Six major pitfalls facing place brand strategies

We talk about the key ingredients for a successful place brand strategy, but what about the reverse? What are the major hurdles that cause a place brand to stumble and fall? To discover the answer, we asked our network of place branding experts what the common challenges were that they repeatedly saw trip up cities, nations, and regions. Here are the six roadblocks to watch out for if you’re launching or managing a place brand strategy

Don’t try to be everything to all people. You have to understand what it is that makes your place unique.

The main pitfall in causing a place branding strategy to fail is to believe your own propaganda, not listen to your audiences, nor understand the emotional reasons that people want to visit/work/play in your destination. Too many destinations think short term or fail because they are trying to address all their stakeholders. It’s remarkable to me how many destinations try to be something for everyone and develop a place strategy which says something along the lines of “a place for everything/everyone/a place for all seasons/all people.” The best brand strategies think long-term and look to the future. They understand what people feel about a destination, then draw on an emotional reason to visit which stands out from everywhere else. For example, how many of these country tourism strategies resonate with you emotionally, or sound the same?

Debbie Hindle, CEO, Four Communications

Don’t fall into the trap of tunnel vision. Understand what perceptions your citizens and target audiences already have of your place.  

A place branding strategy can fall victim to various unexpected crises. However, the main cause of failure that should and must be avoided is something fully dependent on place brand managers. Some are tempted to build their strategies around grand ideas that are based solely on their own perspective and aspirations without even attempting to understand the target audiences. The key is to develop a strategy that is rooted in the customer by monitoring brand perceptions, tailoring your messages, and selecting the most relevant channels.

Konrad Jagodzinski, Communications Director, Brand Finance

Don’t leave anyone behind. Make sure all your stakeholders are aligned behind your narrative.

Place branding strategies are most likely to fail not because of the strategy itself, but the failure to engage all those responsible for executing it and aligning behind it. This could be employees but is more commonly local communities, businesses, tourist related organisations and providers. Not aligning them makes it very difficult to deliver on the promise made. Ensuring they are part of the strategy development process and roll-out will help mitigate this challenge.

Gary Bryant, Executive Director, Strategy, Landor & Fitch

Don’t let the energy slip after your initial launch. Maintain momentum throughout. 

Place brands are often launched with great fanfare and stakeholder enthusiasm and the job is done. It's not! The launch should be the start of the journey, not the end. Successful place branding is predicated on a consistent approach over a period of years and place brands (in  common with all brands) need investment and management to build recognition and place reputation.

Judith O’Doherty, Founder, Eutopia Strategy

Don’t fall down in the execution stage. Proper governance is essential.

It is vital that Place Branding strategies are robust in the face of difficulty. We addressed them in this  article after City Nation Place Global in 2018. Building upon these ideas, I would say that the main pitfall that causes a Place Branding strategy to fail is improper governance. Often, a lot of effort gets put into the launch of a Place Branding strategy, but this effort is subsequently unmatched in the strategy's follow-up period, which is equally as important as its initial stage. Without the necessary competencies within Place Brand management during this time, a Place Branding strategy is sure to fail. The correct governance should ensure that Place Branding strategy is properly executed - meaning that it is carefully monitored throughout the follow-up process, allowing it to play an integral role in the future development of a region, city or country.

Jose Torres, CEO, Bloom Consulting

Don’t lose focus. You have to keep adapting, building, and evolving to meet the needs of your place.

Assuming you’ve arrived at a compelling, authentic strategy, bringing your place brand to life still requires a combination of  factors to deliver real rewards:

Continuity: It takes time to build a brand - years of persuasive, consistently strategic interventions that support and amplify your value proposition. Often this will transcend political lifecycles so having a long-term governance strategy is important to ensure the brand proposition has adequate time to build traction and momentum. 

Sustainable investment: A great strategy will also atrophy without sufficient investment over time. Setting realistic expectations for the return on investment is critical. The most meaningful measures of success in the first few years should be focused on building local support and champions.

Alliance building: Allies and partnerships enable brands to punch above their weight. Ensure collaborators - from major enterprises and key institutions to small businesses and resident groups - are equipped with effective tools and training to integrate brand messaging and experiences in ways that will extend the impact of brand-building programs and marketing in powerful ways.

Adaptability & insight generation: The dynamics of your environment will continuously evolve. Ensure that your core brand strategy allows for long-term adaptation to reflect emerging market realities. In addition to data analytics, set up qualitative “feedback loops” that can surface insights into emerging trends and changing stakeholder needs.

These four ingredients will ensure your place brand invest delivers long-term rewards.

Jeanette Hanna, Chief Strategist, Trajectory

See our  full list of experts here

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