Interview on Place Branding

by Ares Kalandides

I recently received a list of interview questions on Place Branding by a master student. I found them very interesting and decided to share the interview with you:

1.    Place Branding applies modern marketing methods that position and market consumer goods and transfers them to cities. What are in your opinion the most important differences between a geographical area and a product in relation to brands?   

There are indeed very few commonalities between places and consumer goods – except when places become commodities:

First, places do not have an ontological existence. Except for their purely physical coordinates, places are manifestations of social relations. They are the loci of interconnections and open-end trajectories. In this sense, they rather resemble processes than objects.

Secondly, as a result of the above, places are extremely heterogeneous; they are full of internal contradictions and in constant change.

Finally, nobody owns a place or has exclusive rights to it as they would with a product (or even an organization). There may be elected representatives for places, residents and other users, but this does not give them ownership.

2.    While developing or emphasizing a particular city identity you need to consider different stakeholders, both internal (e.g. inhabitants) and external (e.g. tourists). How can you find a compromise between these two conflicting aims? Do any of these two stakeholder groups play a bigger role in place branding?

I am not sure what is meant by “city identity”. My guess is that it is used here as “distinctive perception”.

First of all, we need to answer the question of stakeholders: who is a stakeholder in a city? And especially who is not? Everybody somehow involved and affected by place development is a stakeholder – a definition which leaves hardly anybody outside. The question then is to prioritize among them, which raises extremely complicated political issues: who is internal and who external? Between the permanent resident and the one-off tourist there is a continuum of mixed forms: the students who spends 4 years in a place and then moves away; the immigrant who’s lived there all her life, but has no political rights; the land-owner who lives on the other side of the globe etc. This issue alone shows the complexity of the task and why there will never be one single perception of a city.

3.    People often associate Place Branding with simple advertising, with a logo or a Slogan. Can city planning be integrated into Place Branding and if yes, how?

I see few connections between advertising, logos and place branding. Advertising is interesting when trying to position something in a market (e.g. in marketing), which leads us to the definition below. Logos are useful signs in campaigns, in service or in product marketing (that’s why they may be useful in tourism marketing), but names alone can be powerful enough for cities, since they are loaded with meaning. I’d rather take a name and see how I can create more positive associations with it.

Any planning decision is bound to affect the perceptions of the city and is thus indirectly involved in place branding. It is very useful to consider carefully the effects such a city planning intervention will have in a place’s reputation, but this does not mean that urban planning needs to be guided by that thought. It is the improvement of quality of life that needs to be at the centre of city planning policies, and their influence on perceptions can only play a secondary role.

4.    Place Branding is often confused with Place Marketing. How would you describe the difference between these two concepts?

Place branding is the strategic approach to enhance distinctive positive associations with a place’s name, thus creating or maintaining a positive reputation.

Place marketing is the strategic approach to position a place in the international market-place.

5.    Which city is in your opinion a good example for successful Place Branding and what was the main reason behind the success of the campaign?  

Campaigns are not identical with place branding – though a campaign may be a tool for place branding.

I think Copenhagen is a city that has managed to create a very good brand name for itself, through a combination of material intervention and an intelligent communication strategy.

People usually think of Bilbao in Spain and how the Guggenheim museum put the city on the world map. Nevertheless whether it was indeed a success or not will have to be measured on whether the construction of the museum has had material effects on a large number of inhabitants. Did it make their lives better? Did it give them a higher income? What was the cost-benefit ratio for the city? Only if we answer these questions can we come close to understanding the effect of place branding through the museum. 

6.    Which negative example can you think of?

I don’t know.

7.    To measure the success of Place Brands in relation to other cities there is a growing number of city and nation rankings. What do you think of these rankings?

I think that city rankings are utter nonsense and only serve the interests of those who create them.

Most of what is ranked is social phenomena – by definition rarely measurable. Quantitative data can be ranked, but even that needs to be done with great care and sensitivity. On the other hand the most useful qualitative data, which in general does not allow quantification, is by definition impossible to rank. I find that the inflationary use of place rankings is a rather dangerous business.

8.    Besides brand development there is also brand communication that plays a decisive role. What is the importance of social media for Place Branding today?

I am not convinced that social media can play an important role, but I am not convinced of the opposite either, since I have not researched the subject. I suppose it depends very much on who uses them and how. People can usually tell the difference between authentic and ‘placed’ messages. But even if used well, let’s keep in mind that this is just a small piece of the brand communication, which in itself is as only a part of the place branding process

9.    Cities distinguish themselves through certain events, either small such as the Documenta in Kassel or at a much larger scale such as the Olympic Games. Are events useful for the development of a city Identity?

Again, I am not sure what city identity means here. But yes, events can create distinctive and positive perceptions (if that is what is meant), but they can also do exactly the opposite: they can be negative or generic. Do you remember many European cultural capitals? Also, what is the cost-benefit ratio? If you spend the money you spent on events on something that creates material improvements for people’s lives, would you be achieving more?

10. Are there cases where you would advise against Place Branding?

Place branding is useful if people are convinced that a place is better than its reputation (though I know how difficult it is to define that). Otherwise (if the reputation is better than the place), they should be spending the same money to make that place better.

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4 Responses to Interview on Place Branding

  1. Hume Johnson says:

    Reblogged this on Re-IMAGINE JAMAICA and commented:
    The notions of place branding and nation branding are relatively new but in a competitive global environment where goods and services are being traded across national borders and nations battle for a bigger stake in the world economic pie, places have become transformed into commodities. In this interesting interview, the notion of place branding is unpacked. We hope through it, readers will come to understand more fully the Brand Jamaica project and why at Re:Imagine Jamaica we aim to project a compelling image of Jamaica in the global arena.

  2. Thank you for sharing as usual useful!

  3. Vittoria Lena says:

    Thank You for sharing Ares, very useful!

  4. Pingback: Fake country-of-origin products and the limits to place branding | Places.

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