Building and managing a strong, positive and resilient brand is a challenging task. Whether it’s a Country, Region or City, building and maintaining the image and reputation you want, requires more effort and commitment than any destination marketing or promotion campaign.
Sweden, Barcelona and Madeira are a few examples of how it is possible to change and improve perceptions in the medium and long term based on a brand strategy.
These destinations are proofs that Place Branding works. How were they able to implement their Country or City Brand strategies? Each of these cases shares the ingredients or fundamentals of a successful brand strategy. If Countries, Regions or Cities have these ingredients, the chances of success are much higher.
The foundations of a successful Country or City Brand strategy are as follows:
1. A Brand Strategy based on a Central Idea – Think Strategically
Firstly, it is vital to understand what a Country or City Brand really is and its purpose. Again, this is not about marketing or promotion. Instead, it is about developing a strategy to align people’s perceptions of a place with its reality.
The main purpose of any Country or City Brand strategy is to erase misconceptions or less accurate ideas about a Country, Region or City and increase international awareness of what is unique, special and relevant about it.
In this way, it is possible to build an image and reputation for the Country, Region or City that is not only positive and fair, but also to enhance its attractiveness and competitiveness worldwide.
One of the cornerstones of any successful Country or City Brand is the development of a consistent, coherent and long-term strategy: a mix of ongoing actions, activities and policies that are aligned with the reality and the desired perception that you want and can convey to the world.
Therefore, the first thing to do is to assess the gap between current perceptions and reality while thinking about all the variables that affect the Country or City Brand.
It comes down to understanding what your main assets and competitive advantages, audiences and target markets are, as well as your main competitors. Then, based on the brand assessment, the desired goals are set.
The next step is to establish and define the Central Idea – the desired insight that will help the Country, Region or City to attract the attention and preference of their target audiences and to achieve their strategic goals. The Central Idea is not invented. It is a result of finding out what is unique and special in the Country, Region or City, rendering it the Central Idea.
The only way to succeed in this industry is to consistently move from words to deeds. This implies the development of a set of brand actions, activities and projects to bring the Central Idea to life, accompanied by a comprehensive implementation planning.
2. The Right Organisational Structure
One of the biggest challenges of the Country or City Branding is ensuring that the strategy can be implemented and managed in a way that overcomes any government changes. This can only be done by establishing a politically independent and autonomous brand management structure.
The brand management team must have its own resources and a realistic budget to be able to execute, manage and continue the brand strategy, regardless of the current and future political situation and circumstances.
The ideal management structure is one equipped with a passionate, experienced, capable and resilient team that makes things happen. This team should have the support and practical guidance of experienced brand strategy consultants who should be present at every step and face the daily grind and challenges together with the management team. In this way the brand management team can acquire the skills and knowledge to successfully make a reality of the brand strategy.
3. Clear KPIs and Measurement Processes
Constant monitoring activities and measurement of results by the brand team are fundamental to the success of the Country or City Brand. It allows management to intervene in the event of non-compliance with policy or less positive delivery of projects, while positive results help to justify the need for such an approach and continued investment in brand strategy over time.
The best way to do this is to assign tangible key performance indicators (KPIs) to each individual brand action, activity and project, as well as to the overall strategy.
Performance metrics for projects, rankings, focus group and opinion barometers are examples of valid options for KPIs.
However, economic and social indicators make it possible to assess the real impact of a brand’s strategy, as well as its contribution to internal development, such as increased exports, attracting investment and talent, creating job opportunities, or even for the happiness and well-being of the population.
4. Management of Digital Identity
The practice of Country or City Brand has changed considerably since the first attempts made a few decades ago. Today, Country and City Brands are not only visible in the real world, but also in the digital world.
This new frontier must be taken seriously by all Countries, Regions and Cities, as what happens offline happens online. What happens in the digital world has a tremendous impact on real-world stakeholders perceptions and actions.
Although few studies into this dimension of brand management have been undertaken, the interaction and relationship of external audiences with Countries, Regions and Cities through digital platforms is undeniable. The information that international stakeholders find online has a significant influence on their decisions about where to invest, do business, visit or live.
Therefore, to succeed in this digital era, Countries, Regions and Cities need to work in new ways on the development of their strategy: they must think and act digitally. In other words, they need to recognize that now they have a Digital Identity to manage. For the success of the whole process, it is crucial to speak with one voice not only in the real world, but also in the digital world. Any offline action, activity, or policy must have an online component so that the digital message is also consistent and aligned with the Country or City Brand.