Re-defining the future of places at City Nation Place Global 2023

It is always a privilege to join delegates from around the world at City Nation Place Global to discover how cities, regions, and nations are redefining what success looks like in place branding and place marketing. With two hundred delegates in attendance, and speakers from every continent representing more than twenty places, this year was no exception.

Whether you weren’t able to join us in London or you just weren’t able to take notes fast enough, we wanted to share our key takeaways from the two days of discussion.

Places are re-defining measures of success

As the place branding industry matures, it’s clear that what we consider to be key performance indicators must evolve as well. At the start of City Nation Place Global, we launched our latest research report, Place Branding: Solving the Measurement Challenge, to benchmark how places are demonstrating the value of their work to both residents and stakeholders alike. And having set the tone at the beginning of the day, we continued to hear expert examples of how places are rethinking the way they measure the impact they have on their communities.

Meaghan Ferrigno, Senior Vice President, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Destination Canada, highlighted that traditional calculations for tourism focus on consumption, rather than contribution: heads in beds, bums on seats, tourism receipts. However, tourism is much more profound than those hard metrics. As Canada began promoting a more regenerative and transformative tourism experience after COVID-19, the metrics they used to determine success needed to change to reflect that broader impact tourism has – both positive, and negative. It was wonderful to hear how Canada’s new Wealth and Wellbeing Index measures performance across six pillars: economy, employment, enablement, environment, engagement, and experience (i.e. the enrichment of visitors’ lives) to capture a more accurate picture of tourism’s impact in the country and how they’re leaning into that data to improve their strategies.

Canada were not the only ones re-thinking what they should be measuring however. Luuk Helleman, Programme Manager – City Branding at the Municipality of the Hague, and Jolanda van Witzenberg, Head of Development at The Hague & Partners, highlighted how they’re leveraging their place brand strategy to build local pride in the city, and so have factored civic pride in as one of the core measurements they use to determine success. Being more intentional about how you measure your work is critical.

Place brands need to be people-first

While the two examples from Canada and The Hague are both very different in terms of scale and focus, they have something important in common. Their new metrics are designed to understand the resident experience. Throughout the two days, another common thread of discussion is how city, region, and nation brand teams are pivoting to ensure they support their communities first.

Adam Burke, President & CEO of Discover LA, put it most succinctly when he pointed out that what is good for residents is always good for visitors – but the reverse isn’t always true. Venice, the posterchild for overtourism, is facing this exact conundrum. Having prioritised tourism for tourism’s sake, the city now finds it’s centre has been hollowed out, as residents have been outpriced and forced out of the city.

So it is encouraging to see that so many places are laying the foundations to ensure that this doesn’t happen. A place brand strategy should be co-created with your residents, your private sector, and your core stakeholders, and it was wonderful to hear from Dan Terris, Head of Marketing & Brand at Ōtautahi Christchurch, on how they did just that in the development of their new city brand. One thing Dan said particularly resonated, which was that in the early days of the strategy’s development, they agreed to a guiding principle: that in matters of conflict, the resident voice would be prioritised over the voice of the tourist.

We are at our strongest when we work together

Collaboration comes in many forms, and we heard from places who are strategically prioritising collaboration in a host of different ways. Siw Andersen, CEO for Oslo Business Region, shared how they work to secure Oslo’s own brand while also grabbing at the opportunities to collaborate on a broader scale. From working with the Norwegian nation brand team, to the Nordic Council, to the Choose Europe initiative made up of fourteen investment promotion agencies from across the continent, Oslo are creating partnerships at all levels. At the end of the day, people are forming perceptions about Europe’s investment potential with or without your input, so having a voice in that conversation allows you to shape the longer-term future for the region.

And of course, there are always opportunities for collaboration within your place as well. The Hague is training residents and students as welcome ambassadors for the city, while PromPerú are building on the pride their private sector have in their nation brand to create a licensing programme. Products that are exported from Peru can use the nation brand logo to showcase their heritage, and Peru as a whole benefits from the increased exposure of their brand and the continual alignment of high quality, artisanal products and services with the Peruvian nation brand.

The Western Cape are also working with their private sectors to tell the story of the region through the people who make its exports. Tasting the food, drinking the wine, sampling the products from a place can be the first step towards visiting, investing or relocating to it, so this interlinked storytelling approach allows the region to tell a more comprehensive, engaging, and authentic story to their audience.

A place brand needs to evolve and be flexible, but stay true to the emotional core of your strategy

A country brand is a mindset, according to the Estonian Ambassador in London. HE Mr Viljar Lubi, gave our opening address on the topic of how Estonia’s nation brand is providing the framework for their international relations. A place brand has to evolve and grow with its community, and the Ambassador emphasised that the Estonian nation brand provide a framework that allows them to respond rapidly if they realise something isn’t working. Through an approach of ‘learn fast, implement faster,’ the agility of their nation brand strategy ensures that Estonia stands out in the international arena.

However, David Downs, CEO of The New Zealand Story, cautioned against the desire to constantly create something new. Yes, a place brand will naturally transform to some degree over the years, but it’s important that you don’t keep re-inventing yourself. There is power in a brand story that you continue to tell year after year, and this is the secret to shifting perceptions longer-term. From a sustainable perspective, there’s also a lot of strength in your existing assets – a new campaign doesn’t dictate a new design, and nor does it necessarily dictate new footage. Oftentimes you can repurpose what’s already in your archive to huge success with out the cost or environmental impact of a new shoot.

Be bold, be brave, but whatever you, don’t be boring

Bravery was another common thread across the discussion, with several speakers encouraging the audience to be bolder in their approaches. Christchurch’s Dan Terris spoke about the importance of being prepared to stick to your guns with a design, and warned against trying to make everyone happy with your brand. You’ll never be able to create a brand that everyone loves wholeheartedly, and you risk diluting your brand in an attempt to do so. Your place won’t be for everyone – but make sure your strategy is right for the people who are right for your place.

We also heard from a panel of places who are pushing the boundary of how technology can be used in place branding and place marketing, including Helsinki’s metaverse experiences, Sheffield’s augmented reality art trail, and Slovenia and Thailand’s use of NFTs to raise awareness around endangered species and to incentivise deeper, more thoughtful travel respectively. Marketing Sheffield’s Mark Mobbs called for delegates not to be afraid to try new things. While it’s important to manage expectations with what you realistically hope to achieve with a project, you never know what idea will be successful until you try it. And all four places highlighted that the media exposure they gained from these different approaches has been invaluable to their organisations.

Finally, we closed the conference with words from Per Grankvist, the Chief Storyteller for Sweden’s Viable Cities programme. The programme is aiming to create a future where all citizens can live a good life within planetary boundaries and to develop a framework for talking about the future in a way that is emotionally true, locally relevant, and doesn’t sound frightening in order to make change. When we talk about sustainability, it can be easy for people to tune out – climate neutral is an almost impossible concept to fully grasp, because you can’t tangibly feel it. Reframing the discussion around having a better quality of life, while still acknowledging that, yes, we will still face everyday challenges like having our bike stolen or missing the bus in the future, is key to telling a story about the future that people can recognise themselves in. After all, no one knows what a green city looks like – but everyone knows what a good city looks like.

You can download the free Place Branding: Solving the Measurement Challenge HERE, which includes the survey analysis plus case studies from Destination Canada, Cape Town, and The Hague, as well as from Tasmania, Regina, Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo, Chile, LA, London, New Zealand, and Stockholm

It’s not too late to watch all the presentations even if you missed the conference – you can purchase a digital delegate package which, from Monday 20th November, will enable you to watch all 25 presentations and panel discussions. More information HERE.

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