Embedding a sustainable approach in your place brand strategy

TIM BARBER TIM BARBER Director, BDRC Continental

Sustainability is increasingly seen as an intrinsic element of a place brand strategy - both in terms of managing your environmental impact and the longer-term impact of policies and strategies on your community. With the deadline for the #CNPAwards approaching, we asked Leigh Dawber, Chief Marketing Officer for Cape Town Tourism, how she feels that places should work to embed a more sustainable approach into their place brand vision.

CNP: Why do you think that it’s important to benchmark and celebrate well-crafted place branding and place marketing strategies?

LD: It’s incredibly valuable to benchmark best-practice, from the perspective of both knowledge sharing and acknowledging innovative, forward-thinking work. The cross-pollination of great strategies contributes to progressing the industry as a whole. As industry leaders, we need to go beyond once-off tactics and campaigns, and challenge ourselves to create sustainable models or roadmaps that can be applied across different places.

Travel is a highly competitive industry, and travellers the world over expect new, dynamic approaches that talk to them. We need to tap into the knowledge we have about what our various audiences are looking for and respond to these needs in ways that will make those audiences sit up because the offer interests and excites them.

CNP: How do you think places should be incorporating sustainability into their strategic thinking?

LD: Sustainability is a non-negotiable these days. Organisations that have a meaningful purpose that contributes positively to the world as a whole have a better chance of success than those who don’t. In approaching the issue of sustainability, organisations should be ahead of the game, i.e. not just be reactive but be looking ahead to anticipate future issues that could become major concerns in the future.

To do this, organisations should be considering both the issues of a global nature - things like climate change, plastic pollution, etc. - and those that are specific to their particular region or nation, e.g. skills development in a country whose education system is not adequate to meet the demands of the 21st century economy.


CNP: What is the greatest challenge when it comes to engaging citizens in your place brand vision?

LD: We find that the moment our citizens understand that the ultimate benefit of tourism is an increase in GDP and jobs, the more support and engagement we get. Our challenge is to communicate this across our different cultural sectors and show how this practically translates into the upliftment of a very diverse city.  For many citizens in an environment like Cape Town, the concept of tourism is remote from their own lives since they are struggling to survive at the most basic of levels, so initiatives need to be introduced that allow for some of these citizens to be involved in tourism projects that expose them to the concept more thoroughly and, ideally, that allow them to benefit financially.  It is through actions such as these that the local communities begin to understand the value of the city’s tourism projects.

CNP: Do you think that the increase in experiential-based tourism and the rise of the millennial traveller has made destination marketing easier or harder? Why?

LD: I don’t think millennials have made destination marketing easier, they have just changed the way we market due to their different behaviours and needs. As digital travellers, they no longer respond to traditional marketing and expect real-time information, and although they would prefer to spend their time and money on travel experiences, they are still price sensitive and unpredictable. They base their travel decisions on what is being recommended and the stories they can tell - this has completely changed the way marketers communicate, since we now are more catalysts and facilitators of the narrative and not in control of it!

Where significant changes have had to be made is in the social media sphere.  Marketers are both having to use social media far more to get their messaging across, and they have to be far more agile in responding quickly to the discussions that travellers are  having on social media platforms.  Now more than ever the need for authenticity is core to the success of the messaging from the marketer. 


CNP: Given the long-term vision and collaborative approaches required for effective place brand strategy, what is the most important skill for place branding teams – creativity or diplomacy?

LD: It’s impossible to separate the two. There has to be creativity and innovation in long-term visions; however, this should not be at the expense of collaborators, nor at the expense of the buy-in of your citizens. A very innovative, yet single-minded and inflexible approach that alienates either of these stakeholders or doesn’t take them along the journey with you, is very likely not to work in the long-term even if it produces short-term results.

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