Many people ask me how places can be considered as brands. “A place is not a product,” they argue, under the incorrect assumption that only products can be brands. A brand, however, is something far greater than a mere product, person, or place. A brand is an entire world of associations, images and emotions.
These associations are not necessarily intellectual. Essentially, a brand is a promise, and a strong brand is a promise delivered. Every brand has its own DNA, what is usually referred to as its ‘brand essence.’ The DNA boils down to a single element that embodies the essence of a brand. It can be a word, object, place, symbol or even an individual. When you encounter the brand, you will enjoy these associative experiences. The Statue of Liberty encapsulates the essence of “Brand USA,” — the general concept of freedom.
When the associations are relevant, positive, constructive and attractive — they lead to what experts refer to as “brand loyalty.” Technology brands that consistently deliver on their promise, end up enhancing their market value in a very significant way.
Other brands, that suffer performance failures, will see those failures reflected in their overall market value. Same thing applies to places as brands. When it comes to places, especially in the context of travel and tourism, first-hand experience coupled with high brand performance and delivery, usually strengthens the overall brand and its brand loyalty.
Participants’ loyalty enhances goodwill, which serves as a backup generator for the brand. Often, brand loyalty to a place helps the place through times of crisis. New York City of the 1970s and the 1980s is a good example.
So, how does one go about branding a place? The first step is research. Most enterprises fail due to lack of relevant and constructive research.
The research phase is meant to discover the advantages and weaknesses of the place, as well as diagnosing the quality of the emotional tie that exists between the place and its target audience. At times, the purpose of the research phase is to define the target audience.
A critical question in place branding is “who owns the brand”? The conventional wisdom is that places as brands are owned by their inhabitants (citizens and residents). That’s correct.
However, proper research should also consider the emotions of former residents, disappointed, and disenchanted former participants, secondary and tertiary circles of influence (for example, relatives of participants) and, of course, the place’s leadership, decision makers and influencers. The research phase must examine all participants, internally and externally, simultaneously.
For more information, a short infographic on public positioning may be found here.