• Transform magazine
  • February 28, 2021


Why place branding is not about the logo


Can you define a place with a word? Asked by Julian Stubbs, founder of UP THERE, EVERYWHERE (UP) and creator of the International Place Branding Event Liverpool 2018, this question encapsulated last week’s day-long place branding event held in the regenerating docklands area of Liverpool.

Attended by agencies, place brand experts, destination marketers and creatives across all industries, the International Place Branding Event Liverpool 201 or 'It’s Not About The Logo' (#itsnotaboutthelogo) highlighted the diversity of thought behind many place brand strategies present in Europe today.

Prefaced with a drinks reception in the entrance of Liverpool’s iconic Titanic Hotel, the pinnacle of UP’s place branding series was a chance for experts and thinkers in the place branding field to collaborate and share ideas. Hosted in Liverpool, UK, a city which reflects the transformative power of successful place branding, the Beatles (who else?) provided the background to the day’s events. Penny Lane rang out as the 150 delegates took their seats armed with croissants and coffee for the day ahead, curated masterfully by former BBC present Maddy Savage.

The morning sessions allowed plenty of room for place exploration, without leaving the comfort of the Titanic Hotel’s old Rum Warehouse - a legacy of the city’s export economy. ‘The brand is not the territory,’ explained Gary Warnaby, professor of place branding at Manchester Metropolitan University. Many places are imagined territories and therefore cannot be reduced to a singular visual representation - a sentiment later echoed in an evocative talk by broadcast journalist Ritula Shah. Instead, says Warnaby, results of place brand research must take a relational perspective. Representation should be based on the realities inside the territories - or why would anyone return?

And this theme of representation threaded throughout the day and into the talks offered by various place brand actors. For Stefan Nöthen, balancing a representation of Hamburg somewhere between its authentic, grassroots activism and opening of a new philharmonic concert hall meant eschewing traditional marketing conventions. For Nöthen and his team, word of mouth became the most effective method of communication, followed by an influential social media community that could tap into all groups invested in Hamburg’s future. A bottom-up approach, says Nöthen, creates an authenticity that translates to how the brand is received worldwide.

And, while not a city, the same approach has worked for Jukkasjärvi. A locality situated in the north of Sweden, its now-famous ice hotel attracts 50,000 visitors a year. But, explains Graeme Richardson, creating an experience around the place brand is vital. This goes truly beyond the logo; there’s no use in relying on gimmicks without offering an authentic experience behind the materiality. This sentiment was echoed too in Frans van der Avert’s talk. From the man behind the eponymous Amsterdam city logo, favoured by visitors and equally derided by locals, this might be somewhat surprising.

But, like in Barcelona, through public-private partnerships creative and commercial opportunities are arising in Amsterdam. These allow organisations and individuals immersed in the city’s experience to truly get beyond the logo, or marketing campaign, or social media channels and showcase the city’s wealth of offering. And to then retain this new generation of visitors and residents, a place must be willing to accommodate all needs, said Kim Heinen, international press officer for the City of Rotterdam. This means being open to press coverage and catering for journalists. Through unique media channels, contacts extend the channels of knowledge from the city and reach further than any marketing campaign operating in a silo ever could.

In a finishing gambit by Stubbs, the relationship between flexibility in employment and developing an open, outward-facing place brand was emphasised. A lack of flexible working, says Stubbs, is a hindrance to future place brand development.

Despite losing the UEFA Champion’s League the previous weekend, Liverpool’s spirits remained high. Based on the reality inside the territory, says Chris Brown, director of Marketing Liverpool, the city was moving forward, making progress and using its legacy as European Capital of Culture 2008 to physically regenerate. Emotionally too, the city has matured into one of the most sought-after destinations in the UK. 

For more from Transform magazine, follow us on Twitter @Transformsays

UP has also launched a podcast to coincide with the International Place Branding Event Liverpool 2018. Focusing on international place branding case studies, destination marketing and featuring influential speakers in the field of place branding, the podcast is presented by Up There Everywhere CEO, Julian Stubbs and is soon available to download.