Confused branding? An exploratory study of place branding practices among place management professionals

Based on in-depth interviews with place managers in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland, this 2017 article focuses on perceptions and practices of place branding. It identifies a gap between how academics theorise about place branding, and how it is actually used in practice. It finds that operational thinking in the profession can sometimes thwart more strategic and holistic place branding approaches, with a divide between more unilateral and participatory place branding approaches.

Date added 6 October 2021
Last updated 6 October 2021

This academic article focuses on the use of place branding by Business Improvement District and Town Centre Management professionals in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. It begins by outlining how academic understandings of place branding have evolved over the last two decades, moving from more promotional-based views, to seeing the practice as more strategic and holistic. The authors discuss how there have been ongoing debates in the field, for instance, regarding whether principles of branding traditional products can also be applied to the branding of places. And, more recently, more participatory approaches to place branding, which involve multiple local stakeholders, have been put forwards.

However, the authors also identify a potential gap in academic understandings of place branding, and how it is actually used and perceived in place management practice, which they seek to investigate in this article. Specifically, through in-depth interviews with place management professionals, they aim to explore the following:

  1. To identify the role of place branding in the management of TCM schemes and BIDs.
  2. To examine the mechanisms used by place management professionals to implement place branding on the ground, including working with local stakeholders.
  3. To evaluate potential avenues for the future of place branding in TCM and BIDs.

From analysing the interviews conducted, the following key findings are outlined:

  • An apparent divide emerged between those taking a more strategic approach to place branding (e.g. in London’s larger BIDs), and those taking a more operational perspective.
  • There was agreement in the importance of involving local stakeholders in the place branding process.
  • However, the process of actually engaging local stakeholders in place branding was contentious, with a split between more unilateral to more participatory approaches in practice.
  • The majority of participants identified the central role of culture and heritage in place branding, to create a unique place identity and positive place image.