Re-branding the high street: the place branding process and reflections from three UK towns
During the IPM’s High Street UK 2020 project, a strategic framework for place regeneration - the ‘4Rs framework’ - was developed. Rebranding is the regeneration strategy discussed in this paper. It involves communicating clear and consistent messages about a place’s identity to the people who live, work, and visit that place.
High streets and town centres are facing significant challenges due to pressures of out-of-town retailing, the rise in online shopping, and changes in consumer behaviour. However, local place leaders do not always know how to effectively respond to such changes to regenerate high streets and town centres. The High Street UK 2020 (HSUK2020) project, led by the Institute of Place Management, sought to bring fragmented and often inaccessible academic knowledge directly to UK high streets to improve their vitality and viability. As part of this project, a team of place experts developed a strategic framework for place regeneration - the ‘4Rs framework’ - which includes: repositioning, reinventing, rebranding, and restructuring. This paper focuses on how local place stakeholders can respond to high street decline through a strategy of rebranding. Rebranding strategies involve the application of branding, marketing communications, and public relations techniques to deliver a clear and consistent message about a place’s identity. The paper outlines five stages involved in effective place branding. First, research into place perceptions of both visitors and the local catchment should be conducted. The second deliberation stage involves local stakeholders discussing a proposed strategic vision for the place. Third, consultation about the proposed place branding vision should be undertaken with the local community. Fourth, placemaking interventions are implemented to achieve the proposed vision. And fifth, communications about place identity are developed and shared with place users and potential visitors. The article presents three case studies - Alsager, Altrincham, and Holmfirth - to show the place branding process in action, and concludes by calling for more participatory place branding.