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Place Branding: What’s the Difference Between Theory and Practice?

I was honored to recently speak at the Inaugural International Place Branding Association Conference in London. This was a very stimulating and informative event with academics and professionals involved in the principles and practices of brand development and brand management for places (cities, regionSS09027s, nations and destinations).

With such an eclectic audience, the focus of my presentation was on the differences between theory and practice in place branding. To start my presentation, I borrowed from the German statesman Otto von Bismarck who said, “politics is the art of the possible, the attainable … the art of the next best”. I believe that because politics and place branding are so inextricably linked we can easily substitute “place branding” for “politics” in von Bismarck’s statement.

Some of the main points of the presentation were:

1. The #1 challenge in place branding is the lack of understanding and awareness of what it is and how to utilize it successfully.

2. Good theory should be simplified to underpin and improve practice.

3. Our peers are not our clients: We must focus on the practicalities of what will be understood, valued, implemented and  sustainable for our clients.

4. Words have meaning. There needs to be a clearer and better defined vocabulary used by clients, practitioners and academics in regard to place branding.

5. While it may sound great in theory, an overarching brand for a city isn’t always possible. There may be power and budget struggles within the city with no agreement as to who should lead the branding effort. At the same time, there may be different budgets, objectives, customer hot buttons, control and silos in competition to influence the project.

6. Projects may involve balancing many conflicting and competitive interests within the location.

All of these points help validate the view that “place branding is the art of the possible, the attainable … the art of the next best”.

Or you may prefer Yogi Berra’s take, “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is!”

Produced by: Total Destination Marketing

Best Selling Book: Destination Branding for Small Cities

Bill Baker

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