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.

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