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1st June 2022 - By: Rachel Collison

What Is Place Branding?

Place Branding

Place branding is the idea that a place, a town, a city, or a region can be branded – given an identity and have branding techniques and marketing strategies applied to drive a marketing campaign. Much in the same way a product, service or business can. The brief for ‘place branding’ is often to raise the economic, political and cultural development of said place.

Successful place branding can put a neighbourhood, city or region firmly on the map, connect people and promote collaboration, boost residents’ and businesses’ sense of belonging and pride in an area, and guide the next phase in the place’s development.

One of the most iconic and successful logos for a ‘place’ is ingrained in everyone’s psyche.

I heart New York.

Designed by Milton Glazer, it was part of a wider marketing campaign in the 1970s that promoted tourism through special holiday packages and nationwide advertising campaigns featuring stars like Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli. It’s simple and cosmopolitan, helping the city, to be frank, out of a bit of a hole.

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In 1977, New York City was in chaos, riddled with crime. Unions across the city ran a campaign called “Welcome to Fear City” that scared off tourists. It was a city on the brink. They faced huge financial insolvency and employment challenges.

The New York Department of Commerce decided to invest in a branding campaign upping the budget from $400,000 to $4.3 million.

The rest is history. The brand was credited with more than tripling the state’s visitor spending revenue. A true testament to the power of branding, still demonstrating ROI 45 years later.

The process

Place branding is rooted in the brand identity process. It is built by conducting market research, teaming up with residents, organisations, businesses, visitors and other stakeholders to define the unique mix of core values ​​that tell its story.

Places are steeped in history, culture and each has its own ecosystem. Whoever takes on place branding needs to be sensitive to the nuances between different locations. The branding needs to evoke a sense of what the area is like, promote this and what it has to offer to visitors.

Most obviously used for tourism marketing campaigns for key holiday destinations, cities and countries have embraced the place branding marketing strategy in recent years. There is a clear understanding of the benefit of implementing branding and marketing strategies to manage their reputation and image.

Some more examples of place branding

One of the most successful city brand identity campaigns is that of multi-award-winning Porto from 2014. With this campaign it’s all in the execution.

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The strong visual brand identity of Porto is based on a simplification of the iconic and detailed blue tiles found throughout the city. Similarly, this branding is visible everywhere in the city, and there’s a clear investment in the execution of this brand awareness campaign. It ties everything together and gives the place a sense of coherence and togetherness. What’s clear here is the consistency of the message.

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The tourist information offices in Paris developed a new brand identity and logo in 2016. By including the Eiffel Tower into the typography as the ‘A’, it instantly plays homage to one of the most iconic tourist attractions in the world which is authentically Paris to its heart. It is memorable, playful and simple. It encapsulates history with a modern, almost timeless feel.

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Brand identity isn’t just a logo, as can be demonstrated here. When the Paris logo sits with the other visual assets it comes alive. These creative marketing assets are then used in print and digital marketing campaigns.

Paris, France tourism board magazine

Is place branding just for the big cities?

No. With the recent pandemic restricting travel and the knock-on effect of higher living costs, more people are travelling closer to home. Helping towns stand out among the more obvious tourist destinations and supporting local businesses within towns is more important now than ever.

As part of the BID (Business Improvement District), Shrewsbury, a market town in Shropshire invested in place branding. Based on a large original black and white pattern, it nods towards the many wood-beamed Tudor buildings in the town. It also chose a strap line – ‘The Original One-off’ – to highlight the many unique, artisan businesses in the town. This town has not been overrun by high street brands which is something it is very proud of. The designs are consistent throughout the town’s marketing strategy, social media, print media and website design.

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Even ‘areas’ of cities can benefit from their own place brand. Leicester Square is one of the most popular areas of London and draws bustling crowds but it still faces tough competition when it comes to visitors. A partnership between the Heart of London Business Alliance and local governing body Westminster Council oversaw a renewed place branding strategy. They focused on its credentials as an entertainment hub with famous film premieres taking place there. Cementing Leicester Square as ‘the home of entertainment.’

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Lantern Agency, who designed the branding, said: “The positioning statement informs a new brand identity system. The logo captures its very essence – a heart, an upturned ‘L’ pointing to the centre of London, a pin on a map and the glowing lights of a 24-hour entertainment hub. The letters ‘LSQ’ reflect a common usage shorthand version of the area’s name – often used online and across social media.”

To sum up;

A strong narrative is at the heart of place branding. It’s important to discover the key elements; location, history, culture, community and also future aspirations. The market research should look at how the place is currently positioned and where it wants to be, or where it could possibly be positioned. Its values, its principles. It gives the place the opportunity to control its own narrative and potentially rise-up and shake off any negative associations of the past and place themselves where they want to be in the future. Ultimately, place branding is aspirational.

Following on from place branding, identity and logo is then the communication strategy of the new identity – the marketing campaign. Today having a clear and consistent digital marketing presence across social media channels, website and digital ads is as important as having posters, signs, banners, leaflets, brochures and other marketing materials for a ‘place’, if not more so.  

Brand identity has been proven to increase tourism, improve its local market and reputation and attract potential investors, instilling a sense of pride for its residents and businesses.

Which one if your favourite? Can you think of any more examples of place branding – we’d love to hear them!