Learn The Secret To Place Branding: A 5 Step Approach

Place branding is everything, everywhere

Place branding is everything, everywhere.jpg

Anyone who is passionate about branding can confirm that anything can be branded, even an entire country. Place branding, also known as “geo-branding” or “destination marketing”, aims to identify and showcase the most powerful and unique image of a certain location. From research and planning through implementation, it’s hard work. It begins with figuring out your brand’s exact target audience.

Perhaps you want your village or city to make a good impression on current or potential residents, tourists seeking their next vacation spot, or business owners who might want to set up shop there. You could also be aiming bigger and target the people in charge of planning big activities like conventions and sports events. Maybe all of the above and more. Each of these groups have their own wants and needs, place branding will require you to put in a lot of time and work, but if you do it right, the rewards are great both in the short- and long-term.

Cities that nailed place branding

To paint a better picture, here are some cities from the US that have successfully established their place-branding:


Rockland, Maine_ Lobster Capital of the World.jpg

The city of Rockland attracts hordes of seafood lovers with its surplus of delicious lobster dishes. While the luxurious meal is the “main” draw, the lobster-themed fun doesn’t stop there. Every December, locals put up a Christmas tree made of colorful lobster traps and buoys. Over time, the crustaceans have become an important symbol of the town.


There’s no end to entertainment in New York, and its nightlife is one of the most thriving in the world. From theater to live music to drag, New York is home to thousands of performers who make their careers in world-famous venues like Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden. There’s no such thing as a quiet, uneventful night when you’re in New York, making its moniker highly appropriate.


Nashville, Tennessee_ The Music City.jpg

Though it’s mostly known for home-grown country performers of the past few decades, Nashville has had a rich culture of music since the 1700s, the times when early settlers played fiddle tunes on the shores of the Cumberland River. Since then, Nashville continued to grow into a bustling hub of night clubs, dance halls, and every aspiring rhythm and blues star. Aside from “The Music City”, it’s also called the “Songwriting Capital of the World”, with annual competitions giving an enormous platform to budding singer-songwriters.

The 5-step approach to place branding

There’s no quick formula for place branding, but Robert Govers, Erik van ‘t Klooster and Gerard Van Keken have done extensive research and collaboration to make place branding a little bit easier - or at least more structured - for the rest of us. Their 5-step approach to place branding offers a step-by-step guide and some great ideas for branding every location from neighborhoods to countries.


Formulate project goals.jpg

As with most projects, place branding is more organized when you start by setting clear goals. First, develop your vision and your mission to provide clarity on your path forward and on your tangible specific objectives.

In pinning down your vision, it’s a good idea to make it realistic but inspiring. Each location is different, so the vision should always highlight the unique advantages to make it more appealing and competitive. It should also utilize the resources on hand at that location, whether those resources can be found in the natural environment or the place’s history or cultural heritage.

The mission statement explains the purpose of the place branding. What benefits do you hope to get out of doing this branding, and for whom? Your mission can encompass a number of end goals - economic growth, community development, overall beautification, and more.

Once you’ve established your mission statement, use it as a foundation for your objectives. Now that you know what you want to accomplish, how will you define success? Think about specific results that you’d like to see as a result of your place branding. Don’t shy away from numbers and figures; these will help you gauge the success of your branding project and alert you to problem areas.


Analyze current place brand.jpg

Before you can put your plans into motion, you need to understand the place that you’re branding. Even without place branding, your location is already making an impression on its residents and visitors. To make that impression stronger or more positive, it helps a great deal to know the place identity, perceived place image, and projected place image.

A location’s place identity is its unique characteristics. These are created over time through different aspects of the place like its history, economy, and politics, as well as its religious, social, and cultural landscape.

Perceived place image is a place’s reputation. It’s a collective impression that people have of the place. This often has a huge impact on people’s attitude towards the place - whether or not they think of it as a desirable spot to spend time in and how it measures up to other places.

Meanwhile, the projected place image is how the place is represented. What do people who’ve been there say about the place? Do they recommend it to their friends? Do they leave good reviews online? How is it portrayed in the media - flyers, commercials, magazine features, and guidebooks? This image is particularly important in reaching those who have yet to see it firsthand.


Here’s where you get the ball rolling. Gather all of the information from the first two steps and use that to begin designing the actual place brand. Keep in mind that the visual identity of the place is just one of many factors. Place branding should be about the all-around, one-of-a-kind experience that the location has to offer.

Positive experiences are made up of positive interactions between visitors and their environment. Ideally, their senses are engaged, their emotions are touched, and they leave with fond memories.


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Implementation of the new place brand brings your design to life and will vary greatly according to your design. Some action items you might have on your list are infrastructure, event planning, and implementation of new policies to support your mission and vision.

Place branding is demanding, and one committee may not be able to handle everything entailed in making it work. It is especially difficult to start over or retrace steps - this is why it’s important to seek help and cooperation from stakeholders in working towards your specific goals. The stakeholders with the biggest impact come in the form of organizations, like investor companies and concerned government agencies.


How can you tell if your place branding is effective? An assessment of brand equity is one way to know. At this stage, you’ll want to look into people’s awareness of the place and its brand, how the perceived brand image and loyalty have developed among tourists, investors, and other parties.

Recall how the projected image of a place comes about. When you compare the projected image from your initial analysis (step two) to the current projected image, do you see an improvement? Does that image align more closely with your vision? One excellent avenue for making this comparison is browsing online at Facebook posts or blogs. Materials produced by journalists, travel writers, and tour operators can also give you a well-rounded idea of the location’s projected image.

Why strong place branding matters

When it comes to branding destinations, it’s vital to send a loud and clear message to potential visitors and investors that this place is desirable for both business and leisure. More importantly, that message should include all the reasons why the place is so desirable, and what sets it apart from all of their other options.

Building a good reputation makes it so that people associate the location with positive memories and feelings. This in turn creates the foundation for not just awareness but also for continuous loyalty. Effective place branding keeps people coming back - whether it be for quick vacations or lucrative major events. Place branding resonates and leaves an impression that’s hard to forget.