Nations vs. regions vs. cities

Nations vs. regions vs. cities

This is our second post reflecting on insights from the City Nation Place Global Forum. How can place brand leaders action these insights as you plan the year ahead?

This is our second post reflecting on insights from the City Nation Place Global Forum. How can place brand leaders action these insights as you plan the year ahead?

If you get the nation brand right, the regions and cities can thrive within it. This key insight emerged from the session featuring input from Conrad Bird, Director, Great Britain Campaign, Prime Minister’s Office.

How does this sit with the approach of other place brand leaders?

“I think it’s a good idea to give the North of England a distinct brand or identity”

Michelle Gorman is Managing Director, Visit County Durham, in the North East of England.Michelle agrees that “The GREAT Britain brand provides a platform to promote County Durham’s key propositions”.

She also believes that “the #OMGB Home of Amazing Moments campaign, presents more of an opportunity for the regions to benefit from national campaign activity”. OMGB stands for “Oh My GREAT Britain”. Part of the UK Government’s GREAT Britain campaign, #OMGB is coordinated by Visit Britain. Significantly, the campaign is run in partnership with the UK’s national tourism organizations and tourism businesses across the country.

A key strength of the GREAT Britain brand is its consistency. #OMGB illustrates how narrative and content from the regions can be incorporated whilst retaining affinity with the nation brand.

What about giving the regions their own distinct brand, to showcase specific strengths? For instance, the UK’s Northern Powerhouse regional place brand was introduced by Chancellor George Osborne when he was in office. Michelle agrees that it is a good idea for the North of England to have a distinct brand or identity but doesn’t entirely agree with the term “Northern Powerhouse”. Michelle concedes that“it has generated a lot of attention, focus and debate about the North of England”. She adds that“it is probably too early to gauge if the Northern Powerhouse has been successful in rebalancing the economy away from London and the South East”.

What about other parts of the world? How are they grappling with the challenge of balancing nation, region and city branding?

“It is the balancing act of ambitions and aspirations in which neither should overwhelm the other”.

Aparna Dutt Sharma is a brand strategist and expert in communications and public affairs, based in India. Aparna was also a founding member and former CEO of the India Brand Equity Foundation.

Aparna agrees that a well-crafted nation brand enables regions to raise their profile – particularly internationally. She acknowledges however that “it is the balancing act of ambitions and aspirations in which neither should overwhelm the other”.

Aparna explains that Brand India’s strengths are being echoed by an increasing number of states within India. On one level, this is good for the nation brand as each state has, even in some limited measure, been showing affinity to the nation brand. However Aparna cautions that the growing competitiveness between states is leading to the blurring of differentiators. To ensure continued success, Aparna suggests it could be time to think about cooperation vs. competition.

To encourage cooperation, Make in India “probably could be more innovative in its engagement with the states” acknowledges Aparna. She adds “on their part, the states, having identified their unique brand identities, should promote their differentiators, whilst steadfastly resisting temptation to deliver all that their competitor states are promising as well.”

The cities need to claim their spot in the future growth of Africa”

Hjörtur Smárason is the co-founder of Phønix, the International Place Branding panel. An anthropologist and storyteller, Hjörtur has worked with many cities, regions and nations and has written about Africa. He believes cities in Africa “have the power to break away from the Africa brand, while still preserving elements of that brand”. He cites New York, Berlin and Barcelona. All examples of cities that have strong identities in addition to being part of their nation brand.

Hjörtur suggests the fast growth in many cities around Africa “opens up opportunities for them to become continental capitals for different industries”. An example is Asaba in Nigeria, which is already becoming the new capital of Nollywood, Africa's film industry. Kinshasa has the potential to become the fashion capital. Nairobi, with their lead in mobile banking, might become the financial center of the future. A final example Hjortur gives is Kigali, which has a focus on technology and innovation.

In summary, Hjörtur suggests “the cities need to claim their spot in the future growth of Africa”. Whether this is done cooperatively, under the umbrella of Brand Africa, is still to be seen.

“For the nation brand to create a genuine ripple effect, considerable coordinated effort is required with sub-brands”

David Aboulkheir is a consultant-researcher at EIREST (University Paris Sorbonne) and editor of City Brand Explorer. He is also currently developing Lille Metropole's place brand strategy. David outlined how France is balancing nation, region and city place brand strategy to meet different objectives.

Attracting talent and foreign direct investment

Business France is the French National Economic Development Agency. At the end of 2013 it launched the French Tech initiative to showcase excellence in French start-ups. It is also promoting a national network of start-up hubs developed around France’s most dynamic metropolitan centres. The hubs are dedicated to specific sectors (HealthTech, IoT, Retail, Mobility, Sports, FoodTech, etc.) Each tech hub is a public-private initiative. Each is led by a major entrepreneur and branded as a privileged destination for relevant start-uppers.

Attracting tourism

Similarly for tourism, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with Atout France, set up Destination Contracts (Contrat de Destination). The aim is to gather, under the destination France umbrella, key local and regional actors around relevant destination brands and general themes. The themes are heritage, eco-tourism, wine tourism and gastronomy, mountains and health, sport and fun. This framework allows local players to overcome administrative obstacles and maximize outreach to strategic international markets. Some “contracts” refer to well-established region or city brands (Alsace, Bretagne, Bordeaux), and others to new place brand entities (Louvre-Lens, Montagnes du Jura etc.).

David concludes that “For the nation brand to create a genuine ripple effect, considerable coordinated effort is required with sub-brands to get communication, local support and resources right.”

He sees GREAT Britain as an overall communication channel for the UK brand, whereas France’s approach is more sector-focused. Which is the best model? We’ll consider this in the next post.

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Cohesive place brand strategy for nations, regions and cities promises to be a top priority in 2017.

If you have other examples or place brand challenges to share, I’d love to hear about them. Contact me at cfarrow@citynationplace.com

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