By Efe Sevin
We had a great conference over a week ago in Utrecht. Once again I would like to thank Ares and his colleagues for creating another opportunity for interested parties to meet.
Ever since I returned back to DC, I have been thinking about my research and state of the field. I, indeed, saw some developments in the field since Bogota – we definitely had more of a common understanding in main concepts (-We still had different conceptualizations but we understood each other), Despite Gregory Ashworth’s advise against trying to predict to future, I want to throw a couple of ideas about the future of research in the field based on my observations in Utrecht.
As three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three, I have three important areas of debate and research.
- Generic competition no more: One thing that was repeatedly mentioned in Utrecht was the over (and ambiguous) use of ‘competition’. Several academic and practical factors (such as neo-liberal economy – right, Martin?) pushes us to approach place branding with a competitive work. Most of us (including me) start our writings by underlining the increasing competition among cities, regions, and nations. Yet (i) these actors do not necessarily have to compete with each other, they can cooperate, and (ii) even while competing, not every actor competes with each other in every given subject.
This understanding, I argue, will accentuate the difference between city, region, and nation branding concepts.
- Generic measurement no more: We also started to talk about specific measurement needs and techniques. Several different tools and methods were proposed, not necessarily to capture ‘place brands’ entirely but to capture what is needed for policy making, evaluation, assessment, and monitoring.
I guess this area will welcome harsh method-based and methodological debates in the future.
- Marketing vs. Non-marketing roots & boots*: As we all might know, place branding’s roots do not exclusively belong to marketing and branding disciplines. Yet, given the fact that marketing scholars and practitioners have been working on several aspects of branding for more than a couple of decades right now, marketing discipline presents several sophisticated tools to understand place branding. However, several scholars (once again including me) do not necessarily agree that these tools might be used for places, and focus more on non-marketing roots of the discipline.
This debate is likely to create some confusion about main concepts. But this confusion is more than necessary to better comprehend place branding as a distinct social phenomenon rather than basically seeing it as branding principles applied to places.
Long story short, I am already excited about the Manchester conference. Our discussions are getting more structured, thus productive.
* I ‘borrowed’ this phrase from Dr. Robert Govers keynote presentation entitled “Place Branding Roots and Boots” in which he discussed where the field is coming from and is heading.