Measurement of place brands is an issue very dear to my heart. Well, at least very dear to my academic schedule. I recently tried to come up with a solution using semantic and social networks (paywall link, free access link). I took another take on the issue, together with my colleagues from Stockholm Programme of Place Branding. We approached from a brand equity understanding to understand the brand of Stockholm (paywall link, free access link). This is why I am quite excited when I see new approaches to measurement practices. Bloom Consulting seems to be developing an intriguing methodology in their measurement practices.
I have three fundamental concerns with commercial measurement scales: overselling, secrecy, and ranking. Bloom Consulting’s 2014/2015 Country Brand Ranking Tourism Edition does a great job in ‘solving’ two of these three concerns.
The concept of ‘place brand’ is very difficult to define – let alone measure. It is, at the end of the day, a place holder. In other words, it is a term we borrowed from the corporate world because it talked to various parts of what we attempted to define: a place’s identity, its infrastructure/services/goods, its residents’ feelings/satisfaction, stakeholders’ engagement among many others. Measuring such a complex phenomenon (and summarizing your findings in a way that can be conveyed to non-omnipotent beings) is nearly impossible. Bloom Consulting clearly states that it measures tourism performance, including its tangible and intangible aspects. The specified area of measurement makes their results more trustworthy.
Replication is the key to academic research. We are conditioned to share all our findings and procedures. Commercial measurement scales are a little bit more secretive in this aspect. Even though Bloom Consulting also refers to a “proprietary algorithm”, they explain their methodology as thoroughly as possible without risking losing business – I highly appreciate this effort (though still resent the proprietary algorithm.)
Last but not least, ranking does not seem to be the best way to summarize data and compare places. Place branding is about establishing a given city/nation/region/you-name-it as a unique component of target audiences’ lives. Why do we insist on ranking these places? Is #1 country more unique than #2? To be fair, Bloom Consulting’s report, all the variables can be used to compare: economic performance, digital demand (whether a place is searched online), country brand strategy, and online performance/presence. Yet, the end result is not necessarily the ‘brand’ of a country or even the success of a given brand. We can call it ‘brand exposure’ or ‘tourism performance’, however, I find it difficult to label anything a brand if it does not explain what the place stands for.
In short, it is quite difficult to measure place brands yet I believe with each and every academic / commercial attempt, we are coming closer to capturing this enormous social reality. Bloom Consulting presents a detailed report which might be used for destination marketing (not branding) campaigns. Countries who want to assess their tourism performance can also highly benefit from the report. Meanwhile, I guess we will all keep working on devising a methodology to better measure the unmeasurable.