Seven key lessons from City Nation Place UK

 Leading destination marketers, economic developers, property developers and city leaders from across the UK arrived in Birmingham on Tuesday for the first annual City Nation Place UK conference. From start to end, the one-day conference was packed with exciting and inspirational conversations, as place branders shared their experiences through case studies and discussions.

Given the scope and range of the debate, it’s a challenge to sum it all up in one article, but here are the seven key takeaways that stood out the most.

  1. The UK is a soft power superpower.  This can be leveraged – but not controlled.

Conrad Bird, Director of the GREAT Britain campaign, delivered an incisive presentation on the perceptions of Brand Britain on the global stage, demonstrating how UK tourism is the world’s leading ‘soft power superpower’ - it’s part of our national character and we can leverage this soft power to support our place brands in a myriad of ways.

  1. It’s obvious that collaboration between places in the UK for tourism attraction is beneficial – but it is also valuable to balance collaboration and competition for investment promotion.

The buzz word of the day was certainly collaboration, with many of our place branders speaking passionately about the importance of working together more effectively. “It is too easy to fall into the trap of utilising a small budget to try and promote one region or place against another,” Conrad Bird declared, “when we should in fact be working as a collective to attract jobs and growth from our international competitors, rather than domestic ones.” Chris Brown, director of Marketing Liverpool discussed the Waterfront City Alliance which has brought benefits to Liverpool from collaboration with cities such as Rotterdam, Cape Town, and Barcelona – demonstrating that it’s important to look outwards for collaboration opportunities. But whilst it’s important to collaborate and share knowledge, tempering this with competition can help drive creativity, resilience and ingenuity as places work to promote their investment opportunities.

  1. It’s increasingly all about the data - but we’re not sure who’s worked out how to use it, when to share it, or how to be effectively data reactive.

Chris Brown was just one of the many speakers who referenced data: “We need to be data ready, data reactive and balance that with brand content and audience.” Clare Mullin of Visit Britain led round table discussions to identify data sharing opportunities and data gathering priorities. Catherine Mitton, Executive Director of the Bids Foundation was another speaker forecasting the need for a more sophisticated understanding of what the data we are able to gather is telling us. It was clear that places are still working to understand how to take the next steps to be more effective data analysts.

  1. KPIs, on the other hand, should not be all about the hard data: don’t ignore the emotional impact.

Emotional metrics are as essential as the traditional data-driven insights, particularly when it comes to determining the success of your place brand strategy. Martin Reeves, the CEO at Coventry City Council, stated that more business investments are being made on the feelings a place engenders; being able to factor pride and core values alongside the usual quantitative hard data metrics will prove key.

  1. Places are social, place making should enable those connections, and place branding should connect better with place making.

William Murray of Wordsearch Place provided an inspiring vision of how the world of property development is catching on to the principles of great placemaking – focusing from the start of a project on the opportunities to promote community cohesion and to enable people to create social connections. Providing a clear cost/benefit equation of the increased monetary value that a property developer could yield from this approach provided useful takeaways for economic development and place marketing teams. William also advised that a place which has a stronger sense of what it is and what it wants to be will have more productive relationships with the property sector.

  1. It’s important to disconnect place from politics, but ensure that place branding is connected to policy.

As Tony Attard, the Chairman of Marketing Lancashire, explained, the private sector continues marketing spend during a recession and so should public sector place marketing teams. Place promotion should be separated from politics in order to function independently on behalf of the community, but it also essential that it remains integrally connected to policy in order to be able to effect impactful changes.

  1. Place branding practitioners should be prouder of their marketing heritage and be clear what they mean by the power of the place brand.

Place brands that truly resonate with their community have enormous potential to positively impact both residents and business. Eindhoven managed to create a brand that resonated so positively with the city that several residents have got tattoos of the brand ident. The power a place brand can have was perhaps best brought to life by Sam Hunt, Creative Director for Waltham Forest, the 2019 London Borough of Culture, and Phil Batty, the Director of Public Engagement and strategy for Hull UK City of Culture, with their exploration of how fostering your authentic culture and a strong sense of community pride drives more than just engagement and interest: it opens up new opportunities for your community, opportunities to grow, to stretch, to learn. Cat Leaver, Director at Brand Scotland, said it clearest; place marketers need to be more proud, less apologetic and clearer about what we really mean by ‘brand’. Because any brand that can create such lasting changes in people’s lives deserves recognition for the creativity, ingenuity and strategy that brings it to life. And be proud of the “marketing” part of the place branding role – as Peter Kentie from Eindhoven succinctly put it, “Your brand means nothing unless someone relevant hears about it”.

We look forward to discovering the key takeaways from City Nation Place Americas next month!

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