21 June 2005

Place branding. Not so new.


We were recently sent an article by a Canadian contact from enRoute magazine [‘This Brand is Your Brand’] on the ‘new’ profession of place branding. Not so new, we say. Place branding, whether a country, city, region, suburb or development, has been here for some time. Consider this 1938 quote, “A great city goes out beyond its borders, to all the latitudes of the known earth. The city becomes an emblem in remote minds; it exerts its cultural instrumentality in a thousand phases”. While we now have a more formal approach, the development of place brand strategies, understanding places as brands is not really new...we just now want to overtly manage them, or in some instances, such as a recent project we completed in Newcastle Australia, create them.

But yes, there is more discussion about places as brands. In part, this is because we are starting to more fully understand the holistic nature of brands but also because as people, we are now defining ourselves by where we live. Some interesting research has been undertaken to support this by Richard Florida, ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’, Professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

A true sign of the longevity of place branding is the recent outbreak of place brand generics...MCentral apartments in Sydney, recently claimed “genuine New York apartments”. The key is that even to those who have never been to New York, a style, emotion and mood is evoked by use of the term “New York”. Place branding can also be used effectively to re-generate an ailing geographic area. Parramatta Australia tried this in 2002, only to be thwarted by town planning problems.

What is vital, as with all branding, is that the brand is not artificially created, but is based on research and reality. When undertaking place branding for Lee Wharf Newcastle, we conducted multiple site visits, interviews with Newcastle residents [the true owners of a place brand] and lots of ‘digging’ in the historical section of Newcastle library. Place branding is also subject to the co-authoring processes of its inhabitants, who over time, assist in the shape and fashion of the place brand.

enRoute also refers to the importance of change in regards to place brands and even national identities; “radical thinking about our national futures is precisely the mindset required”. Which only supports Florida’s argument that “quality of place” is closely linked with our view of ourselves, hence we now define ourselves by where we live, not what we do.

Satellite image of Sydney copyright NASA 1996

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