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Why More Cities and Towns are Taking on Place Branding

Read why place branding has become a key differentiation strategy for cities and towns seeking to compete for a larger share of tourism dollars.

Corporations have long known the value of branding — and in the age of social media influencers, personal branding has also become routine. Yet there’s another branding category that often flies beneath the radar: Place branding.

Let’s take a closer look at how smart place branding works and why more cities and towns are engaging in the practice.

Why place branding has become a critical differentiator

Great branding tells a story and helps establish an identity. Companies use it to connect with consumers; people brand themselves for competitive positioning and places use branding to help generate tourism revenue.

Travel is now the second-fastest growing industry in the world. The travel and tourism sector generated a staggering $8.8 trillion in global revenue in 2018, generated 319 million jobs and was responsible for roughly 10% of all worldwide economic activity.

Why is the travel and tourism sector growing with such rapidity? Two reasons: First, globalization has lifted tens of millions of people into the middle class over the last decade. These people now have the resources to travel.

Second, travel has become ever more desirable. Instagram and other social media platforms have made documenting vacations a global obsession. Millennials and Gen Z prize experiences over items, and few experiences can compare with travel.

This means there is a massive – and ever growing — tourist revenue pie for cities to split. Barcelona and other major tourist hubs are dealing with an epidemic of overtourism, which has created a market opportunity for other cities and town to pursue some of these tourist dollars.

So how do these locations best compete for travelers? In most cases, through smart and well executed place branding.

How Place Branding Works

Years ago, cities and towns were competing against other regional municipalities for tourist money. Today, they have the power to market themselves globally.

There’s a problem, however: Most of the information in guidebooks and online resources is outdated and superficial. In order to draw tourists in significant numbers, cities and towns need to take a strategic and creative approach to creating a brand narrative — something that can be done by partnering with a place branding agency.

What does an example of well-executed place branding look like? Consider the case of Austin, Texas. For most of its existence, Austin was a sleepy college town with no national profile — a very junior brother to Houston and Dallas.

Austin had something that larger Texas cities lacked, however: An incredibly diverse and eclectic music and arts scene. City officials leaned into this, promoting Austin as a world capital of live music and reinforcing the city’s status as a creative hub for talented misfits. “Keep Austin Weird” became a civic mantra and rallying cry during this period.

Today, Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the US. It hosts the massive South By Southwest festival and draws more than 50 million visitors annually.

This kind of strategic push and creative thinking eclipses the limited, catch phrase and logo-based place branding of a few decades ago — think “I Love NY” or “Virginia is for Lovers.” It shows that cities and towns need to determine what makes them special and then engage their own people, places and institutions in an effort to tell that story to the wider world. They need to go beyond the guidebook — and really think about the singular experiences that only their community can offer visitors.

In a travel-crazed world, that’s a brand story that a lot of people will want to hear.

Finding the right brand identity design company

Effective place marketing isn’t easy — it helps to have the services of a truly top drawer neighborhood marketing firm. The right agency can help your city or town develop a marketing plan that goes beyond routine local attractions and delivers the unique experiences that travelers are seeking.

Call Bigeye today to learn more about what inspired place branding can do for you.

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