Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Branding Places

According the World Travel and Tourism Council (, travel and tourism “contributes 9.5 percent to the global economy in 2013…and could generate as many as 5.1 million jobs by 2015 in the G20 economies.”[i] When one considers that businesses, residents and event and meeting planners also choose one place over another, it is no wonder that cities, regions and countries are branding themselves in earnest.

Places are some of the most interesting things to brand. This phenomenon has been labeled “place branding,” “geo-branding” and “destination marketing” among other labels. In some respects, branding places is no different than branding anything else. Finding the most powerful and unique image for the place (“unique value proposition” or “brand position”) is the most important activity. After that, building awareness is next most important. Both of these activities assume that the requisite research has been done with the most advantageous and receptive target audiences.

I have been fortunate enough to help people in Bangkok, Thailand develop strategies to position their city as a global fashion center. I have also helped brand downtown Tampa (FL) as a great place to live for people who appreciate urban living on Florida’s Gulf Coast. And I have conducted brand positioning research for Rochester, NY to help that city reposition itself.

Following are some of the general classes of things that can define a place:
  • A natural feature – Niagara Falls, The Grand Canyon, Mt. Everest, the Amazon rain forest, Lake Tahoe, the Matterhorn, Lake Como, Iceland’s volcanoes, hot springs and other natural features
  • Distinctive architecture – Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Burj Al-Arab Hotel in Dubai, UAE, Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain
  • Unique or preeminent museums or other cultural attractions – the Louvre in Paris, France, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art on New York, New York, Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand
  • Well known events or festivals – Charleston, South Carolina’s Spoleto Festival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s Carnival, the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, Fez (Morocco) Festival of World Sacred Music, Mongolia’s National Naadam Festival, Milan’s fashion shows, Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, the running of the bulls in Pamplona Spain, Tour de France, Indianapolis 500
  • Unusual or distinctive histories – the Killing Fields of Cambodia, founding of the Mormon Church in Palmyra, New York, arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts, site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York
  • Destination resorts or theme parks – Disney World in Orlando, Florida, casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, country music venues in Branson, Missouri
  • Distinctive outdoor recreational features – skiing in the Rocky Mountains or the Alps, scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico or the Turks and Caicos, mountain climbing in the Himalayas
  • Desirable weather, seasonal or year-round – Spain’s sunny Mediterranean coast, San Diego, California’s year-round temperate weather, Hawaii’s year-round temperate weather, the appeal of Florida or Arizona to northerners during the winter, coastal Maine’s appeal during the summer
  • A unique environmental aesthetic – adobe architecture in Sante Fe, New Mexico, traditional western feel in Jackson, Wyoming, art deco in South Miami Beach, Miami, Florida, Spanish Moorish architecture in Kansas City, Missouri’s Country Club Plaza shopping and entertainment district, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana, New England shingle style architecture in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Bruge, Belgium’s Middle Age architecture, Esfahan, Iran’s Naghsh-e Jahan Square with its Iranian and Islamic architecture, Venice, Italy’s canals
  • General aesthetic appeal – Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada’s neo-classical architecture and floral landscaping, Québec City (Québec, Canada) with its European flavor and French heritage
  • Distinctive wildlife – orang-utans and rafflesia in Borneo, koala bears and kangaroos in Australia, polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, lions, giraffes, elephants and hippos on Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain

As you might gather from the previous list, aesthetics are important. Strict zoning and codes, scenic vistas, landscaping, parks, boulevards, hanging flower baskets, statues and fountains all add to a place’s appeal as do historical sites and markers. Water features (ocean, rivers, canals, lakes and ponds) also add to the appeal, especially if they provide for recreation, scenic vistas and strolling. Festival and event banners can add to the feeling of a place. Architectural authenticity, uniqueness and environmental consistency add to a place’s appeal. General cleanliness is also desirable.

Wayfinding is important. Public maps and directional signing help tourists and residents alike. Bicycle lanes and bicycle and walking paths are always a plus. Some municipalities encourage bike rentals as a more pleasant and environmentally friendly way to experience their place. Good public transportation enhances a place’s appeal as well. Europe’s interconnected networks of trains or an increasing number of cities’ light rail systems are examples of this. Some cities use cable cars, trolleys, double-decker buses, horse drawn carriages or amphibious vehicles as tourist attractions themselves. Buildings should have pedestrian-friendly/attractive street level frontages. Strategically placed clean public restrooms are also important.

It is essential for a place to take inventory of its assets to determine which of those are unique and compelling to each of its target audiences.

[i] “Governments need to increase people’s freedom to travel, to capitalize on Travel & Tourism’s growth potential.” World Travel & Tourism Council.

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