Five trends shaping place branding around the world

Will the excitement of being back in the room with people ever wear off? Last week, we welcomed delegates to City Nation Place UK & City Nation Place Global, and we were delighted to have around 250 place brand, destination marketing, and economic development leaders from around the world who braved both rain and train strikes to join us in London.

However, with over 65 experts sharing their insights across the two days, there was a lot to unpack. So we’ve prepared five of our top takeaways from the conversation for anyone who is looking to reinforce their learnings or to provide a top-line summary for anyone who wasn’t able to join us…

Your team is one of your greatest assets.

More than ever, what was clear at both the UK and Global conferences is how cities, regions, and nations worldwide are challenging themselves to do more with less. Teams are often leaner and more agile, and as such new skills are being prioritised to ensure that your employees are able to wear multiple hats and take on a range of job functions as needed.

Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, succinctly highlighted how they’re re-thinking their interview process to find out how people are able to respond in unexpected situations, such as what they would do if a zombie apocalypse broke out during the course of an interview. “We need more unicorns who will challenge the status quo,” he explained, though he also explained the importance of having team members whose skill set identified them as methodical, reliable workers - even if that didn’t lend itself to thinking outside of the box.

As we trend towards smaller teams, collaboration has never been so important, and we also heard from several speakers who were finding new, innovative approaches to tell a joint story with their stakeholders. For example, Mark Mobbs, Marketing Manager for Marketing Sheffield, shared how a joint campaign with two of the city’s universities is providing a place-led approach to tackling outdated misconceptions of the city and attracting young people to live and study in Sheffield.

It's not just bringing people in – it’s bringing people up.

This year, the conversation has moved on from talent attraction, with more places looking to a broader workforce development strategy. As well as creating innovative campaigns to attract top-tier tech talent, we heard from a number of speakers about how they’re reskilling and upskilling their existing residents to allow them to seize more opportunities.

Previously, Denver used to talk about their highly-educated workforce – but while that might be part of their USP, it also leaves half of the population out of the discussion. Instead, they launched on a detailed workforce analysis to understand the personality traits that defined the Coloradan population. In doing so, they’ve developed an honest and real way to talk about Denver to prospective talent and investors, and are helping open doors for existing residents by showcasing strengths beyond a university degree.

Across the Atlantic, we also heard from Eve Roodhouse, Chief Officer, Culture and Economy at Leeds City Council, who talked about how a digital careers festival is just one of a number of initiatives they’ve launched to help residents find new paths to join the workforce. And Ruta Nemunyte, Director of Marketing and Communication at Invest Lithuania, shared details on how they met the influx of Ukrainian refugees with a strategy that welcomed immigrants, provided new opportunities for them to connect with the community, and created opportunities for Lithuanians to learn from their experience in order to ensure that learnings and experience flow both ways.

In an economy of excess content, you need to find new ways to compete for attention.

Standing out from the crowd is always a priority for marketers, but there’s never been so much competing noise – and it’s only going to get louder. 7.5 million new blog posts are published every day. Around 3.7 million new videos get uploaded to YouTube in the same time period. In the midst of that, you need a strong place brand narrative, with clear and consistently communicated values, to cut through the noise.

“Everyone has the same synonyms for goodness,” shared Todd Babiak, CEO at Brand Tasmania, as he talked about how you can work with locals to ensuring you’re telling their stories – and of telling stories rather than marketing. We are, at heart, storytelling creatures, and understanding narrative structure and using that to shape your communication is a great way to develop an impactful strategy.

The most compelling example of the impact a clear place brand narrative can have is the success of Ukraine’s international communication strategy. Maria Lypiatska, Head of BRAND UKRAINE and Strategic Communications Advisor for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for Ukraine, shared how they are telling the stories of their citizens: the soldiers, the volunteers, the victims, and the survivors. And by focusing on the values and stories of their community, the team at Ukraine are ensuring that the impact of the war remains at the forefront of the collective international consciousness, and also telling a story of bravery and determination which will hopefully continue to deliver for the country once the war is at an end.

Start with what resonates and think local.

“The way to overcome global shocks and build urban resilience is to focus on the visceral connections between people and the places that resonate with them,” shared Dr Martin Reeves, CEO of Coventry City Council. If you want to make impact with your community – whether that’s calling for more sustainable behaviours or advocating for change – you first have to understand what the local priorities are and how you can talk in their language.

Jeremy Smith, Climate Specialist at The Travel Foundation, spoke succinctly about the challenge of energising communities around the climate crisis. Since climate change impacts each location individually, it’s far easier to ignite change if you’re talking about the consequences that they can already see in their hometown.

Anthony Everett, President & CEO at 4VI, shared insights into the transition from Tourism Vancouver Island to a social enterprise model and talked about how they began by assessing the needs of their community to understand where they can provide best support. “We’re thinking entrepreneurially,” he explained. “We’re not a start-up – we’re a re-start-up.”

Connect the circle between residents, visitors, and businesses.

Place branding is at its best when it balances the needs of tourists, locals, and businesses – and while it’s not a new takeaway, understanding how places are finding new avenues to connect those dots continues to be one of the most important lessons of the conference. Geerte Udo, CEO at amsterdam&partners, spoke about how they’re welcoming tourists who travel like locals and preserving the identity of local neighbourhoods, while Heike Döll-König, CEO at Tourismus NRW e.V., shared how they’re gathering the perspectives of their residents and planning their strategies with resident interests in mind.

Tourism, in particular, can have a bad reputation for being an inconvenience for locals or for negatively impacting the environment, but it was inspiring to hear from destination marketing organisations to see how they’re working with locals and businesses to close these gaps. “There is no such thing as a responsible visitor,” said Cat Leaver, Head of Brand & Campaigns at Visit Scotland. “Our job is to help shape responsible behaviours.”

And as Malcolm Bell, CEO of Visit Cornwall, highlighted, tourism can do more than just ‘not cause harm’ – you can also leverage it to do good in your community. However, part of that process is about engaging your local community in the process to ensure that you have a liveable, loveable city. After all – a city that is good to live in is good to visit. But the reverse isn’t always true.

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The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.