Destination vs Place Branding and why it matters

Simon Anholt, Managing Editor of ‘Place Branding’ (2005), states that ” Brand’ is one of those jargon words like ‘trauma’ and ‘phobia’ which serve for years, performing a humble descriptive role within their own specialist sector. Then, for some reason, the specialist sector suddenly becomes the focus of public attention, and there is a mad rush for the jargon. Words get appropriated, first by journalists, then by the population at large and finally by politicians, and used for all the wrong purposes in all the wrong places. The words quickly lose their edge and are eventually discarded because they do not seem to work properly any more“. 

Anholt’s analysis couldn’t be closer to the truth: brand has become a word to describe a plethora of processes and procedures, products and services, meanings and attributes. When ‘brand’ is placed within the realm of the public sector, then definitions become crucial; and when branding and brand development occur for a place or a destination, then we need to take a step back and reconsider what is it that we are trying to achieve and through which methods and channels. 

When one discusses place branding, the conversation becomes even more abstract simply because places are not products on supermarket shelves or are not subject to approvals by marketing departments; how do we then brand a place, why should we and how is this branding process different from branding a destination? 

 

 

BASICS OF DESTINATION BRANDING

Breathtaking mountains or the best of the aqua vita, destinations are what we long for. The places for discerning tourists or unconventional travelers, destinations excite and elate spirits since the beginning of time. Enter destination branding, the essential process for promoting a specific tourist product or trait of a destination.

Destination branding is driven by three main considerations: 

Reputation  as the sum of the beliefs or opinions about the destination.

Identity driven by authenticity, unique selling points of the destination, consistency and strong personality.

Perception  made of immaterial experiences, subjective, in the mind of consumers.

CAN A PLACE BE A BRAND?

While many are familiar with destination branding and destination brand building as a process for creating identities for destinations for mainly tourist purposes, place branding is less known as a terminology. While destination marketing’s main focus is on the attraction of tourists and visitors coming from abroad, the branding of a place covers a wider target audience and rests upon a more holistic approach in branding exactly what it says:a place. That means it is aimed not only as an attraction for tourists, but also towards attracting inward investment and businesses as well as the attraction of people and talents. 

WHERE DOES PLACE BRANDING TAKE PLACE?

In this sense, the formation of place brands is based on the bespoke ways in which people use different place  elements to form their associations but also on a second level, the ways through which these associations interact with each other and, therefore, change constantly. Through the result of these associations, through this space of immaterial matter, place brand is formed and evaluated.

 

As a step-by-step approach, there are three layers through which place branding takes place:

-Placing the identity in the context

-Formulate the perceived image

-Formulate the projected image

As a general rule, the place branding process does occur between the lines. It is not a matter of putting together visuals or key messages but about creating strong, authentic and consistent brand positioning and essentially building a  reputation based on a coherent, compelling and unique sense of
place.

To quote the author we mention at the beginning of this article, ‘the underlying theme of …[branding]… is that branding, if it is to serve its real purpose in the world, is not something you add on top: it is something that goes underneath”. This means that we need to carefully explore the identities of the places we seek to brand and work our way through the established culture and not attempt to create a brand new (pun intended) narrative. Essentially, building a place branding requires adopting a view based on the relationship between the place brand and place identity.