Place branding: collaboration and empowerment in a post-Brexit landscape

Dinnie_KeithDr Keith Dinnie is Programme Leader of MA Strategic Branding and Stakeholder Communication at Middlesex University. Here he explores how the UK’s brand might be affected by Brexit. 

Brands and branding are all-pervasive in contemporary society. Originally applied simply to physical products, the techniques of brand management are now applied in almost every walk of life, whether it be the branding of services, places, political parties, sports teams or people.

One of the most significant developments in recent years has been the increasing attention paid by places to the importance of managing their reputation in the eyes of a range of potential audiences, including investors, tourists, students and consumers. This has led to the rise of place branding, whereby cities, regions and nations draw upon the techniques of brand management in order to achieve various goals. For example, there is currently much interest in how the UK’s brand will be affected by Brexit.

ICON model

Based on my research into place branding over several years, I have developed the ICON model, which provides a framework for the development and implementation of place brand strategy. The model proposes that good practice in place branding is characterised by adopting an approach that is integrated, contextualised, organic and new.

An integrated approach to place branding involves high levels of inter-agency collaboration, as well as collaborative public-private sector programmes. A natural setting for the encouragement of inter-agency collaboration at nation brand level, for example, lies in a country’s network of embassies in foreign countries.

Photo by Camilo Rueda Lopez (CC 2.0)

Photo by Camilo Rueda Lopez (CC 2.0)

Organic dimension

Place branding must be contextualised rather than conducted according to an off-the-shelf template; strategy should respond both to stakeholder needs and capabilities and should also match the values of target audiences. This implies granting a reasonable degree of empowerment to professionals on the ground in foreign settings, such as diplomats and trade and investment officials, so that the place brand is customised appropriately to the values of local populations and target audiences.

Policy makers should acknowledge that place branding, like other forms of branding in the age of digitally empowered citizens, is not totally under the control of official authorities. There is an organic dimension to place branding that should be welcomed rather than resented. A place brand evolves not according to a tightly controlled master plan, but subject to a plethora of activities and incidents that may be planned or unplanned. Many of these unplanned elements will emerge organically from the place’s identity and culture in the form of books, films, sporting performances, music and art that make an impact on perceptions of a city, region or country.

Challenges and opportunities

To be noteworthy and interesting for domestic and international audiences, a place brand should deliver something that is new. This could take the form of innovative products, services and experiences or at a more abstract level the creation of new place-related narratives. Returning to the issue of Brexit, the UK now finds itself in a radically new situation. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the UK to forge a new reputation on the global stage. Time will tell whether this challenge has been adequately addressed.

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