Who Cites Whom in Place Branding?

In my quest to blog regularly for the Place Brand Observer, I published my fourth post where I pose a structural question within the field of place branding. Who do we cite? Which are some of the more important works? Are there any groupings based on co-citation similarities?

For this purpose, I went to the Web of Science database and downloaded bibliographic information on all articles that had “place branding”, “city branding”, “country branding” or “nation branding” as their topic.

If you are interested in learning more, you can read the full blog post on the Place Brand Observer.



Perils of Ambiguity: Interdisciplinary and Cultural

After another very long break, I’m back blogging. Last week, I was in Bogota, Colombia attending the 2nd International Place Branding Conference. The conference was an invaluable learning experience – and a great motivator. I decided to write down some of my ideas as blog posts to share my impressions as well as to build up some background information for future publication ideas.

First of all, I owe a big thank you to all the organizers. The conference was perfect! We were around 80 practitioners and scholars around the globe (and it took us around 5 minutes to divide the group into two camps –practitioners and scholars– with several people, including myself, stuck in between). Moreover, both practitioners and scholars were coming from different backgrounds: marketing, political science, communication, international relations, geography, history, architecture etc… We discussed individual presentations, as well as the development of (the need for?) place branding as a distinct discipline.

Right now, I am on my flight back to Washington, DC and have several ideas in my mind. Let me start with the first one. We (i) label place branding as interdisciplinary without really naming the ‘disciplines’ and (ii) claim that ‘one does not fit for all’ in place branding because of the role of culture without really explaining what that role is. In other words, we avoid some –very difficult to conclude– discussions via our safe words: ‘interdisciplinary’ and ‘cultural’. I have less to say about the latter, so I’ll start with that one.

It is not possible to replicate a successful place branding project out-of its cultural context. But what is that context? Are we talking about the variation in how audience(s) perceive messages? Do people from different cultures have different place understandings? Do different places have different properties? Is the relation between locals and audiences different in every place? – I know, the answer to most of these questions is just yes, but this doesn’t disprove my point. We can still identify, at least try to identify some of the dynamics that make up the culture difference in place branding campaigns and come up with ‘guidelines’ if not modifiable/flexible models.
Interdisciplinary…. During the closing panel, I tried to mention about the peril of this work. I, myself, have written about the interdisciplinary nature of the field formally and informally. I have also tried to name those disciplines: communication, marketing, political science, international relations, (and as I learned at the conference), history, place management, geography and more…. I do not know a scholar who has a working knowledge in all these areas. Alas, I even cannot think of a team of scholars from all these disciplines working together.

However, several of the questions we have been trying to answer in place branding/nation branding/and to an extent public diplomacy have already been answered by scholars… Our answers are out there in the literature. Though, it is difficult to pinpoint which literature we are talking about in this sense…

Therefore, how should we approach to the study of place branding? Should we send out scouts to the domains of unknown literatures and wait for their return with precious knowledge? Should we figure out what we can agree on in our limited experience of knowledge-creation in place branding and then focus on them? Or should we just accept that place branding is not and will never be a discipline? Should we build up theories on practice? on ideological stances? Or should we just not build up theories?

I, personally, think we should recruit brave knights from several different disciplines…

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

Social Media, Political Communication, and Turkey Vol.2: Turkayfe.org

Welcome to Turkey’s first online coffehouse:Turkayfe.org!

As part of my social media and political communication in Turkey posts, I decided to introduce a project that I have been working on for quite some time. We started the Turkayfe project in May 2009. After spending six months on the conceptualization, we recently launched our website,http://www.turkayfe.org/. Practically, the project is a place branding through storytelling attempt for Turkey. We aim to support Turkey’s branding attempts by using Web 2.0 technologies and by initiating a virtual grassroots movements. Together with the founder of Turkayfe, Gizem Salcigil White, we will be presenting a critical research paper about Turkayfe, the role of Web 2.0 in citizen’s diplomacy, and branding through sharing experiences at the 2nd Place Branding Conference in Bogota. I wanted to introduce the project to the blogosphere before getting ‘too academic’.

The image above is our front page image. We invite people to grab a coffee, sit down, and start sharing their experiences about Turkey. As our main strategy is creating a brand through people, we placed several people sitting (well some standing, singing, dancing, and playing instruments) at a cafe. The images stand for our seven main categories. For further information, feel free to contact me or pay a visit to Turkayfe.org. I will introduce two dilemmas, pros, and cons of starting a Web 2.0 place branding project.

Short Summary of Turkayfe Project

1-Government/Non-government: Now, one of the most important decision we had to make was about government support. On one hand, the financial support from the Turkish government and state agencies can solve all our budgetary problems. But we started the project with an aim to project a candid story of Turkey. How candid can you be when you are supported by the state? On the other hand, if we continue as four young professionals without state support, do we have the legitimacy to create a branding platform for Turkey? We decided to keep Turkayfe as a non-governmental project as our goal is to present people stories – these stories also constitute the basis for our legitimacy claims.
2-New portal/Existing portal: One option for us was to use existing portals, such as Facebook, or existing framework, such as Ning and WordPress, to start Turkayfe. This option is cost-efficient. Moreover, it is easier to reach the audience. The second option was to build up a new website based on a new framework. We chose the second option to create a stronger sense of community and belonging among our users.

1-Avoiding clichés: A Web 2.0 project enables you to avoid several clichés in nation branding. As you (meaning the project team and contributors) aim to write about their daily life and experiences, the end product is usually an interesting story (rather than a misleading slogan on a glossy poster).
2-Young audience:Younger generations are more likely to use technologically advanced products. Apart from being an online project, Turkayfe.org also tries to present the newer web technologies to its users. Hopefully, this approach will make us popular among younger generations.

1-Language problem: The website is entirely in English. We currently do not accept submissions in Turkish… If a user posts an article in Turkish, it will not be published on the website. Even though choosing English as the only language on the website ensures open communication and interaction, it also limits our audience.
2-Inclusiveness: We want stories about people’s daily lives. We want all kinds of stories. Yet, in order to post on Turkayfe.org, you should have basic linguistic and technical capabilities. Our online coffeehouse unfortunately is only accessible if you have internet connection and can speak English.

In short, social media in Turkey, especially with regard to political communication, should not be seen as a paradigm shift. Social media has not replaced (and is not likely to replace) traditional media in the upcoming years. Yet, if you want to reach younger and more education people – go online, go viral! In order to look attractive and professional in social media, you need to invest – social media is not 100% free! Last but not the least, legitimacy in online nation/place branding campaigns is a huge problem. You need to make sure you have (at least you can claim) legitimacy on a few grounds before unveiling your project!

The Future is a Place – Paris-Val de Marne by CuldeSac

Over the weekend, I got an e-mail telling me about a new place branding campaign for Paris Val-de-Marne – “The Future is a Place”. A Spanish creative agency, CuldeSac, prepared the following video as part of their promotional activities. I was pretty excited to learn about this initiative. Because prior to “The Future is a Place”, I didn’t know anything about Val de Marne. The video clip, the website and the press release are my only sources of information.

This video clip clearly demonstrates one fact: Place branding campaigns have different missions and the messages/images should change accordingly. This particular campaign wants to attract capital to the region, and all related arguments are quite convincing (i.e. infrastructure, proximity to Paris, transportation, existing businesses etc.). The images (airport, transportation, other facilities) used in the video clip bolster the arguments.

At the very same time, the video clip shows us the difficulty of branding only one aspect of a place. I tried to think like an entrepreneur while watching the video. Although I was convinced in business terms to invest in the region, I wanted to know more about the place. Who lives there? What do people do for a living? Any important landmarks? Moreover, especially during the first part (up to 01:30 min) of the clip, I was highly depressed by the dark images, crowded places, lack of faces, and indoor images. In fact, I started thinking of the movie Noi albinoi (The movie is about a socially misfit teenager in a small fishing town in Iceland).

Everyone knows and talks about importance of audience. Your message should be tailored to fit your audiences’ needs. As this video shows, not only the content of your message but also your medium and even technical details you use should attract your audiences’ interest and gain their respect. The quality of the images will appeal to business owners. However, I am not sure whether online media platforms (Youtube, Vimeo) are the best ways to reach this specific audience.

In a place branding campaign, we shouldn’t forget that there will be many people who have no idea about what we are talking about. Therefore, it is important to refrain from unclear images and symbols. Frankly speaking, I am not sure what is happening between 2:10 and 2:30 in the video. I don’t know the people, I just assume that they are important figures in the development agency. They are sitting in post-modern chairs (I don’t know how to call those chairs), so they should be innovative and creative. But seriously, who are they? Why are they there?

As far as I can see the website and video are produced by two different agencies. Still, I would like to see a consistent message in terms of content and packaging. The colors of the website are different from the colors I saw in the video. As a person who has never been to the region, I don’t know what to expect from Val de Marne. The website also lays out five areas of expertise – five prominent industries. Though I don’t think I saw all five in the video. I saw some themes (life, sustainability etc) on the video which were not mentioned in the website.

There seems to be a theme with the lines and small triangles. We see them all through the video and also at the end when they come together to make the logo for The Future is a Place. I am also not sure why they form that particular shape after 02:32 and constantly move. (- I can go ahead and say well Val de Marne connects several industries in a dynamic way but frankly speaking this interpretation is based more on my communication studies than on the video itself).

Lastly, I think the music has made me think even more of Noi albinoi. Especially together with the darker images, I was a little bit depressed.

Long story short, I would say, The Future is a Place is likely to be successful in reaching its target audiences provided that appropriate media platforms are chosen. The clip looks professional, it is short, and dynamic. In other words, it attracts attention and doesn’t bore the audience. The line of reasoning is quite clear and persuasive. The professional imagery boosts the credibility of the messages. The tagline (The future is a place) cleverly summarizes the project and can be seen in the video. However, especially after seeing CuldeSac’s website, I cannot understand why there were so many cloudy scenes in the video.

This blog post is also posted on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.

Prime and Frame, then Cascade the Activation

As the title suggests, nowadays I am a little bit confused about how one can explain media and public opinion relation (especially in nation branding/place branding campaigns). Firstly, mediated reality is a fact. Lippmann saw the situation back in 1922, so I really cannot claim any credit when I say the real world is not important. What is important is the picture in our heads. When we consider the power of media and the various media platforms, another fact comes up: the picture in our heads is the mediated-reality. But how is the mediated-reality formed? Jamieson practically argues that media by choosing what to report and how to report plays an important role. Although her arguments in the Press Effect are quite persuasive and supported by great examples.

Jamieson doesn’t use the terminology but what her points are very similar to priming and framing of agenda-setting theories. Media chooses how to frame an issue and what to report as background information in the issue. Practically by giving background information, media makes some knowledge available once again. But still, who controls these priming and framing processes? Journalists? If so, is it too late for me to become a journalist? Politicians? Public? Anyone?

Especially in political context, Entman’s Cascading Activation model seems to be very accurate in explaining – well first of all explaining that the process is practically inexplicable – the behavioral patterns of different social actors and their power struggles. The figure below is taken from one of his published articles about White House’s frame following 9/11 – illustrating the cascading flow of influence linking each level of the system: the administration, nonadministration elites, news organizations, the texts they produce, and the public (p.419).

Similar to a real waterfall, all the actors include their own input to the flow. I interpret this input to be composed of their own interests and ideas. Therefore, the information that reaches the public has already been ‘polluted’ a few times. There seems to be a power struggle over who will influence the priming and framing in this process. And the back-flow underlines the fact that public opinion is likely to show an impact on the media, as well as on administration and non-administrative elites.

I assume if we try to apply this model to place/nation branding, the flow chart will be a little bit different:

Branding campaigns should take competitors and other news resources into consideration. Several nations/regions/places try to reach the same audiences with practically similar messages. There might be other news resources feeding the media, such as other interest groups or negative branding campaigns of your competitors or a more ‘news-worthy’ event. Also, although relevant stakeholders will be included in the process, it is always possible to leave certain influential figures out. Their actions will be based on personal interest which might or might not be compatible with the main branding campaign.

Another important distinction is the possibility of creating communication bridges directly with the public. However, public is likely to disregard the messages if the sender lacks credibility. Also, if the stakeholders and officials are not ‘accountable’, they are more likely to disregard the messages.

To sum up, media-public opinion relations is very difficult to entirely comprehend, especially in a political context. Given the vague definitions and lack of strong theoretical frameworks in nation/place branding, it is even more tricky. I was amazed by Entman’s Cascading Activation Model and came up with a draft of how this model might look like in branding campaigns. As this is a draft model, I would appreciate your feedback! . I will be constantly updating this blog post based on the feedback I receive and (hopefully) come up with a better model.

This blog post is also posted on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.

Entman, R. M. (2003). Cascading Activation: Contesting the White House’s Frame After 9/11. Political Communication, 20(4), 415-432. doi:10.1080/10584600390244176
Jamieson, K. (2004). The press effect : politicians, journalists, and the stories that shape the political world. Oxford ;;New York: Oxford University Press.

Who are you? Legitimacy in Place Branding

I submitted an article for a student publication last week on public diplomacy and place branding. Shortly speaking, I describe how and why we are using public diplomacy and grassroots movements in a regional branding project. I am not going to discuss the details of the article (-as both the article and the project are under review).Though ever since, I started thinking about legitimacy in place branding. In other words, who gave us the authority to work on the regional branding project? Even further, who gave a committee the authority to brand the place? ABS had a great issue on “Legitimacy in the Modern World” last year. However, branding & legitimacy necessitates further research and an explanation for itself (rather than being discussed under a general legitimacy title).

Therkelsen & Halkier* remind us about a classification in branding: inside-out and outside-in. A good branding campaign chooses the former style, and tries to find the brand identity in a place. You are supposed to discuss the local values, traditions, life, actors etc… Does anyone else see the irony here? As an outside consultant, you are expected to lecture local figures about their own values.. Now, even if you have an official title, even if you are a politician, governor, president, or a king; you are never given the authority to build up an identity for your citizens/subjects. So, how can you even think about creating a place brand?

The place branding project that I am a proud part of, therefore, underlines the importance of grassroots movements and public diplomacy. By engaging with the local stakeholders, by raising awareness, and by talking with them about how they see their own home towns, we aim to create credibility, legitimacy, and eventually a long-lasting brand for the region. In communication, it is a known fact that meaning is ‘negotiated’ and created among several parties. Before setting sail to reach our target audiences, we negotiate the region’s meaning with the residents. We encourage them to be a part of the branding. The entire project is based on creating a community pride within people.

Once the brand identity is negotiated with local people, and a sense of social involvement is created, it is time to reach out to the target audiences. Again, public diplomacy and grassroots movements are very effective ways especially during the initial stages of the project. By creating direct, people-to-people communication bridges, you are automatically involved in the ‘negotiation’ process, and you can create more effective and persuasive brand messages. Moreover, as you enjoy the opportunity to receive instant feedback, you can use your projects as focus group studies as well.

I still have ethical doubts about legitimacy and place branding. As far as I can see, grassroots movements is the best course of action (although I really don’t know how effective they will be in larger populations) because firstly you strengthen the community spirit within an inclusive campaign. Secondly, you don’t fabricate a brand image but use an inside-out technique. Even before you start disseminating your message, you guarantee a long-lasting brand. And lastly, by sharing your messages through public diplomacy, you build real relations with your audience and hear their feedback. Shortly, if you want to be legitimate, talk with ‘everyone’.

* Therkelsen, A., & Halkier, H. (2008). Contemplating Place Branding Umbrellas. The Case of Coordinated National Tourism and Business Promotion in Denmark. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 8(2), 159-175. doi:10.1080/15022250802221229

This blog post is also posted on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.

Consistency in Place Branding

Nowadays, apart from my thesis endeavors, I am a team member for a place branding project for a region in Mexico and try to build up the conceptual background for a Web 2.0 branding project for Turkey (Website coming soon). Long story short, I spend much of my time reading on place branding. I used the below keywords to explain what I have in my mind about the fundamental concepts….

As I am required to write one blog post per week for my CC608 Public Affairs course at Emerson, I decided to start summarizing my thoughts on place branding. I might end up killing two birds with one stone. If these concepts continue to stay in my mind as shown in the graph, I will definitely go crazy.

I was reading Pryor & Grossbart’s work on creating a model of place branding. I am quite aware of the fact that the main scope of the article is quite wide, however, the point that struck me was consistency. Consistency is good for commercial brands but what about places? The authors claim that consistency makes little sense, but I cannot wholeheartedly agree with them.

Now place branding tries to attract investment, business, and tourism, in other words, the main aim is to generate income either via creating businesses or via tourism. On one hand, it makes much sense that a consistent promise from a place as a tourism destination is not likely to create excitement among the same audience after some time. (In plain English, after you hear the same promises a few times, you will no longer want to go there). But what is the difference between an inconsistent message and a contradictory message? If a place tries to disseminate different messages, there is the risk of credibility loss. Also during the transition periods, tourism will likely to suffer. For instance, what will happen if you change the brand a place from a fun – surfer friendly – party community to a senior friendly – quite community?

On the other hand, the business hand, I believe the best brand can be “business-friendly”. Therefore although you change your messages according to global trends (i.e. base your attraction on qualified labor, loose tax regulations, resource, geographical proximity, etc.), your consistent brand message is “we will do anything to facilitate your business process and we will compete with other places to get your business”.

To sum up, yes, a consistent message will be boring and given the global communication environment will be disregarded by the audiences. But a consistent place/community identity and a solid integrated communication strategy won’t hurt.

PS: I did not follow any citation style (well, this is a blog post). All my references to “authors, work, article, etc” point to about the following work:
Pryor, S., & Grossbart, S. (2007). Creating meaning on main street: Towards a model of place branding. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 3(4), 291-304. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.pb.6000080

PS 2: This post is also published on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.