Why do place brands fail? The mistakes of the places. Part 2

Previously, we mentioned that 86% of place brands fail. Then, we first examined the mistakes that brand consultants commit. Today, we will talk about the other half of the equation: The errors that places make. This essay is the second installment of our three-article series.



As always, let’s start by stating the obvious: a brand is more than a logo. If you want to succeed, you should not design a logo and say: “Mazal tov! Your city has officially become a brand.” In real life, it does not work that way. According to Simon Anholt, a leading place-branding consultant, people’s perception of a place is influenced by six factors. Iconic place brands deliver adequately on all of the six pillars listed below. A tall order, for sure.

  1. Exports – Determines the public’s image of products and services from each country and the extent to which consumers proactively seek or avoid products from each country-of-origin. (This could be city-specific too.)
  2. Governance – Measures public opinion regarding the level of national government competency and fairness and describes individuals’ beliefs about each country’s government, as well as its perceived commitment to global issues such as democracy, justice, poverty and the environment. (It could be interpreted as the municipal government.)
  3. Culture and Heritage – Reveals global perceptions of each nation’s (city’s) heritage and appreciation for its contemporary culture, including film, music, art, sport, and literature.
  4. People – Measures the population’s reputation for competence, education, openness and friendliness and other qualities, as well as perceived levels of potential hostility and discrimination.
  5. Tourism – Captures the level of interest in visiting a country (city) and the draw of natural and man-made tourist attractions.
  6. Investment and Immigration – Determines the power to attract people to live, work or study in each country and reveals how people perceive a country’s economic and social situation. (Again, we can replace country with a city.)

Here is something you should keep in mind: Your place brand does not exist on a piece of paper or website. Ultimately, it exists in the mind of the people. Your brand is the tourists’; investors’ and citizens’ gut feelings about your city.

As the pillars mentioned above show, the formation of a place brand is much more complicated than that of a corporate brand. If the officials of your town think that branding is primarily a visual and promotional exercise, then your chance of success is drastically diminished.

Based on my experience, successful place branding projects are U-shaped. Believe it or not, your competition should not be your starting point. First, you must dive deep, explore within. In a way, it is a meditation-like process. As a city, you have to understand who you are, what you value, and what story you are living. At this point, archetypal thinking is instrumental. Once you achieve consensus on concise, precise and compelling answers, you should start communicating externally.

The most common mistake while branding a city is to think of branding as an aesthetic exercise. Design without strategy is called decoration. Yet, such perceptions are not the only obstacle. There are more! On the next article, we will talk more about human centered-mistakes that places commit.
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