Place Branding: A Complementary Strategy for Economic Development

Today places are more than just markets, they are products and can be consciously branded (Fanning, 2015; Järvisalo, 2012). Places compete in the global economy for their share of the world’s investors, consumers, tourists, businesses, positive media attention and diplomatic power (Anholt, 2007). To be competitive, places must actively build, promote and manage distinctive brands (Järvisalo, 2012).


Branding is an extremely valuable component of an economic development strategy, as a successful brand will position a place or product[1] to create perceived customer value and can lead to a competitive advantage (Buncle & Keup, 2009).  Unfortunately most marketers confuse branding with promotional slogans and superficial design, such as gloss and logos (Järvisalo, 2012).

Instead, branding is really about creating understanding for a product1 and differentiating it from competitors (Clifton & Simmons, 2003; Järvisalo, 2012). It is the process of “designing, planning and communicating the name and identity in order to build or manage the reputation of a” product or organisation (Anholt, 2007).  Therefore a successful brand is defined as “an identifiable product, service, person or place, augmented in such a way that the buyer or user perceives relevant unique added values which match their needs most closely” (DeChernatony & McDonald cited in Grillot, 2007).

In developing a brand, marketers need to strategically consider and design the four elements of a brand, being:

  • Brand Identity –the core component of a product. That is, what is assertively communicated through visuals such as logos, packaging, product design;
  • Brand image – the perception of a brand interpreted by the customer or wider society. Image is formed on personal or cultural values, associations, feeling, experience and expectations. Thus Images are how a customer receives and interprets a brand message;
  • Brand purpose –the unique value that a product delivers, it is the promise to the market place and therefore should represent the aims of an organisation or place; and
  • Brand equity –the desirable value that is created from developing a positive brand reputation. It is through this ‘value’ associated with a brand that leads to a brand becoming a tangible asset (Anholt, 2007).


Like the commercial world, branding is just as valuable for places. Places that build strong positive reputations are able to lift the standard of living for their residents by attracting customers such as investors, tourists, new residents and businesses, and by driving political agendas (Anholt, 2007; Taderera, 2014).

Place branding is an umbrella brand for a place’s geography, economy, culture and its people. It is an economic aspiration to reposition a place through “capturing and accumulation of reputational value through the coordination, collaboration and strategic efforts of a place’s stakeholders (government, community, business, industry bodies) to develop, communicate, maintain and adapt a place brand position to gain competitive advantage” (Anholt, 2009). Place branding must therefore supported by tangible efforts by a community’s’ leaders to improve the competitive image of a place to attract capital (Niedomysl & Jonasson, 2012).


Strategy and positioning

Typical strategy analysis looks at two broad approaches applied in place branding to create value, these are cost leadership and differentiation (Raith, Staak & Wilker, 2007). However, places must initially look at their location factors to build a brand off. This includes:

  • local assets and resources;
  • industrial sectors or clusters;
  • customers, markets and trading partners;
  • logistics and spatial connections;
  • competitors; and
  • competitiveness (quality, innovation and production capacity)(Mauroner, Oliver & Zorn, Josephine, (2017).

Sense of place

In the global economy, places can really only become distinct by having a unique sense-of-place, or as termed in the commercial sector, a value proposition (Buncle & Keup, 2009). While the term sense-of-place has many meanings, it is a holistic term for how a place is recognised by those that live there and those who do not. This is because, unlike commercial products, a place largely inherits it brand from its natural environment, culture and heritage.

When brands are tied heavily to a community’s sense of place, people identify with the brand as it reflects their self-concepts (Taderera, 2014). People are then able to act as brand advocates and the brand diffuses to other areas of society, building the brand. While a sense-of-place should not be viewed as a “panacea for economic growth”; it is the core of a place’s value proposition and therefore helps to distinguish a place in a competitive market (Buncle & Keup, 2009).

Other Key insights

  • Be strategic in setting a brand. Based on existing strengths and weaknesses, a brand should represent where the place wants to go and how it wants to be perceived,
  • Don’t be afraid to be innovative. Aim to capture new markets and create new spin offs.
  • Work collaboratively. Governments cannot brand a place alone. It must be a partnership approach and include local leaders, industry and business, urban designers, artists, community and its customers.
  • Be proud of who you are and what you offer. It is very hard to rebuild a sense of place. But community pride and sense of purpose can reunite the community, cementing the brand.
  • Make sure you deliver what you promise. Brands that sell an image that does not reflect reality are no more than marketing gloss.

[1] Products include goods, services, ideas, experiences, people and places (Fanning, 2015).


Anholt, (2007) Competitive Identify: The New Brand Management for Nations, Cities and Regions. Palgrave Macmillan: United Kingdom.

Anholt (2009) Why National Image Matters: Introductory Essay in handbook on Tourism Destinations Branding. World Tourism Organization and the European Travel Commission: Madrid.…/ETC-Handbook_on_Tourism_Destination_Branding.pdf

Buncle, T. & Keup, M, (2009) Handbook on Tourism Destinations Branding. World Tourism Organization and the European Travel Commission: Madrid…/ETC-Handbook_on_Tourism_Destination_Branding.pdf

Clifton, C. & Simmons, J. (2003) Brands and Branding, The Economist. Profile Books Ltd: London. Retrieved from the economist brand pdf

Grillot, K. M. (2007). What happened in vegas?: The use of destination branding to influence place attachments. Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304816077). Retrieved from

Holt, D (2002) Brand and Branding, Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Järvisalo, S. (2012) How to build successful city brands? -Case Munich, Berlin & Hamburg. HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences. Reterievd from…/City%20brands.pdf?…1

Mauroner, Oliver & Zorn, Josephine. (2017). Cluster branding – a case study on regional cluster initiatives, cluster management, and cluster brands. International Journal of Innovation and Regional Development. 7. 290. 10.1504/IJIRD.2017.086234.

Niedomysl, T., & Jonasson, M. (2012). Towards a theory of place marketing. Journal of Place Management and Development, 5(3), 223-230. doi:

Rivas, M (2015) Innovative Place Brand Management, Re-Learning City Branding. URBACT-CityLogo final report.

Taderera, F., Al-Nabhani, S., Bhandari, V., SundarKirubakaran, P., Al Rahbi, H. A., Karedza, G., Sundaram, S. (2014). Marketing Excellence: Myth or Reality in Oman. International Journal of Arts & Sciences, 7(4), 195-206. Retrieved from



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