I’ve not been to Blaenau Ffestiniog for years but I want to return. I’m attracted because it is amongst a growing number of places with the confidence to trade on authentic identity rather than broadcast blandness.
If I want the assuredness of mediocrity I can head to an out-of-town retail park. If you want to encourage me to gamble on a far-away destination or even frequent my local town, sell me on its intrinsic uniqueness. And of course while I am there I will do some regular stuff too.
Place branding is an important process that understands the value of identity, strengthens it and presents it in meaningful ways to different audiences. For me, place branding is the art that captures the essence of a place. It complements the science of place performance that we understand so well at People & Places.
In the seminal work on Marketing Place (Kotler, Haider ad Rein, 1993), the authors warn us place-makers against superficiality in our approach to place marketing and branding:
“Too many place improvers believe that marketing a place means promoting a place. They view marketing as an image building exercise, confusing it with one of the sub-activities, namely promotion. Promotion is ironically, one of the least important marketing tasks. Promotion alone does not help a troubled city. In fact, it only helps place buyers to discover early how troubled the city really is.”
“Place marketing means designing a place to satisfy the needs of its target markets. It succeeds when citizens and businesses are pleased with the communities, and meet the expectations of visitors and investors.”
How then do these words ring true in authentic approaches to place branding today? These are my formative thoughts on what separates the informed use of identity from identikit:
- Understand image: Image is different from stereotype. It is the sum of beliefs and impressions that people have of a place. Take the time to capture the image of a place held by different people –then work with it.
- Define qualities: Look at what you’ve got to work with in the attractions, infrastructure and people of a place. The last one is the hardest but people so often define a place –and a struggling place can often be used to define its people.
- Think local first: Consider how local people think about and use a place before targeting outsiders. Equally, whilst an external perspective can contribute fresh thinking; enlist local pride, passion, knowledge and talent to underpin the brand long-term.
- Target trade, tourism, talent –and townsfolk! Understand who you are targeting and tailor the brand accordingly. Whilst the emphasis may vary, the content needs to be consistent and resonate with local people.
- Try life without a logo: Avoid the temptation to think first about logos and straplines. People need to ‘feel’ the brand first through activity and improvements on the ground that reinforce it. Of course lead by example but don’t try and become the ‘brand police’. If the brand is real others will become your ambassadors on-line and on-street.
What I have come to realise is that place branding is neither a quick win or something to push in to the long grass. It can be used by us ‘place improvers’ from the outset as a way of articulating intent.
Find out more
To read more about the Blaenau Ffestiniog story as the ‘town that roofed the world’, read our partners’ Chris Jones account of its regeneration.
You might also be interested in the thoughts of our partners at Real Towns on the role of digital in bringing places together: ‘Why digital is the elephant in the room for UK places‘
The People and Places Partnership works to helps deliver locally-led regeneration of places by putting together talented teams and trusted partners. Take a look our specialities menu.