to solve the challenges of our clients. So the quick answer is: there are a couple of different variations out there, but they have a very narrow mandate. Ours is going to look at the big picture.

Emily Simon: For example, with countries that are focusing on trade and investment, or on policy advocacy, or tourism, or on a particular issue, we can help them transmit their messages to various audiences. There’s a very academic debate going on about the differences between public diplomacy and nation branding, about whether or not it should be a part of diplomacy.

We don’t get involved in that, as it’s a very competitive environment and so we think all countries should use the latest marketing tools to tell their stories. But we feel very strongly that use of these tools must be backed up with strong policy overall.

We’re excited about the launch of the NBI because there’s such a need for effective communication, to create a dialogue and a vocabulary that’s going to work for both government and practitioners. There’s also a need to get over the ‘hump’ about advertising and marketing being ‘bad words’ for countries to use. The truth is: these are just tools. Like any toolkit, it includes many other tools as well. We consider these tools essential for reaching the target audiences that matter to countries.

Nation branding is plagued with misunderstanding. Many still believe that ‘branding ’a country is the same as advertising it. This has caused widespread negative reactions and has been a proven recipe for failure. What’s FP’s stance on this debate?

AY: Authenticity is at the heart of everything. The reason why this perennial debate comes up about advertising being viewed as the essence of nation branding is because advertising is the easiest thing for governments to look to as a comparison point. It’s easy because they see it every day.

But the hard work, the research of finding a key analytical strategy, of having the right people in place with the right amount of time and expectations, that’s not so easily seen by governments. They just see an ad campaign and say ‘Ah, so that’s what you mean by nation brand’. The challenge is to educate them on the whole process.

ES: I think the intellectual capital on nation branding can be enhanced, and I see a gap in terms of research on this topic. I also think skills training and development is important. Today’s diplomats have to wear so many different hats, they are event planners, researchers, and marketers.

On top of that, they’ve also got their more traditional diplomatic functions. There’s a need for them to become more comfortable with some of the more traditional marketing tools and understand what they can take from the private sector in order to do their jobs more effectively.

There’s also the need for better understanding of how social media can be used in a more effective way. There’s a hunger for best practices on that and many countries are becoming increasingly sophisticated in this area.

But it’s still very hard to know what’s working. These platforms are changing and evolving all the time, and so it’s key to give countries the tools they need to use social media effectively and keep up with the changes.

What topics would you say are currently driving the broader conversation on nation branding?

AY: Social media, for one. There are a lot of diplomats around the world who are doing social media really well. The US ambassador, the previous one this fall, did a great job when he landed in Russia. He was viewed as an enemy at first, because of his background, but he used social media in a very compelling way to create a conversation with different groups of people in Russia.

The State Department has invested a lot of resources in that. We’re working with a government that we can’t name right now, but they have shared their whole strategic plan for social media and we’re very impressed with how sophisticated they are in understanding the realistic expectations of what social media can do.

I often worry that people in government underestimate the problem and overestimate the ability of tools to solve the problem. One of the key aims of the NBI is to talk about ‘what’s realistic?’ for social media. It’s very sexy and it seems like everyone is doing it, but what can it realistically accomplish?

There are countries, such as Israel, that have empowered their diplomats to tweet without having every tweet approved. Many layers of getting permissions from the top levels don’t chime well with the immediacy of social media and the news cycle.

ES: Social media is very personality-driven. For example, the French ambassador here in D.C. has a really powerful Twitter presence. He’s sophisticated, engaging, allows his voice to shine through, and doesn’t shy away from debate.

I think it works best when you can get leaders in place who are comfortable with the tools, who know how the tools can be used, even if they’re not going to be using them on a daily basis. They should also have a great communications team as well, that is empowered and has support from the top levels.

How will the NBI help countries to achieve better brands?

AY: That’s part of what the NBI is set up to do, which is separate from the FP editorial team. Our goals will be to share best practices and to find out what works.

Our own experience with Foreign Policy has taught us a great deal. In terms of social media, we have knowledge that we can leverage from accumulating over one million social media followers.

Although the needs of a media company are not necessarily the same as those of a sovereign client, the initial research we’ve seen out there demonstrates just how many models of social media use exist.

Good social media use demands urgency, catching the news cycle; everything in short bursts, as opposed to long thought-out strategic plans.

ES: One of the keys in social media is figuring out who the right audience is. When a country adds people on Twitter they sometimes interact in an ad-hoc way. Many countries may lack the ability to map out their target audience, and that’s something that we’re going to help them with.

How will FP take a leading role in shaping this conversation?

AY: Various countries have been told they need a nation-brand plan, but they don’t even know where to start. They need a structured approach and methods are key in this. In the Internet world, Twitter quickly became the hottest thing for everyone to focus on, but really that’s only one way of measuring brand effectiveness.

Part of it relies on members’ issues and questions, but we’re going to assume that the NBI will benefit a range of clients at whatever point they’re at in the cycle. If they’re very sophisticated we’ll make sure there are different levels of discussion and engagement for them.

What’s important also are the big picture things, i.e. how to get started with a nation branding strategy, what do we need to accomplish, what are the tools we can use that are already available, how do we measure the success of the strategy, what is the time-frame, and so on.

There are a lot of things on the plate, but the basic model is to understand where countries are at in the process, create the structure for them to follow, and leverage the research that we’re doing in order to fill the gap with quantifiable science.

ES: There are two main elements that we think will be valuable for the NBI. Firstly, case studies, which we think bring a lot of value in learning by example. We want to make sure that members have access to examples of places that have been successful previously, and to discuss what made those projects work.

The second is networking, so we do a lot of events here at FP, and often they are most useful afterwards when everyone starts talking, and sharing additional ideas beyond what was discussed on the programme. We want to create a dedicated forum where people who are passionate about these issues can come together and share their ideas and network, bounce things off one another and so on.

It’s kind of happening ad hoc all the time, and people will come to us, but we want to create a forum where this can happen more vigorously.

AY: I’m struck by how there’s a certain element of ‘is it cool?’ to be on the nation branding side, when you’re working in these governments. I don’t think that in most places, people really dream of being the ‘person in charge of nation branding’. It’s similar to the perceptions of HR in many ways.

Some companies ‘get it’, most famously Jack Welch at GE. They elevate HR to a role similar to the CEO, or very close. The countries that ‘get it’ are going to put their top talent on nation branding, and not view it as a detour to a more interesting career in traditional diplomacy.

Another goal of the NBI is to help legitimise nation branding as a field worthy of serious investment, time and energy and also to help attract the best people. For the young generation joining the State Department, this is part of their jobs, they get it, and they know that social media can effect change in a way that public diplomacy from ten years ago couldn’t.

How does FP Group, with Foreign Policy as an advertising-driven publication, plan to keep the Nation-Branding Institute unbiased in its approach?

AY: We’re not going to work with clients and use examples from anything we’ve done publicly, because of confidentiality, but absolutely we’re going to be objective. There’s no need to hide from the fact that this is a challenging world and we’re all struggling to figure out the right mix.

The goal isn’t to embarrass or humiliate anyone; but instead it should be a positive experience of learning both from mistakes and also from best practices. America makes mistakes all the time, but we need to learn from those.

There will be cases made publicly available when you’re going to be able to say that what they’re doing is ‘wrong’, perhaps even ‘morally wrong’ and the NBI will absolutely showcase it.

And finally, which country has the strongest brand these days?

ES: I really admire the nation brand of Britain. In particular, the recent ‘GREAT Britain’ campaign was a remarkable example of using a key milestone, the London Olympics, to gather the necessary political will to create an overarching brand function that can be tapped into by pretty much every agency across the government. The unity of message that exists in that campaign is really rare.

One of the challenges that many other countries face is that every single agency uses different logos and different messages. But the GREAT Britain campaign overcame that issue by creating coordinated messaging that was valuable for trade and investment, for tourism, for education, for culture and the arts, you name it.

Their creative arts section was beautiful, just really nice to look at. So I often find myself referring to that campaign when people ask me what I admire in terms of nation brand.

Stoking city pride

Liverpool across the Mersey
photo credit: Sunrise over the River Mersey, Liverpool via photopin (license)

Placesbrands talks with Liverpool-based brand agency Uniform about galvanising citizen participation, rekindling a sense of civic pride, and keeping the smart cities of the future definitively people-focused.

Congratulations on being named twice in the City Nation Place place branding awards shortlist! How did you feel upon hearing the news?

Proud. These are two very different projects. Wirral Waters is a truly transformational project. Doing it right is more important than doing it quickly (the right considered approach is more important than rushing through the process to publicise a ‘logo’). Our client at Peel has been very supportive of the approach. Everyone is determined to make this the finest placemaking project that we’ve seen to date by working with the community.

As for Liverpool, this is a big city project on a city with an upward trajectory, but maintaining momentum can sometimes be more difficult than starting from scratch. It’s been complex but fulfilling to see the execution and support.

I’d like to talk first about the Wirral Waters regeneration project. Tell me about the approach Uniform used to get citizens on board with the project. What specific challenges did you encounter? And what are your thoughts on the importance of citizen participation for place branding as a whole?

The challenge was simple: 40 years of industrial decline, high unemployment and low aspirations. People had forgotten what it was like to be asked. Stimulating conversation in that environment isn’t easy – traditional workshops simply don’t work so we had to create our own tools that sparked debate, provoked comment and built aspiration.

We designed a multi-layered approach to maximise engagement. We held face to face meetings with many local community leaders, most of whom had been involved first-hand in Birkenhead for 20+ years. Also, we ran workshops with parents and groups of children from different schools across the town.

We also used the following approaches to inspire citizens and get them involved:

1.Create your own identity.

Take inspiration from the past history of the place to draw your own logo. Use photographs where you want. Create a name.

2. Who Lives Here?

People make a place, not buildings, so who do local people think will live in this transformed location? Sitting in groups, each person had to complete a profile of the person, giving the name, age, marital status, number of children, occupation, personality, and likes/dislikes.

3. Start Building Your City

We wanted to hear what local residents thought Wirral Waters would become, so we gave them a large map of the development and a sheet of stickers. They had to map out luxury apartments and family homes, schools and restaurants, affordable homes and sports centres, cinemas, – this was a starting point – they were encouraged to add their own.

4. What’s On Guide

We asked them to name the type of events that would local, national and international visitors to the new development? Again, we provided reference inspiration and highlighted the waterfront, green spaces, large docklands as ref.

5. Wish You Were Here!

We asked them to write a postcard from a tourist from this new development. What highlights would stand out? We encouraged ambition!

6. Imagine the Headlines!

Once the new place has been launched to the public, what do you want the media to say about it? We gave them an empty template with a masthead. The aim was to get a better picture of perceptions, which would allow us first hand information and allow us to take positive action, communicating feedback back to the developer, allowing local people to influence the future of the place, which it did!

How would you say Liverpool’s image has shifted over the last decade? 

Physical change is always at the heart of a project like this. People could see the regeneration underway. As a place, Liverpool has been an undervalued resource for decades and that sense of pride had diminished as a result. But a revitalised city returned that sense of pride. Major redevelopment, like the Liverpool One shopping centre, has been key, as it gave other businessmen and women the confidence to invest in the city. Liverpool suddenly had the footfall to support a flourishing independent sector.

Credit is also due to the Mayor’s ongoing investment in landmark cultural events, like the Giants, Liverpool International Music Festival and the variety of incredible festivals on the waterfront. Liverpool has rediscovered its place on the stage. It’s a great place to visit, to work and to live.

How has Uniform’s work with Marketing Liverpool helped develop the city brand? 

Stakeholders in the city were passionate about the Liverpool brand, but it needed clarity. What were they buying into? What were the benefits to them and to the city? By creating a clear offer and a framework everyone knew exactly what was expected and where it was going, while the creative look and feel built on the proposition of ‘dynamic creativity’ positioning.

In terms of effectiveness, it’s too early to say. But Marketing Liverpool has been committed to rolling it out across all touch points, so the visibility is high which is key to success.

What’s Uniform’s core place branding philosophy?

We have seven principles when it comes to place branding. At the core is the idea that places should be crafted by the people and owned by the people. It’s about experiences, and memories. You have to take everyone with you throughout the process.

Having a strong reputation and a clear sense of identity is now a pre-requisite for any city to be successful. If a city is consistently telling the same authentic, credible and motivating story, then in time it will start to achieve some control over its image. But ultimately it’s what you do that builds a reputation. As a place are you doing enough interesting things that express who you are? We live and breathe these principles.

Finally, in the wake of this double accolade, what are Uniform’s 2016 place branding goals?

We want to work on the most interesting place brand projects; outward-looking, future-facing and ambitious. We’re constantly in conversations with city leaders and developers about how they can develop. This includes how to create the framework to allow a sense of place to happen, naturally and authentically, along with the tools needed to allow this to continue strategically.

Uniform are advocates of the mantra that people make places, so it’s important that we don’t let the smart city agenda become a campaign for efficiency, forgetting the role of people! We’re just completing a report that looks at the role that technology can have on place. Play will become an increasingly important part of creating a sense of place.

Follow Uniform on Twitter.