Topical Issues for Place Branding Strategy

As controversy continues to rage in the United States over Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad campaign, it turns the spotlight on the “values” of the brand.  Brands have always been about more than the logo or slogan: brand managers have always focused on brand values to create customer loyalty.  But in recent years companies have had to think more carefully about how the statements of CEOs around political issues will impact on customer perceptions, or on whether their communication strategies can add to their brand values by making statements about societal values.  So what about place brands?

Citizens’ perceptions and international perceptions of a city, region or nation have always been created from a range of influences – personal experience, recommendations of friends, social media influencers, advertising campaigns, and of course news coverage.  And it’s the news coverage that can put the values of your government policy at the forefront of people’s minds when considering where to invest, live, or travel.  In our recent interview with Adriana Campelo, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Salvador, she highlighted this shift, stating that a “place brand is not a logo, but an asset that includes your place’s values, reputation, experiences” as well as situating a destination amongst political and global debate. In his interview Brad Dean, CEO at Discover Puerto Rico, perhaps has a more measured view of the importance of values, suggesting that values are arguably not the most important aspect of a place brand strategy.  However, he also agrees that they “can, and will, directly influence the place brand, either positively or negatively.” 

Do societal and governmental values become more impactful on your place brand when they create mostly negative perceptions?  Do they have a greater impact on tourism, or on talent attraction and retention, or on private sector investment?  We are looking forward to the debate at City Nation Place Global in London in November – our pre-conference Think Tank led by Simon Anholt and Robert Govers will examine how strategic thinking in place branding needs to incorporate a consideration around values.  Adriana Campelo and Laura Citron, CEO of London & Partners, will be considering values, place brand strategy and the impact on economic resilience.

Is social media actually a good thing? 

Also in the news: seemingly unlimited coverage of the use and abuse of the power of social media platforms to influence opinion.   For place branding strategists, social media has opened up a world of opportunity for communicating in ever-more creative ways, but also creates new challenges.  Summing up the advantages in her interview, double City Nation Place award winner and now judge, Guðrið Højgaard, Director of Tourism and CEO at Visit Faroe Islands, claims that “you don’t have to be the biggest player with the biggest budget to be able to get your message through” and it’s clear that a number of successful place brands have grown from a well-cultivated social media strategy.  However, fellow judge Colin Ferguson, President & CEO at Travel Manitoba, believes that social media “has created considerable ‘clutter’ in the market and increased competition amongst all destinations.”  Whatever the case, the need for place brands to be “always on” in the digital world demands new skills for your place branding teams.  At City Nation Place Global, Glenn Duncan and Beverley Carkner of Ottawa Tourism will be sharing what they learned about how you need to structure your team to manage a multi-platform approach whilst managing all the activities around the 150 anniversary year for the Canadian capital.  We’ll also be looking at the abuse of social media’s reach – Fake News – in a debate that will combine views from Estonia, Sweden, and Italy and also includes input from Sean Evins, from Facebooks’ Politics & Government team.

Crazy Rich Asians and issues of authenticity

Hollywood’s latest blockbuster, Crazy Rich Asians, is a milestone for Asian representation in cinema and Singapore has sought to capitalise on this, in partnership with the film-makers, with “Crazy Rich Asian Week”.  However, an article in Today Online raises questions of image and authenticity: “While riding on the movie’s publicity is no doubt aimed at injecting further vibrancy to Singapore’s tourism sector, its contributions to an authentic Singapore experience are debatable.”   Authentic storytelling for place brands is something we hear a lot about. 

Kristina Plavšak Krajnc, Director at the Republic of Slovenia Government Communication Office, declares that “one cannot fake a brand in the long run.” Authenticity, while a nebulous concept, provides a number of advantages if it can be achieved. Firstly, it satisfies the needs of modern travellers who are increasingly seeking authentic experiences during their journeys. Secondly, it aids the creation of a place brand strategy that will enable it to better weather the test of time. And lastly, it ensures that citizens can take pride in their community. Authenticity requires citizen engagement: Patricia Maher, CEO at Grenada Tourism Authority, says that their place brand is “intrinsically linked with who [they] are as a nation,” while Caio Esteves, CEO at Places For Us, refers to community engagement as “the essential glue, necessary for the success of a place brand.”

Natasha Grand, Director at INSTID, likens place identity to a “professional personality test.” Done correctly, a place brand strategy must have identified the core values of a community and constructed the place identity around these values and beliefs of the community. Adriana states that “a place brand is alive and it needs to evolve together with its people and community” – In order to accurately tell the story of its place, a place brand strategy must incorporate room for growth as these values shift and diversify. Likewise, Kristina declares that a place brand strategy “has to remain open to new challenges[,] constantly researching, analysing, rethinking” in order to remain relevant for its community, visitors and investors.

Place branding is a complex process, with a plethora of different aspects that must all be carefully considered to create a sustainable vision. It must be rooted in authentic experience and a value system that reflects its community, whilst continually reinventing itself to stand out from the crowd. As Brad said, “it’s clear that place branding is not for the faint of heart!”.


Interview with Adriana Campelo, City of Salvador

Interview with Brad Dean, Discover Puerto Rico

Interview with Guðrið Højgaard, Visit Faroe Islands

Interview with Colin Ferguson, Travel Manitoba

Interview with Kristina Plavšak Krajnc, Government of Slovenia

Interview with Caio Esteves, Places For Us

Interview with Natasha Grand, INSTID

Today Online article on Crazy Rich Asians and Brand Singapore

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