Did you know that the success rate of a place-branding project is less than 15%? Turns out that most of the place-branding initiatives are prematurely ended within a year of introduction. You might think that such a high failure rate is outrageous. Unfortunately, as someone who has been involved in a couple of place branding projects, I must concur with the results of the research. Let’s see what we can do about that…
I have written extensively about the series of complex problems contributing to the failure of place branding projects. But, at the end of the day, I think it all comes down to this:
People still view place-branding projects as a design exercise, while in reality they are nothing but a change management exercise.
If we insist on treating place branding as a visual exercise, then we would state that the logo is the key deliverable. While I put a premium on visual symbols, I have to say that the yumminess of a logo is not an indicator of success. Here’s a simple reason: People do not support what they help create. People support only what they help create. That’s why for a place-branding project to be successful, the focus should be on engagement, not design.
So why do we need a logo then? According to James Hillman, the legendary psychologist, soul yearns for beautiful images. Not surprisingly, we are primarily visual creatures. So, as long as it is the right and the meaningful one, a place needs its own images. But these images should symbolize something crucial: that the place has an agreement on a common vision. Achieving that vision and successfully convincing all the key stakeholders is the primary goal of a place-branding project, not designing a logo.
Recently, Brand New reviewed Costa Rica’s new brand. Certianly, the design does not have much to talk about, which makes me wonder if it will ever speak to Costa Ricans’ soul. But there was a positive I saw in this project: it seems like key stakeholders were onboard. Usually, a place-branding project is “somebody’s baby” and all the other stakeholders would have their own agenda to “save” the place. In Costa Rica’s case, the Ministry of Foreign Trade (COMEX), the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), the Foreign Trade Promoter (PROCOMER) and the Costa Rican Coalition for Development Initiatives (CINDE) all signed off on this initiative. If this project managed to bring them all to the same page, then I would say it was a partial success.
Actionable tip of the day: Do not view place-branding projects as a design exercise. That’s a proven recipe for failure. Instead, treat them as a change management exercise. Aim for benefit realization, which is achieving a common vision and having all the stakeholders sing from the same hymn book.