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Location branding: A study of the branding practices of 12 English cities

Received (in revised form): 12th July, 2001

teaches and researches in the Business School at the University of North London. His research has focused on the people and organisational aspects of branding both in the commercial sector and more recently in the public sector, where he is currently researching the role and effectiveness of the public sector and other stakeholders in the branding of locations.

The practice of branding geographic locations such as countries, regions, cities and towns is increasing, yet there is a paucity of published research on the topic. The literature, such as it is, suggests that branding in such cases is at best complex and at worst impossible. This paper reports on a qualitative study of 12 cities in the UK which sought to explore the role which branding plays in the marketing of these locations. The study purposefully excluded large cities such as London, Manchester and Glasgow, which have received extensive media attention. The results suggest that branding as a concept was seen as relevant but not always understood or applied effectively. The study provides insights into the key factors which affect the development of locations as brands. The four factors identied as being of particular signicance were organisational complexity and control, the management of partnerships, product complexity and the measurement of success. The study concludes, nevertheless, that the branding of locations is not impossible and recommends an agenda for future research to address the key factors identied.

Branding and brand management can be said to have been one of the leading areas of focus for both marketing academics and practitioners during the nal two decades of the 20th century. The period witnessed the publication of several key texts.15 There has also been a proliferation of articles, research papers and conference papers dening and dissecting brands and examining branding from a variety of business perspectives, including their nancial implications,67 their organisational implications8 and their global importance, particularly as e-commerce becomes established.9 This enhanced awareness of the importance of branding as a strategic

Graham Hankinson The Business School, University of North London, Stapleton House, 277281 Holloway Road, London N7 8HN, UK Tel: 44 (0)20 7753 7049; Fax: 44 (0)20 7753 5051; E-mail: graham@hankinson8.

marketing activity has given rise to an increasing interest in the potential contribution of branding to business development in sectors outside marketings traditional homeland of product and service marketing.1011 There is evidence in the press that branding as a concept is increasingly being applied not only to countries, such as Scotland, Spain and New Zealand, but also to cities such as New York, London, Manchester and Glasgow, as well as regions for example, Shakespeares County (Warwickshire) and Herriot Country (the Yorkshire Dales). The geographical areas to which branding is being applied thus vary considerably in size. The product itself can also be complex and consist of several loca127



tions (such as a collection of famous sites) forming a conceptual entity rather than a single place.12 The proposition may also be based upon historical events rather than current realities.13 For these reasons, this paper refers to these activities as location branding. It is argued, as will be clear from the literature review below, that creating brands in the way in which they are dened and discussed in the literature is a more difcult and complex process with regard to locations than is the case with what might be called more mainstream products and services. Indeed, some authors maintain that it is virtually impossible to develop a destination as a brand.14

Authors such as Ries and Trout17 introduced the notion of positioning a brand in the consumers mind in order to distinguish the brand from the competition. This requires a holistic approach which focuses the whole marketing mix on the effective communication of the uniqueness of the brand and making it the number one brand to an identiable market segment.

Added value
This approach is based upon the notion of a brand as an identiable product, service, person or place, augmented in such a way that the buyer or user perceives relevant unique added values which match their needs most closely.18 In particular, this approach expands the idea of branding to include people and places, as well as underlining the importance of perceived value in what the brand has to offer, value which is represented in the unique relevance of the offer to the needs of the consumer.

There is no one accepted denition of a brand. A categorisation of the various denitions used, both now and in the past, has been produced by Hankinson and Cowking.15 A brief description of each category is summarised below.

Visual/verbal triggers
This approach focuses on the name, logo or strapline as something quite distinctive from the product or service itself, and is based upon the observation that well-known brands live on through their name long after the original products have died. Similarly, some brands are instantly recognisable by their packaging, such as Silk Cut cigarettes. Others are instantly recognised by their symbol, such as Mercedes. For these reasons, writers such as Aaker,16 emphasise the importance of the name and visual presentation as triggers to the brand quality.

Brand image
The building of an image is frequently regarded as the main purpose of branding. In this approach, it is the symbolic aspects of the brand that come to the fore. To be successful, the brands image must be based on a clear understanding of the feelings, ideas and attitudes19 of the target consumer and the effort to differentiate the brand is psychologically rather than physically based.20

Since the 1980s, the concept of image has tended to be replaced by the



concept of brand personality. The brand personality has been described as a unique combination of functional attributes and symbolic values with which the target consumer identies.21 The personality of Coke, for example, has been carefully built to represent youth, internationality and fun as well as being a refreshing drink a personality which appeals to a large, identiable global market segment with similar needs and lifestyles, transcending different cultures and income groups.

marketing activities reected the approaches summarised above. Thus, for the purposes of this research, no attempt has been made to formulate a working denition of a brand.


A review of the literature reveals a broad range of academic interest with regard to locations such as countries, cities, towns and regions as the focus of marketing activity. As might be expected, each perspective delineates its own domain and set of constructs, sometimes using different words to describe the same ideas. In contrast to the marketing of locations, there are relatively few articles to be found in the academic literature with regard to the promotion of locations as brands. This is in contrast to the increasing evidence in the press that branding, at least as a concept, is increasingly being applied to locations. There are broadly three areas which are of relevance to this area of study: urban planning, retail marketing and tourism/vacation marketing. The relevant literature from these areas is summarised below.

Perceptual appeal approaches

Other approaches to brands develop this further, distinguishing additional components of a brand, each adding something to the brands appeal. Doyle et al.,22 as long ago as 1974, suggested that there are three sorts of appeal; they are all interrelated and each brand has a different blend of the three an appeal to the senses, an appeal to reason and an appeal to the emotion. This disaggregated approach allows a more precise examination of a brands anatomy and suggests that if the constituent parts of a brands appeal can be identied, then it may be possible to build a brand which more closely meets the needs of the target consumer.

The urban planning perspective A WORKING DEFINITION OF A BRAND

Each of the above approaches adds something to the concept of a brand. Together they represent a rich variety of ways in which brands can be represented. The intention in this study, however, was not to test respondents against a standard or benchmark denition. The objective was rather to explore how far the working denitions used by respondents to guide their Place marketing features prominently in the literature of urban development and regional planning. The emphasis here is upon the efcient social and economic functioning of the area concerned in accordance with whatever goals have been established.23,24 The role of marketing is conned largely to selling rather than to the role encapsulated in the marketing concept. Nevertheless, although not explicit, the



importance of branding is acknowledged in the urban planning literature through the clear recognition of the need for a strategy to communicate and promote an image or environmental meaning.25 These authors draw attention to some distinctive elements of place marketing, such as: the predominantly public sector responsibility for the marketing; the multifaceted nature of the geographical area; the t (or lack of it) between the geographic area and the boundaries of the jurisdictional agencies; the difculty in dening the product; the fact that marketing may seek to achieve both political and social aims as well as economic goals. Other authors, such as Fines,26 draw attention to the similarities between not-for-prot marketing and the marketing of places: the absence of a direct nancial link between producer and consumer; the fact that trading does not transfer property rights. The character of the transaction is thus different in several respects from the transaction associated with the purchase of goods and services, which has implications for the effective measurement of performance. To the urban planner, the product can be categorised by spatial levels, from regions to towns to buildings, each with a different spatial purpose intended to meet the needs of a different consumer group.27 In mainstream marketing terms these ele130

ments might be referred to as product differentiation and market segmentation. Any location can be divided into a set of spaces, each offering a different product or service to a dened target market. Thus, for example, a large city may have a theatre district, leisure complexes and shopping malls/centres, each representing a cluster of product or service brands.

The retail marketing perspective

The multi-product nature of locations such as cities provides a link to areas of academic study which focus on the use of individual product spaces within the city, the most signicant of which are retailing and tourism. These are frequently commercial activities and as such have their own commercial objectives. Each organisation markets and brands itself separately and, in so doing, potentially adds to the overall brand image and economic prosperity of the location. Thus, the centrality of retailing to the economic prosperity of a location forms part of the urban planning literature, but consideration of the marketing and branding issues is more developed, as might be expected, in the retail marketing literature. The shopping mall and city centre are seen as brands with symbolic value and a personality28 which can be developed and maintained.29 The literature in this area draws heavily upon concepts from services marketing. Thus, the city shopping centre can be represented as a bundle of benets.30 It can also be represented by the Servunction model.31 This model represents an organisation as providing a set of services which have both visible elements (the built environment in which



the service experience occurs and contact personnel who interact with the visitors to the centre) and invisible elements (the support infrastructure, for example, services such as toilets, car parks, catering and transport). The third element of this model is other consumers with whom the original consumer interacts. In the context of the shopping centre, these could be other local people, employees, tourists, suppliers etc using the same location or space for a different purpose or product. This particular element is a potential source of conict between the urban planner, focusing on manufacturing and producer facilities, and the marketer, focusing on cultivating consumer services.32 The distinguishing features of location marketing identiable from this area of study are: the potential for the same location to be used or sold for more than one purpose; the potential conict in objectives between different stakeholders.

The tourism/vacation marketing perspective

To the tourism marketer the location is a destination, a place which people (and organisations) visit. As such, tourism is a distinctive aspect of the economic development of a location. The literature in this area also emphasises the importance of establishing a balance between competing objectives, particularly the need to strike a careful balance between economic development and environmental objectives relevant to the tourist.33 For example, improving access to the destination through the development of

the transport infrastructure may damage the environment and hence the tourism product, both natural and cultural, if it is not associated with a visitor management policy. Frequently, however, such decisions lie outside the control of a single authority, a situation which results from another distinctive aspect of location marketing: the fragmented nature of the decision-making process.34 The issue of control is one of the central distinguishing features of location marketing. Not only does this arise out of the nature of the decisionmaking processes, but also from factors such as the absence of control over the visitor experience. This applies both to the visitors actual experience of the destination itself as well as the journey to the destination.35 Furthermore, the destination marketing organisation (DMO) is frequently cast in the role of broker between the producers (individual service providers) and the consumers, with no line authority.36 The DMO may also be required to act in the role of steward, working in partnership with other stakeholders in order to manage the destination in a holistic way and ensure the longterm future of the overall destination product.37 Responsibility for the actual services experienced may often lie with private sector providers (hotels, leisure facilities, shopping centres etc). Thus, key elements of the marketing mix such as product and price are controlled by different organisations.3839 Consequently, the focus of the DMOs marketing strategy is often on communications by default. Nevertheless, this is an important activity, underlined by the fact that the potential tourist or holiday customer can rarely inspect the purchase prior to consumption.40 However, there



is always a danger that the visitor experience will differ from the expectations generated by those communications, particularly when the quality of the experience depends upon the inputs of a wide variety of service providers, many of whom do not necessarily regard visitors as their target market. In such circumstances, branding, to be successful, requires consistency between the induced image-building processes created by promotional bodies such as tour operators and local authorities and the organic processes as portrayed by the mass media. In other words, the destination brand like any other must deliver the promise. This becomes particularly crucial when a destination has suffered from negative publicity (eg Florida).41 Furthermore, this may also be difcult to achieve given the locus of responsibility for this activity within the public sector, characterised by limited budgets which compromise the creative process of marketing and advertising.42 Despite these constraints, it is perhaps in the area of tourism/vacation marketing that the understanding of branding is most developed. Nevertheless, the question as to whether branding can truly be applied to locations has only received limited attention in the literature.4344

comparable in terms of size and prominence with the majority of cities in the UK and may therefore have distorted the results. The rst step in the research was to determine how branding was dened in the context of location marketing, and specically to see how closely this denition compared to the denitions to be found in the literature. Secondly, the research sought to determine the extent to which branding concepts such as positioning, personality and brand proposition could be operationalised, and the factors which either helped or hindered this. Thirdly, the research tried to identify if and how the effectiveness of the branding strategies was measured.

Research objectives
The objectives of this research project were to investigate the extent to which those responsible for the marketing of locations: understood branding in the context of their marketing objectives; applied branding concepts; perceived issues which affected the development of successful location brands; addressed these issues; measured the effectiveness of their branding strategies.

This research sought to ascertain the role which branding plays in the marketing of city/town locations in the UK. The study purposefully excluded the large cities such as Manchester and London which have received extensive media coverage, as it was felt that these would not be


The study was exploratory in nature and intended to develop an understanding of an area which has so far received minimal attention in the literature. It was therefore appropriate to use an interpretive, qualitative methodology, using in-depth



Table 1 Sampled cities by category Category Historic Resort Industrial/commercial Seaport New town Rural Cities* York, Lincoln Skegness, Scarborough Shefeld, Leeds Hull, Grimsby Stevenage, Milton Keynes Ipswich, Norwich

*The term city is used loosely here. The sample includes several large towns.

Table 2 Roles of respondents City York Lincoln Skegness Scarborough Shefeld Leeds Hull Grimsby Skegness Stevenage Milton Keynes Ipswich Norwich Role of respondent Assistant chief executive, marketing and corporate affairs Tourism manager Head of leisure and tourism Head of marketing and development Managing director, Destination Shefeld Tourism development manager Marketing director Deputy director of economic and community development East Lincolnshire Council Media and campaigns ofcer Marketing and communications manager Tourism and marketing ofcer Tourism ofcer for Norfolk

interviews.45 It was anticipated that the inductive process would provide a richer data set than a quantitative approach at this stage. The interviews were conducted with key marketing personnel from 12 English cities/towns. In order to ensure a broad-based sample, respondents were chosen to represent six different types of location: a historical centre, a new town, a commercial centre, a seaside resort, an agricultural centre and a seaport. Each type of centre is represented by two cities. The sample was therefore a purposive one. The cities selected are set out in Table 1. The respondents were identied through the main telephone

switchboard of each city authority. Thus, initial selection relied upon the knowledge of the telephonist. In many cases this led to interviews with personnel whose predominant responsibility was tourism, a bias that needs to be taken into account when examining the research results. The sample did include some personnel responsible for economic development, but only in one case were researchers directed to someone with responsibility for branding across all city marketing activities (Hull). This issue is discussed more fully in the results. Table 2 shows the roles of the respondents interviewed. In two cases (Grimsby and Nor133



wich) interviews were carried out with managers working at district or county council level. These have been included in the analysis even though their remit extended beyond the city sampled. The issues raised did not differ systematically from those discussed with those responsible for the marketing of cities.

Interviews took place during April and May 2000 and followed the format of an in-depth interview. The interview guide used to steer the interview process is set out in the Appendix. The rst two questions were asked in order to provide the context in which the marketing of the city took place. They provided information on, rst, the extent to which marketing of the city was also the responsibility of other personnel within the organisation and, secondly, the geographic area covered for marketing purposes. In the results this is referred to as Dening the place. The next two questions explored the respondents understanding of branding and the way in which it could (or could not) be operationalised in the marketing of the location. The extent to which the application of branding was seen as being different from its application to products and services was also explored. Questions 6 and 7 explored if and how branding was used in reality, and the factors which helped and hindered this. Finally, questions were asked about how success was measured, if at all, and the use of performance indicators in this regard. Each interview was conducted without interruption from the interviewers except for clarication and probing. Normally interviews took about one

hour. They were tape recorded and then transcribed before a content analysis was carried out. This was carried out manually in view of the limited number of interviews conducted. The process was undertaken independently by two separate researchers46 and a comparison of the results was made. Common themes were noted and links with the established body of knowledge reviewed earlier were made.

RESULTS Defining the place

In most cases the geographic area/space was described in terms of administrative/legally dened boundaries. In some cases these included outer suburbs and rural areas and in others they were tightly drawn around the urban area. There were clearly overlaps in responsibility for marketing purposes, the most obvious being what might be described as the Russian doll syndrome where the city formed a subset or second-tier authority of a larger region such as a tourist board. As one respondent put it:
We have different boundaries depending on the audience, it is fair to say. We have very much a dened legal boundary, the local authority. That is our prime audience, the people that live within it. For external marketing purposes in terms of economic development or tourism, then the boundary becomes a little more exible or even blurred. To some extent we as a council work in partnership with a range of different organisations . . . so we have the Tourism Bureau of which we are a member. Their membership will extend 20 miles away from the centre and well outside the local authority.



This type of administrative overlap was sometimes seen as having a negative impact and resulted in conicting or uncoordinated marketing strategies and political rivalry. To quote another respondent, [We have] a special role as a city in the region which is not altogether popular with X and Y cities. In other cases, potential overlaps were exploited through the formation of alliances as part of a planned marketing approach, such as the creation of crossboundary brands, eg Yorkshire Coast, and combined tourism and investment strategies. In these circumstances, the overlaps were the result of strategic alliances between locations intended to produce a positive impact. In other instances the strategic alliances were formed between similar types of city, such as cathedral cities, to form a joint promotional platform. Such alliances represented attempts to dene a specic location as a product, which made more sense from a marketing perspective than passively accepting a legally dened location which bore no resemblance to what might be required for effective marketing. However, broad alliances were not always regarded as benecial. To quote one example: Working in a city has an advantage over say a county and certainly a regional tourist board, in that the product diversity is so large that in the majority of cases . . . you are not dealing with cohesive brands. Thus, the inappropriateness of legal boundaries and the difculties of dening the place as a meaningful product, identied in the urban planning literature,47,48 were recognised and seen as important. In addition, there was clear evidence that some cities were actively addressing this problem.

Defining branding
Despite attempts to address the issue, none of the respondents claimed to have developed their location as a brand effectively. However, examples were given of how specic techniques of branding were being applied. These frequently focused on what might be called the visual triggers, such as marques, logos, straplines/slogans and names. At one end of the spectrum, these were seen as a means of building recognition through consistency in communications. In such cases, the brand was seen as an umbrella device to unify a wide variety of product offerings under a common identity. Thus, in answer to the question How do you dene branding in the context of what you do? a typical respondent replied: I see it [a brand] as giving the tourism industry a label to market the area . . . So it is instantly recognisable, the location is instantly identiable both internally and externally . . . What we are trying to do externally is raise the awareness of what the area has to offer. This policy is in contrast to cities discussed above which saw such approaches as diluting or overstretching the brand proposition. Beyond this, respondents often demonstrated a deeper understanding of what effective branding entailed. There was recognition that a brand needs to reect not only the physical/tangible experience of the location, but also the intangible/ value-based attributes. To quote one respondent: It [the brand] is more than just a physical thing . . . it needs to evoke some sort of emotional reaction. Such views were consistent with the perceptual appeal49 and brand image approaches50,51 summarised above. There was also recognition of the need to offer and, in particular,



deliver distinctiveness. For example, one respondent said: A brand can only work . . . if it is backed up by a demonstration that the values it is trying to convey are actually being delivered. However, overall it has to be said that the research found considerable variation in the extent of branding practices. In some cases, semi-autonomous organisations had been set up to take the location brand forward, embracing both inward investment and tourism objectives. In other cases, the responsibility for branding was assumed by very small departments in the local authority with responsibility for tourism only.

phasis on getting people together behind the idea.

Another respondent said:

There are an awful lot of players and we are all marketing the city . . . big organisations with a citywide focus, the universities, business organisations, individual businesses like hotels, tourist attractions . . . There is nobody with a grip on marketing.

Comparisons with product/service branding

When compared to mainstream branding, the most frequent comparator was the resources available to do the job, which were extremely limited in contrast to the private sector and an issue which was often raised in response to other questions. The approach to branding was seen as different in several respects. Branding cities relied for success upon achieving consensus with partners, in contrast to commercial organisations, which were seen as having control structures and hierarchies which enabled branding to be managed more tightly. One respondent expressed it as follows:
If you are dealing with a product, the product is within a corporate scenario. In a corporate scenario you have control, there are structures, there is hierarchy, there are levels of expectation that there are not in a city. Nobody has to do anything because the city doesnt belong to anybody, the city belongs to everybody. There is greater em136

These views are consistent with the signicant emphasis in the literature on the problems of managerial control which characterise the decision-making processes associated with many aspects of location branding.5257 City councils were also seen as being motivated by political objectives rather than the prot objectives which are central to the branding of products and services in the commercial sector. As one respondent put it, We dont make decisions for purely marketing reasons which any private enterprise would do. Such views further conrm the issues raised in the literature.58

The role of branding in cities

As a result, the role of branding in local authorities was, in reality, a fairly limited one and frequently not distinguishable from overall marketing communication activities. Its primary role seemed to be associated with building awareness by maximising the adoption of a logo, strapline, symbol or icon. Thus, in describing the role of branding, respondents used phrases like raise awareness, an easy encapsulation of all the attributes, consistency and identity. As discussed earlier, branding was usually undertaken in partnership with other stakeholders such as local hotel and tourist associations and other key



sites in the city such as shopping centres. Many respondents saw a major part of their role as coordinating these various stakeholders through partnerships and consortia and encouraging them to use the citys logo or strapline either as a form of endorsement or as an umbrella symbol. One respondent expressed this as follows:
What we have done here over the last four years since I joined is we have formed an Environment, Tourism and Management partnership. It is a collection of just over 30 organisations that covers the whole of the tourism industry . . . so it is local authorities, districts and councils. There are some private sector organisations . . . and also attractions organisations and accommodation . . . In the early days one of the things we needed to do was to unite the [tourism] industry . . . under a common banner.

This practice exemplies the areas of overlap between the domains of urban planning, retail marketing and tourism marketing identied in the literature review, and highlights the potential for collaborative research.

Factors affecting success

Not surprisingly, successful branding was thought to be more likely when there was unity of purpose and commitment by all stakeholders to a common branding strategy. Success, however, was impeded by low budgets in the public sector, something which all 12 respondents referred to and which one would have expected from the review of the literature.59 Furthermore, low budgets reect the fact that, in the UK, tourism is a non-statutory function of local government and is therefore vulnerable to budget cuts. It was also hindered by what might be

described as organisational fragmentation both within the city administration and externally. Internally, it was not unusual for there to be separate brand strategies emanating from tourism departments and economic development departments. Even when tourism departments were part of a larger economic development department there was little coordination as regards branding. In some cases, branding was also seen as a means of promoting the activities and policies of the elected members of the council and was the responsibility of the public relations ofce. As a result, departments often used different symbols and straplines to communicate potentially conicting brand propositions. These issues were summarised by one respondent as follows: We have different strengths we want to draw out about the city . . . we have one [brand] for inward investment and another for tourism and then the council itself needs to visit its own branding I think. Such views provide evidence of the potential complexities of product differentiation and market segmentation as they relate to the marketing of locations60 which can seriously inhibit the strategic development of a location as a brand. Externally, the fragmentation manifested itself in the frequently loose alliances of partners from both the private and public sectors who each had their own branding objectives but whose collective support was also essential to successful location branding. The necessity to obtain consensus was frequently referred to as a factor hindering the development of a successful branding strategy. The tendency for political motives to predominate over nancial objectives as far as marketing was concerned was also seen



as an obstacle. The need for consensus between all stakeholders was illustrated by one respondent, who in response to the question What hinders branding? replied as follows:
Budget. You can do anything with money . . . but because we all work in partnership, all the partners need to agree it. That is further complicated by the fact that some of the partners are local authorities, and it is not only ofcers, you need the politicians to agree. The need for consensus can slow things down.

promote the city as a business destination.

Assessing success
As discussed in the literature review, the absence of a direct nancial link between the producer and the consumer would lead one to expect a relatively low incidence of the use of performance indicators on practical grounds,61 and indeed there was only limited reference to the role of branding in meeting more measurable objectives such as income targets and increased activity levels (hotel occupancy, visitors, enquiries etc). The collection of data relating to branding was more frequently associated with market research prior to the formulation of a strategy than with the construction of performance indicators to measure the success of the strategy. However, it would be wrong to assume that the relative complexities of performance measurement in this area acted as an inhibitor. The use of performance indicators was seen as becoming increasingly important, partly as a result of the best value programme initiated by central government as a means of achieving efciency gains in the public sector. There was also evidence of the increasing use of internally sponsored performance indicators to measure activity levels such as income generated, visitor ows, bed nights, journalist visits and enquiry levels. Where performance indicators were used, however, they were linked to overall marketing performance rather than specically to branding activities or measures of brand equity. Most respondents attributed the minimal use of performance indicators to limited resources rather than the

How far did respondents address these issues? Answers to this question varied considerably. At one end of the spectrum, cities had established semiautonomous organisations dedicated to marketing and branding. However, only one city had a separate organisation dedicated to creating a city brand. Such organisations were seen as being relatively free from political interference and able to organise themselves more effectively for marketing purposes. These tended to be a feature of the larger cities in the sample. As the head of one such dedicated organisation said:
We have what is called a strategy group which includes the leader of the council, the CEO of a major local multinational and a director from a well-known corporate identity agency. That group makes the decisions . . . There is also an operations group of about 25 people, some are public sector, some are private sector, who are leading various projects that are part of the branding process.

Other dedicated organisations had been set up specically to look at inward investment and were expected to bring business to the city as well as



practical difculties which the literature suggests. One respondent summarised the position as follows: When we dont have big budgets, or hardly any budget to be honest, we would rather spend 34k on actual marketing than the measuring of success. There appears to be a certain degree of circularity here. It could be argued that the need to introduce some form of performance assessment is proportional to the size of the budget or, put another way, to be able to argue for a larger budget requires evidence that it will generate an acceptable rate of return. Having said that, it is not unusual even in the private sector to nd insufciently dened criteria on which to assess the success of a brand. Indeed, in contrast to measures of marketing, there are no denitive criteria against which to measure brand success.62 This is an area which would benet from research, not only in relation to public sector marketing in general but more importantly in relation to location branding, where the ability to develop brand equity needs to be demonstrated before budgets will be forthcoming.

The branding of locations has attracted relatively little interest in the academic literature. What literature there is tends to focus on the broader marketing issues. This literature is mainly to be found in the domains of urban planning, retail marketing and tourism/vacation marketing. From the literature reviewed, it is clear from several different academic perspectives that the application of branding to locations such as cities and towns is regarded as at best complex and at

worst, some would say, impossible. Given the paucity of research in this area, this study sought to explore the role which branding plays or could play in the marketing of locations such as towns and cities in the UK and to compare the ndings with the issues discussed in the literature. In considering the results, it should be borne in mind that the research purposefully excluded the largest cities in the UK. It might also be said to have a bias towards the tourism aspects of location branding. As regards the literature, evidence was found to support many of the issues. The study found that most departments had a limited appreciation of what a brand is. Branding as a concept was seen as relevant but not always fully understood, and this has to be borne in mind when considering the results. In particular, branding techniques were often limited to the development of logos, straplines and symbols which were used both to create a visual identity and as an umbrella for a wide variety of frequently commercial activities, such as hospitality and leisure, as part of the product on offer at the location. This limited promotion of the brand to some extent reected the small budgets allocated to marketing and branding activities and a lack of political will. The more progressive cities attempted to create a customerfocused product by either integrating relevant features of the city or forming stakeholder alliances, sometimes across geographic boundaries, in order to develop a coherent product as the basis for a multi-product brand. In contrast, the study found that the less progressive cities accepted the legal denitions of their boundaries and took a product rather than a consumer139



focused approach. In these instances, branding activities were often centred around events management and building loose links with local hotel associations and attractions. The inability to establish effective stakeholder alliances meant that branding strategies were frequently the result of a bargaining process that led to the establishment of an umbrella organisation based around the lowest common denominator in order to encapsulate the objectives of the majority. Overall, however, the study found no evidence to suggest that the branding of locations is impossible. The value of this study lies in the insights which it gives into the key factors which affect the brands development. The rst factor is organisational complexity and control. If branding is to become an effective tool in the promotion of a location, the research suggests that changes will have to be made in the way in which the organisations responsible for branding are organised. The absence of appropriate organisational structures often resulted in conicting objectives being set for different promotional activities. This undermines a central requirement of successful branding, which is consistency in what the brand represents. A single, consistent and clearly identied brand proposition and set of brand objectives must form the basis of the location brands strategic development and performance evaluation. This can only be achieved through the establishment of an appropriate organisational structure. The second factor is the management of partnerships. Location brands cannot be developed by local authorities without the effective commitment of other organisations,

particularly those in the private sector. These stakeholders exert considerable inuence on the shaping of the location brand, which can be both positive and mutually benecial if the right form of partnership can be found, or counterproductive without a high level of consensus. The third factor is product complexity. Critical to successful branding is the ability to dene the boundaries of the location such that it forms a product or service which is perceived as attractive by the target market(s), and is able to deliver on the promise. In most cases this can only be achieved through the establishment of the right partnerships. The fourth factor is the measurement of success. As in mainstream marketing, there is a clear need in cities to be able to demonstrate that location branding is an effective strategy. At present little money is available to develop location brands, but it is argued that until there is evidence to demonstrate that brand equity can be created in location brands then this position is unlikely to change. Given that there has so far been little published research into the whole area of location branding, and in particular these key factors, it is suggested that a future research agenda across all three subject areas might protably address these factors. In particular, research should seek to understand the relationship between organisational structure, control and branding practices in local authorities; seek to advance current understanding of the relationships between stakeholders involved in the branding of locations by exploring these relationships and identifying good practice; compare the effectiveness of different product strategies in the



context of brand building; and map out the criteria for brand success as the basis for the evaluation of location brand equity.
The author would like to thank Val Cox from the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside, who jointly carried out the eldwork and assisted with the analysis for this study. She was also co-author of the working paper presented to the Academy of Marketing conference at the University of Derby in July 2000.


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1. Other than you, who are the other people with marketing responsibilities in your area? 2. How do you dene the boundary of the town/city for marketing purposes? 3. What does the term branding mean to you? Whats the purpose of branding? 4. Do you think branding a city or town is different from branding a product or service? 5. What role does branding play in your marketing? If none, why is this? 6. What are your branding objectives? 7. Who are your main audiences? 8. What factors affect the success of your branding? 9. What helps and what hinders this? 10. How do you assess how successful you are? 11. Do you collect data on specic performance indicators? 12. Other key areas.