Six lessons for better place branding and destination marketing

The City Nation Place Awards set the benchmark for quality place brand and communication strategies around the world – what lessons can we learn from the winning case studies of 2019?

  • Don’t skimp on the research. The Brand Lithuania Unit spent 8 months deep diving into the public consciousness and discovering how their citizens wished to be portrayed abroad. This is perhaps an extreme example, but it does go to show what thorough research can do – after several unsuccessful attempts to launch a nation brand, this is the first to show positive engagement and acceptance from the wider community. It was a textbook example of true citizen engagement, and more than that, it enabled the Brand Lithuania Unit to address genuine concerns of the community.
  • All of which ties in to our second point – there’s no excuse for not engaging your citizens. Our shortlist was awash with fantastic examples of this, but our winning campaigns were in a league of their own. Take essential Costa Rica, who reached out to their citizens as global ambassadors and empowered them to create real change by suggesting plastic-free solutions to local companies. Or Visit Finland encouraged visitors to ‘Rent A Finn’ which simultaneously helped to build bridges between locals and tourists and also inspired citizens to be proud of their national psyche. It sounds obvious, but if you don’t engage your community, you’re fighting an uphill battle before you even start.
  • Challenge perceptions – by acknowledging the negative. This is an easy thing to say, but a much harder thing to put into practice. No one wants to admit to their flaws – even if they’re only groundless stereotypes. But doing so can be the key to creating a truly authentic message. Kim Heinen, Rotterdam Partners, said that “[Rotterdam] is not as I like to say ‘an easy lover’, but those who appreciate its quirky and ugly sides will love it all the more,” and it is this idea that Landor capitalised on with Azerbaijan’s new brand identity. By first admitting the negative global perceptions that existed, the call to ‘take another look’ made the reveal even more impactful.
  • Collaboration is king. The winner of our award for Place Brand of the Year, essential Costa Rica, have implemented a place brand that encompasses all five organisations responsible for promoting Costa Rica on the global stage. Getting so many organisations to compromise in order to be able to work together effectively can be a challenge, but if it’s correctly achieved, being able to pool your resources behind a single goal is hugely powerful.
  • Stay true to your place brand identity. The destination marketing campaigns from Visit Faroe Islands and Visit Finland, and the multiple activities of the Costa Rican nation branding team, are perfectly in tune with their existing place brand – rather than starting afresh, the strategy grows from the strength of place identity, are rooted in policy and/or values and in themselves fortify the place brand even further.
  • Lastly – and most importantly –aim to inspire imagination. Strategies that address global concerns and try to make the world a better place are one of the best ways to improve your place brand reputation. Social media can be your biggest ally here as if a campaign is creative and original enough, people with share your story for you. By ‘closing for the weekend’, Visit Faroe Islands provided a solution to some of the problems created by overtourism and their story spread like wildfire. Or Costa Rica’s national plan to be carbon-free by 2050. To paraphrase JFK, think not what the world can do for your country / city / place – think what your place can do for the world. Dream big – and inspire people with your actions.

Interested in discovering more about these winning campaigns? Buy our Awards Showcase 2019 to get case studies of all our finalists and winners.

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