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The Top Questions About Place Branding

Place branding has become a critical tool for municipalities seeking to draw tourist dollars. Here’s what you need to know about how it works and how to implement it.

Do you live in a city — or a destination?

If the answer is the latter, then there is an excellent change that your environment has been “place branded.” Sometimes also called “destination marketing,” place branding follows many of the same rules seen with product marketing and can help nations, states and cities develop a public identity and connect with travelers (or even prospective residents) seeking fresh experiences.

How Place Branding Works

Travel is a critically important industry for municipalities, who must strive to earn their share of a market that’s worth nearly $8 trillion — or 10% of global GDP. Given the enormity of those numbers, it’s no small wonder that cities are hiring marketing agencies that specialize in place branding to help capture their piece of the market.

The truth facing these places is simple: Just as businesses must compete for consumers, locations must compete for people, businesses and the resources they bring.

The core of place branding is the creation of an identity that articulates the unique characteristics and sense of place connecting to a nation, state or city. This identity encapsulates the way a place looks and feels, its attributes and features and the people who live and work within its borders. These elements are then rendered using the usual marketing and advertising toolbox: Slogans, logos, campaigns etc.

Let’s distill that down to a famous example: “Keep Austin Weird,” a slogan adopted by the Austin Independent Business Alliance. The slogan, which arose organically based on a comment made on a community radio show, is the perfect distillation of the ethos of Austin — a city known for its love of the off-kilter and original within a state that exhibits more traditional values.

“Keep Austin Weird” became enormously popular because it articulated the essence of the place; somewhere you can find independent film and music festivals, outsider artists and mavericks of every stripe. That place branding has helped Austin become the fastest-growing city in the United States.

Tips for Smart Place Branding

Place branding, when executed well, is a self-reinforcing process that provides sustainable benefits. When a place develops a favorable identity, tourists are drawn to visit, and their economic activity helps boost that city’s bottom line, allowing it to pay for infrastructure improvements, amenities, schools etc. In turn, better living conditions create a draw for not only more new residents, but also new businesses. When cities become larger, healthier and more vibrant, they become even more attractive to tourists, and the cycle of positive results continues. 

Creating a campaign that can kickstart that cycle, however, is no small task. When developing a new place branding campaign, it’s important to consider the following:

  •  Create a tagline and logo that can distill the essence of your location into a few short words and images. In most cases, your tagline should gesture toward a fundamental truth about the location you’re describing. If it doesn’t, then your tagline is going to be superficial and won’t resonate. Once you’ve settled on a tagline, it must be formulated in a pithy and memorable fashion.
  • While taglines and logos are important and perhaps the most high-profile elements of a place branding campaign, you also need to think deeply about the fundamental nature of the place you’re branding. Think about the location’s existing public identity. How does people current view the area? Do they think about it at all? How would you like them to think about the area?
  • Place branding should be more than an inventory of the features and attributes of your location. If you’re surrounding by green space and mountains, think about how this environment makes people feel, rather than dwelling on superficial physical characteristics.
  • Once you’ve settled on some branding ideas, interrogate them rigorously. Are your ideas going to resonate with a large and diverse group of people? Is your branding concept original and compelling enough to truly create a fixed identity within the public’s consciousness?
  • Once you’ve settled on a place branding concept, you’ll need to market and advertise through various channels and create a tailored plan to reach the audiences you’re targeting. Yet it’s imperative to view place branding within a larger strategic context. This shouldn’t be a task solely for marketing people. Place branding should be top of mind for urban planners, city managers, architects, officials — everyone who plays a significant role in the operation and promotion of a jurisdiction.

Finding the Right Place Branding Partner

At Bigeye, we’re domain experts in place branding –– and we have the full stack of advertising and marketing tools you need to reach the largest audience possible. Contact us today for more information about how we can help turn your location into a destination.

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