• Transform magazine
  • September 26, 2022

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Is there a place for ‘place’ in an effective branding strategy?

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Nikki Moeschinger, managing director at BrandOpus (Australia), considers the concept of utilising ‘place’ in branding. While some can do it very successfully, such as the Australian state of Tasmania, she explains why brands shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket.

Tasmania, the southern-most state of Australia, is beautiful, cold, full of raw, natural, unadulterated wonder. As a brand, it’s done an excellent job of building on those associations to create a positioning that’s unique, a positioning that other brands born there want to piggyback.

This isn’t unique to Tasmania. There are a lot of brands, all over the world, tying their fortunes to countries, regions and cities, short-cutting to pre-existing associations of those particular places. It makes sense, in theory; it builds community spirit and pride, and appeals to increasing demands by consumers for transparency and authenticity.

Who can imagine the BBC without the ‘British’? Or KFC without ‘Kentucky’?

But there are several challenges when aligning your brand to just a place. From changes in perception, to lifestyle shifts and most commonly, popularity. When a place becomes popular, quite often many brands will align themselves to it, all trying to own the same place in the minds of consumers, which is, of course, the opposite of effective branding.

Only being Tasmanian doesn’t make you different. It just makes you more of the same in a smaller set.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for ‘place’. Place has always been an effective way to indicate premium. Historically, specificity meant uniqueness. Whether it’s terroir in wine, the water in Ireland that makes Guinness taste like Guinness, or how Maybelline taps into the promised young, fun and fast-paced lifestyle of New York. Qualities that come from geography are not easily replicated.

As these brands highlight, the real opportunity is to take cues from the place of origin, harking back to its expertise and craft while imbuing a new layer of unique meaning.

To stand out in a crowded category, brands should be trying to find an ownable idea which elevates above and beyond product and place, yet still clearly aligns with it. In other words, create a strong connection between product, place and brand. Here, place will become a powerful secondary asset, but not the only asset. They need to work harmoniously together.

At BrandOpus, our work with Canadian beer brand Creemore Springs was able to elevate brand meaning above the physical locale, yet still relate to it.  Anchored in a tiny quaint town in Ontario, Canada, the rebrand united values of the place (small town with a big heart) with the brand’s values (small batch and full of craft). The brand idea of ‘Crafting with Pride’ belonged to both Creemore (the place) and its unique blend of beer.

So, if you’re looking to create a brand with a sense of place:

  1. Craft a clear and distinctive creative idea that connects your brand, place and product and bake it through your entire brand experience. From identity and packaging, right through to comms, there needs to be a common thread at every consumer touchpoint.
  2. Harness the power of symbolism to activate meaning quickly. Use symbols as ownable and distinctive brand assets - especially at a brand identity level, to link your brand with the implicit qualities that exist in culture about that particular location.

Whether you choose to align yourself with a specific place or not, all brands need to present themselves to the world in a way that’s distinctive, memorable and meaningful to be effective. Be mindful, that while regionality can ground you and make you genuine, it can also make you generic.