Measurement Post in PlaceBrandObserver.com

As of last month, I started contributing to the Place Brand Observer as an Academic Observer. Basically, this is a sixth month journey during which I will blog about current research trends in the field of place branding.

My first post was on my favorite topic: measurement. I am amazed by how little we know about place brand measurement (-actually any kind of strategic communication measurement). More often than not, our ignorance is caused by the fact that we are not sure what we should be measuring.

clip-art-measuring-and-weighing-245067

Yes, I am using a clipart on a blog post. I think it is okay.

Technically social sciences present us a multitude (myriad?) of tools to measure anything we want from public opinion to policy performance. Yet, within the complex structure of social life and communication – in this specific example place branding – it is difficult to isolate the impacts of what we are intentionally doing. Let me present a basic example. Even if we decide place brands mean the associations that come to people’s minds when a place is named, how can we be sure that these associations are the results of our communication (branding) campaigns? These perceptions might be caused by personal experiences, influenced by friends, or completely changed by news.

I wrote about my views on how we can create a better measurement system in my post. You can find the full-text of the post at this link (redirects you to PlaceBrandObserver.com, a free website).

Passport, Power, and Measurement: Perfect Trio

If you have been on any kind of social media platform during the last couple of weeks, you must have seen the new “Passport Index” that ranks each and every passport in the world according to their power – or according to how many visa-free travel opportunities they provide to their holder. But my own travel experience (and obsession with proper measurement techniques) make me wonder whether “visa-free travel opportunity” is a suitable way to assess the power of a passport. Is there a better way to capture the power of a passport? (Hint: The answer is yes. This is why I am writing this blog post.)

It is visa free, but do you really want to go?

It is visa free, but do you really want to go?

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Measuring the Unmeasurable: Bloom Consulting Tourism Edition

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.

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Measuring Nation/Place Branding: Country Brand Ranking

As you might already know, the question of measurement is yet to be answered in the field of nation/place branding. There are a couple of commercial measurement scales such as The Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index, and FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index. There are also several academic studies (examples can be found here and here) that work on conceptualizing place brand measurement scales. I have a long-term research project I still work on entitled “Define-Measure-Visualize“.

Your place has six ounces of brand.

Recently, I was introduced to the Country Brand Ranking created by Bloom Consulting. Unlike the other commercial products, CBR focuses on facts and figures through international agencies, and look at the branding messages to rank countries.

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Theory and Practice in Public Diplomacy: Diplomatic dish-washing

For the last couple of months, I have been working on the latest project of Turkayfe.org – our online coffeehouse project. The website, which started out as an online “social diplomacy” / place branding project is going offline, and meeting people on the street with “Mobile Turkish Coffee House” project.

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Turkayfe.orgstarted out as an idea in May 2009, and the website went live in May 2010. From our very early days, we did our best to learn from our mistakes, and to improve our project. As a doctoral candidate studying public diplomacy, and a dilettante practitioner; I tried to use my practical experience in my academic studies and vice-versa.

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Nation Brands Index 2011, U-S-A!

Today, I went to the press conference organized by the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (NBI) to unveil their latest survey, NBI 2011. With the United States being at the top of the list third year in a row, NBI listed a total of 50 countries’ brands. In the table below, you can see the top 10 countries from 2008 to 2011.

As I have mentioned earlier, I have several doubts about NBI as a robust measurement scale. Below, I’ll try to organize my ideas under three headings:

– What is NBI good for? When should NBI be used?

– Why doesn’t NBI measure ‘nation brands’?

– Why is NBI’s understanding of nation brands incomplete (if not entirely wrong)?

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New publication – Thinking about place branding: Ethics of concept

As you might already know, Journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy is publishing a special issue on Ethics of Place Making . My article, entitled “Thinking about place branding: Ethics of concept” will be published in this upcoming issue.

Here is the abstract:

This article introduces a critical theory-induced approach to the concept of place branding to expose the ethical drawbacks within the field. The author argues that the dominant approaches and definitions of place branding limit the thinking of scholars to market-driven subjects, such as measurement, effectiveness and strategies. It is difficult even to discuss ethical issues at a conceptual level within these approaches. With an attempt to further investigate these widely ignored issues, place branding is redefi ned through a communicative action framework, and a two-step model of place branding is devised – composed of domestic communicative action (Step 1) and international communicative action (Step 2). Step 1 highlights (i) legitimacy and (ii) inclusion as ethical concerns, whereas Step 2 brings in the question of (iii) consistency between the messages in the domestic and international arena. Critical theory makes it possible to take an analytical look at the mainstream approaches and present ethical issues at the conceptual level. Future studies should aim to integrate this theoretical approach to the practice of place branding.

I will share the link to the publication as soon as it becomes available online.

 

Here is the article: http://www.palgrave-journals.com/pb/journal/v7/n3/abs/pb201115a.html

Blog Updated: Dissertation Time

As you might have realized, I haven’t been writing any blog posts lately. It is mostly because I started writing subject-based posts on Place Management & Branding blog and didn’t want to cross-post. I decided to keep writing about more current practical events on the PMB blog and save this blog for more theoretical, methodological, and method discussions. In other words, I will be using this blog as a ‘draft’ for my dissertation – which will be hopefully about the use of soft power in international relations.

The subject is not solely ‘branding’. However, my focus will be on branding. I will try to assess whether the recent changes in international relations are, well, changes or not. Did all these discussions on place branding, public diplomacy, soft power, etc. change the way we conceptualize international relations? Or is social media practically the communication version of an ICBM?

Long story short,
– Interesting place branding posts: Place Management & Branding blog
– Public diplomacy, politics, Turkey related posts: Reaching the Public
– Technical / methods-oriented posts: Again, Reaching the Public

Practice-Focused Theoretical Approach in Place Branding

As a doctoral student, I spend most of my time in the world of theory. In conjunction with my last post, I want to discuss what a practice-focused theoretical approach can do in place branding. And yes, I made up the term ‘practice-focused theoretical approach’.

Let me try to explain what I mean by the term. Again, as a disclaimer – I am in my third year of my graduate studies. Therefore, it is very difficult for me to talk about anything without referring to a theory. Why?

  • A theory describes your ontological and epistemological stance. In ‘smaller’ words, when I use a theory, I actually tell my audience what I think about reality and how I can make sense of that reality.

    So, what is a place brand? Is it something objective that can be reach? Do we have a list of ‘must-have’s for an attractive place brand? Or is it case-specific? Does it depend on what people think about a place?
    Similarly, what is place-branding? Is it trying to complete a list of ‘to-do’s? Is it communicating with foreign publics?

    How do we measure the brand of a place? Based on what we understand from place brand and branding, we should be able to come up with measurement criteria. If our understanding of a place brand is based on substance, our measurement cannot be based on perception. (And we also should not claim nation branding does not exists when our measurement scale is inherently flawed.) (And by we, I mean Simon Anholt.)

  • A theory, then, tells us how to approach a subject. Our conception of reality guides us when we are in the field. If we don’t know what place branding is, we cannot engage in the practice. Even if we do so, our practice will be based on our prior experience. This is why several marketing and public relations firm try to come up with branding projects that are solely based on logos and slogans.

    What should I look at when I am in the field?
    What should I do to improve the ‘brand’?

    I try to introduce a critical-theory influenced approach to place branding and define the term as “a communicative action process in which legitimate actors engage in speech acts to reach a common understanding of a place”. This definition has its roots in Habermas and even to an extent Weber. I discuss how actors claim legitimacy, structure communicative action, make claims, and engage in ‘constative, regulative, and expressive’ acts. Yet, my ultimate goal in these discussions is to reflect on practice.

    Here are some of my ‘academic’ conclusions:
    – A place brand is created with an intersubjective relationship between a speaker and the audience.
    – Creation of a brand and its communication are interactive.
    – Place branding takes places in a political environment where power and legitimacy are fundamental concepts.
    – Legitimacy is a sociologically relative term, and should be negotiated in every step of the social action.

    One of my projects is based on this understanding of communicative action. We believe that a brand is an intangible and social constructed phenomenon, therefore a branding project should aim to intervene in the construction of the place image by the audience. Communicative action is based on a cooperative deliberation process. Therefore, the audience should be able to negotiate the meaning of the place with the speaker with the ultimate aim of reaching a common rational understanding of the place.

    And the end product is….a website – Turkayfe.org. Long story short, theory does not necessarily complicate the social life for us. On the contrary, theoretical approaches simplify the reality to be analyzed more easily. Big theoretical studies are not confined to academic journals. If we can have a ‘practice-focused theoretical approach’, in other words use theory to come up with better practices; (a) we will have more robust projects, (b) we will have be able to craft better strategies.

    PS: If you are interested, here is an article I wrote with Gizem about Turkayfe:
    Sevin, E., & White, G. S. (2011). Turkayfe.org: share your Türksperience. Journal of Place Management and Development, 4(1), 80-92. doi:10.1108/17538331111117188

  • Theory & Place Branding: Theorizing or Terrorizing?

    Another important discussion we had during the 2nd Place Branding Conference was the lack of theoretical frameworks. There is no theory of place branding per se. Yet, should we aim to create a theory (or theories)? If so, how should we proceed? Here is my two cents.

     

    “Image from http://antaryamin.wordpress.com/

    Scholars tend to use theories for analytical purposes, rather than practical ones. In other words, a theoretical framework will enable us to take a systematically critical look at a social phenomenon. Given the fact that place branding seems to be a practice-driven field for the time being, theoretical frameworks will provide the scholars with more opportunities to assail place branding projects. (For some reason, I believe scholars do not need more opportunities to criticize anything…. They are doing a great job right now anyways). If practitioners keep facing ‘theoretical’ criticism from scholars, they might be in a position where they do not feel the need to share their experiences and findings with the academic community. This situation will definitely hinder the development of the field.

     

    Yet, theoretical discussions also have practical implications. Theory is fundamentally the way you approach an issue. If we explicitly acknowledge our theoretical assumptions, we might be able to strategize our place branding projects in a more effective and strategic way. Moreover, theoretical frameworks will ensure the compatibility of different aspects of our projects. As I tried to discuss in my earlier post, these different aspects come from various disciplines; therefore, there is a need for a foundation to unify them under one heading.

     

    In short, yes, we do need a theory (or theories). However, we need to work on building up these theories without terrorizing the field, our colleagues, and more importantly the practitioners.

     

    When we consider the fact that even well-established disciplines suffer from theoretical and methodological debates, such debates might ‘kill’ our emerging discipline. Undermining role of one or more disciplines in place branding might alienate some scholars. And lastly, as I discussed above, harsh criticism might cause practitioners to leave the discussion table.

     

    Therefore, I believe, we should first of all ‘cut practitioners some slack’ for the time being. Through a wait-and-see approach, we will help our ‘data-set’ to grow. The higher number of place branding projects means a larger volume of data for us to start building up theories. Secondly, we should keep encouraging inter-disciplinary dialogue and make use of existing theoretical frameworks. I know that these recommendations are easier said than done. Not criticizing practice also means postponing the development of the study (and the practice) by years. Combination of inter-disciplinary theories might be nearly impossible due to different epistemological and ontological assumptions. However, I still argue that this is our best shot! If we want to theorize the study of place branding, we have to do so without terrorizing.

     

    This post is also published at http://placebranding.ning.com/