• Transform magazine
  • July 01, 2022


First hybrid City Nation Place conference explores place branding post-Covid-19

Airplane sky

The seventh City Nation Place Global conference explored the current state of city, nation and place branding, what the future holds, and which brand strategies will drive the recovery of place economies.

Place branding and marketing professionals from around the world gathered online and in-person in London for City Nation Place’s first ever global hybrid conference, which looked at place branding in the new world post-Covid-19. The conference focused on how sustainability and digitalisation, two themes that have gained increased attention because of the pandemic, are key in the future of place branding.

The day opened with the ‘Crystal Ball’ session, which looked at how the pandemic affected the core tenets of place brand strategies, such as civic pride, talent attraction and tourism. After establishing the Covid-19 effects, the five panel experts, which included the likes of Visit Berlin, Visit Philadelphia and Visit Britain, made predictions on the future role of place brands. According to Øyvind Såtvedt managing director of Oslo Region Alliance, the places and countries that adopt more sustainable solutions and make diversity and inclusion a standard part of their place branding strategy, will be more competitive moving forwards.

Covid-19 has allowed for countries to prioritise the environment by starting from zero and building from the ground-up. “The pandemic is an opportunity to look at how to incentivise investment and rebuild place brands in a better way,” said Patricia Yates, deputy CEO of Visit Britain/ Visit England.

The importance of sustainability and sustainable values in place branding was further explored in the first breakout session of the day, ‘How to engage international audiences in your place brand’s sustainable values.’ Hosted by The New York Times, the session used data from NYT readership to explore how international audiences respond to climate change news and sustainable brand storytelling.

“With environment and sustainability now being one of the top priorities for most people across the world, the brands that share consumer values and can adapt their messaging to demonstrate their concrete actions will win,” said Véronique Feldmann, pre-sale director and strategist at T Brand Studio International, an NYT custom content studio.

The data showed that NYT readers want to get to know the local community when visiting somewhere new, are willing to avoid tourist activities that negatively affect the environment and seek to explore new travel options to reduce their carbon footprints. Taking into consideration these audience insights, brands need to connect their purposes with their products and services, be transparent and specific, use visualise storytelling to demonstrate their impact and use authentic voices to build trust.

Aside from sustainability, brands also need to think of their digital strategy post-pandemic. The panel of the Crystal Ball session agreed that place branding should take full advantage of the increase in digitalisation that was born out of Covid-19. This includes creating digital platforms and ecosystems where people, including investors, can interact virtually in and focusing more on AI, which will soon render websites obsolete.

In the ‘A digital brand for a world of changed interaction’ session the Helsinki Marketing director and the Visit Estonia director looked at how the city and country respectively recreated their stories and values for a digital world.

During Covid-19 Helsinki Marketing developed ‘Helsinki Freedom,’ a campaign that was built as part of a city-wide talent attraction programme, targeting specifically tech-talents that would help Helsinki companies grow. In addition to mini-documentaries and other elements, the campaign included a home-delivered box of ‘Helsinki freedom,’ which included ten items representative of the top ten freedoms of the city. The box used a combination of physical space, digital space and human touch to raise awareness of the Helsinki city brand while reaching new people in their homes during the pandemic, when it was otherwise impossible to interact.

The conference also included a session that shared the first insights of a place brand measurement study carried out by Bloom Consulting. The study’s preliminary research found that despite Covid-19 crisis budgets are similar to pre pandemic levels and that after overhead costs, marketing holds the biggest share of the overall budget. Although half of the countries and cities don’t have an ongoing place brand strategy, they have identified that building awareness of place brand values is the most important objective.

The study aims to first measure how much a place’s positive perceptions impact its economic or social performance and then create correlations between proactive efforts in managing a nation or place brand and economic performance. To do so, Bloom Consulting seeks to gather relevant data to understand the current situation and what efforts are being undertaken by countries, regions and cities.

The conference closed by announcing the 2021 City Nation Place Awards winners, which celebrate best practice in place branding and marketing. The winners include Helsinki Marketing, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Visit Iceland, Zuidoost District Amsterdam and Brand Tasmania.