Thursday, November 1, 2007

First Comments

This is my first post on the new blog, so it has to be on the main issue. And the main issue is - as it has been ever since I first started writing about this subject - what do we mean by place branding/nation branding?

So, I don't want to nag, but let me stress for about the millionth time that Place Branding is not a marketing or communications discipline. It's not about how places promote or 'sell' themselves. It's not about slogans, logos, PR campaigns or other forms of advertising. It's not tourism promotion. It's not government spin or propaganda.

Place Branding simply recognises that, in the modern world, the reputations of places are incredibly important to their prosperity and progress. Places with powerful and positive reputations find that all their transactions with other places are relatively easy and productive, while places with weak or negative reputations find that everything is relatively difficult.

In other words, places, just like companies, have brand images, and those brand images are crucial to their performance. This is where the term 'place brand' comes from.

What proper place branding doesn't claim - and never has - is that countries or cities can improve or enhance their reputations in the same way that companies can. You can sell a product or a service with advertising campaigns, but places aren't products.

Most places have, over many years, acquired a certain image because of the things they have done, the things they have made, the way they have made or done these things, or perhaps because of the things they haven't done or made. This gradually creates a very stable, very deeply rooted set of beliefs or prejudices about the kind of country or city it is.

And you simply can't change that fixed belief by buying advertising space and arguing with people about your image, or contradicting what they already believe. People know what that is: it's called propaganda, and it doesn't work any more.

So the phrase I would like to have engraved on my tombstone (he added cheerfully) is this:

A reputation cannot be constructed. It can only be earned.

So place branding is a strategic, policy-making approach, designed to help places build on the strengths that will earn them a better reputation.

It takes time, commitment, imagination, leadership and energy. It takes close coordination between government, companies and civil society: because all three are co-owners and co-managers of their nation's or city's reputation.

Your thoughts on this and on any other matters are very welcome and much appreciated.

This is a big, difficult, important and complex subject. Almost every day, as I travel around the world working with governments on their policies and strategies, new aspects and new questions about this discipline come to light. So over the next, ooh, twenty-seven years or so, I will try to jot these thoughts and dilemmas down on this blog as they emerge.