Destination & City Branding

I read a post about Destination Branding on AbouTourism blog (see my blog for their presentation) a few weeks back, and this took me back to my research I conducted for my dissertation on my PR degree course. Since starting work, I have gained a great fascination with branding, tourism, events promotion and city/destination marketing so I decided to focus my work on this subject.

Why the need to create a destination or city brand?

City branding is a relatively new practice utilised by many organisations, both private and government-owned. It is a way of promoting a city and its assets to a range of audiences. Branding is used to establish a city to compete for increased investment, tourists, business, events and residents.

This practice has increased importance in today’s globally connected society and can be seen in marketing and branding practices around the world. Examples of recent city branding campaigns across the globe include the city of Beijing in the lead up to the Olympics, the ‘I am Amsterdam’ campaign and the range of cities branding themselves to compete for European Capital of Culture. The recent practice and interest has attracted the input of many academics from various disciplines who have responded by writing literature on the topic. Interest dramatically increased through the introduction of certain publications such as the ‘Place Branding and Public Diplomacy’ journal. Despite this, interest in the subject of city branding is still incredibly new. Certain areas including destination and place branding have shown more development over city branding in academic literature, and for this reason, I wanted to explore this new topic area in more detail.

It seems so simple from the outset to create a city or destination brand, market it and get people to love it! BUT, this is certainly not the case. Many cities have appeared to have tried and failed in creating an identity which is visual and usable for marketing and branding purposes.

The current climate is extremely fragile and the recent cuts and economic pressures increase the need for cities and destinations to distinguish themselves from other locations as a place for leisure, business, events, sports activities, culture bids etc. This means more and more destinations are needing a ‘face’ or a brand to put themselves forward for competitive activity – to help them stand out from the crowd.

A brilliant recent example of using events to brand a country/destination was the World Cup 2010 which took place in South Africa. The tourism agency of South Africa attempted to pull as much as they could from the increased exposure, the media coverage and the opportunity that thousands of people had booked to visit the country.

Other examples of this can be seen in smaller scaled sporting events which are held in towns and cities. The Bupa 10K runs hold a profile for the locations they are held in, several high-profile triathlon races and other charity based sporting events are a great way to profile a city or a destination as a place of ‘happening’.

My dissertation report:

My dissertation was based around 4 accessible cities which I used as case studies for the research. I had access to key contacts within the city branding field within each of the key cities. I focused my study on the local stakeholders within each city, and how the proposed ‘brands’ involved them.

Findings from my report:

  • Local stakeholder involvement is different in each city – There is no set structure to creating a city brand, and each city goes about creating and implementing their ideal brand in different ways. Some more successful than others.
  • More importance placed on local business stakeholders than residents – It was noted from the interviews that more importance was placed on engagement with local businesses, authorities and organisations than residents. Although, brand developers see reaching these groups as a way to target the local residents.
  • Partnerships with private and public sector – Research showed that city brands had developed strong partnerships with local public and private organisations.
  • Brand Ambassadors were seen as highly important in developing brands for cities. Those cities who used their ambassadors to create events and opportunities to engage with locals gained more from their brand.
  • Extracting cities talent Anholt suggests, it’s about what your city has rather than what it can say, reasons why using the people within the city to promote it are very important.
  • “Partnership” – During interviews with contacts, the word ‘partnership’ played a heavy significance throughout discussions. It was signified in all cases that city branding cannot be done without the support of the city as a whole.
  • Social mediaThe importance of transmitting your message online through various types of mediums is extremely important way to communicate your brand. The environment has changed in various ways by social media and any type of travel and branding work must follow in its footsteps.

This is a subject which I find extremely interesting and an area I will be looking more into, especially moving down the ‘sports-focused‘ route, where sports events, i.e. Olympics, World Cups, Triathlons are a cause of ‘destination-marketing’ and work together to brand that location to all types of audiences.

3 thoughts on “Destination & City Branding”

  1. This is a very good read and outlines to anyone still with their heads in the sand that branding destinations is so much more than a communications exercise.

    And I agree, sporting events are a great crowd puller but key to branding is getting those who visit to return. This requires an ongoing investment in products and offerings to ensure the destination remains an option. Once this investment is made, Social media offers the opportunity to maintain contact with those visitors to ensure they know what they’re missing!

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Senior Account Manager | Comms / Digital / PR / Marketing / Sponsorship / Sports / Travel / Entertainment

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