Interview with Dr Robert Paul Jones

Interview with Dr Robert Paul Jones

The meteoric rise in social media usage has provided an entirely new medium for countries to share their stories with the world. But how do you walk the line of promoting what makes your place unique whilst still acknowledging your history? Dr Robert Paul Jones, Executive Director of the G.U.E.S.T center at Texas Tech University shared his insights with us before he joins us as a speaker at City Nation Place Latin America & Caribbean.

CNP: Why do you think that this is a good time to be launching City Nation Place Latin America & Caribbean to bring together national, regional and city place branders to explore the unique challenges that the region faces?

RJ: Latin America and the Caribbean are poised to experience another large boost in tourist activity. In addition, businesses across the globe are looking to the area for regional headquarters. Developers, guests, and corporations will seek to make their investments in those regions, countries, and cities that present the most compelling argument through their brand and marketing. 


CNP: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing place branding and marketing teams working for cities, states and places across Latin America and the Caribbean?

RJ: The most difficult challenge facing branding and marketing teams is individuation - being able to create unique brand identities and meaningful messaging are essential. Maintaining a connection to the positive cache associated with parts of the Caribbean and Latin America while eschewing the negative is a fine line; within that narrative, staking out a compelling message tied to your country or city brand will be key.


CNP: How are international perceptions of Latin America and the Caribbean changing on the world stage? Is this affecting your own place brand strategy?

RJ: Latin America and the Caribbean are becoming highly sought after places for business and recreation. The increasingly diverse and complex economies are providing corporations from across the globe interesting and new opportunities. However, these economic drivers are putting pressure on the hospitality industry. Advancing economic success leads to increasing prices and diminishing the affordability that has long been a hallmark of tourism in the region. It is essential that all sectors of the economy seek to elevate the experience and this needs to be accomplished in the parameters of the brand and appropriate messaging.


CNP: What do you see as being the key difference between place branding and place marketing?

RJ: It is imperative that brand and marketing not be conflated as the same. The brand is the heart of any enterprise and branding helps distinguish the brand in the marketplace whilst marketing helps to tell the story of the brand. All of those elements must live in harmony with the place itself.


CNP: City brands are finding their way into the spotlight – how can nation brands work more effectively with cities to support a clear place brand identity?

RJ: As noted earlier, brand, branding, and marketing must all live harmoniously together. It is essential that city messaging live within the borders of the nation. Nation brands must walk a fine line supporting all city initiatives; cities and nation brands should work together to identify unique elements which set cities apart from one another, while not at the expense of one another.

CNP: What advantages are there for promoting better collaboration between economic development and destination marketing teams?

RJ: There are only disadvantages for failure to collaborate. In the absence of coordination, each team runs the risk of delivering competing messaging and these will cause confusion for stakeholders and ultimately diminish the performance of the target area.


CNP: Do you think there is a growing role for the private sector in supporting nation and city brands? If so, what is your top tip for engaging private sector organisations in the process?

RJ: It goes without saying that they should be involved. Regions, nations, and cities are all complex public/private hybrids. If one is left out of the discussion, significant insight will be lost. As does each place, private sector organizations thrive on a sense of place; providing a vehicle for the organisation to provide input, participate in the messaging, and allowing to highlight their contribution to place are all avenues for engagement.


CNP: Do you think it’s becoming more important to advocate for the value and positive impacts of place branding to both citizens and governments? Why is that?

RJ: In today’s hashtag environment, place brand provides a powerful heuristic for citizens, businesses, and governments. It is not a difficult sell to the community at large that sense of place adds real value. Being able to showcase, through clear and convincing messaging, a place brand on the crowded world stage is one of the few consistently successful ways to enhance community value.


CNP: What is your top tip for creating a place brand strategy that is sustainable in its approach – both in terms of preserving the culture of your place and of minimising environmental impacts?

RJ: Think broadly about the brand and its construction. Identifying only narrow parameters for the brand has the potential to create conflict with future opportunities and this often results in seeking to “re-brand”. Avoid that at all cost. Identify the essential elements of your brand, which also incorporates the sweep of history of the place. This will give the brand breadth necessary to accommodate changes in the marketplace over time.


CNP: Other than your own session, what are you most looking forward to at the City Nation Place Latin America & Caribbean conference?

RJ: The many examples of places that have successfully carved their niche and driven successful economic impact. I also look forward to the opportunity to network with other attendees to gain more insight and perhaps forge future collaborative initiatives.


CNP: If you had the opportunity to move to any place in the world, where would you be most interested in living and working?

RJ: The answer for me is simple - Costa Rica. The sense of history is palpable at the same time as it is embracing the future. Costa Rica provides a foundation based on a rich tradition of a proud people which supports a global outreach, providing for an advancing and sustainable future. 

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