Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Place Brand Practitioners' Perspectives on the Management and Evaluation of the Brand Experience

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Place Brand Practitioners' Perspectives on the Management and Evaluation of the Brand Experience

Article excerpt

Place branding is a key aspect of the wider agenda for improving and promoting places and involves not only developing the image of the place, but also developing the place brand experience, which is dependent on the place's physical infrastructure and its maintenance, regeneration and development. The research presented here demonstrates that place brand practitioners recognise the complexity of the place offering and accordingly adopt a brand management approach that places emphasis on the management of the brand experience, collaborating with a range of stakeholders to try to deliver and continue to improve a consistent brand experience.

Keywords: place branding, place experience, place image, brand experience, place marketing

Place branding and its associated areas, such as destination branding, location branding, place and destination marketing, and place image development are receiving increasing attention from both practitioners and researchers. Practitioners in destination marketing organisations (DMOs) are concerned with using branding to promote their town, city, region or country, with a view to attracting tourists, businesses, cultural and sporting events and locales, and public and private sector investment (Kotler et al., 1993, 24). Such branding initiatives are part of a wider agenda concerned with improving and promoting places, which draw in a range of stakeholders associated with the place, including town planners, local businesses and residents. Key to the experience of a place is its functional or tangible attributes, which are developed through infrastructure and landscape strategies (Cai, 2002; Baker, 2007). However, many commentators argue that it is important to use representational devices such as brands to support and promote urban regeneration activities (McCarthy, 2007) in pursuit of long-term social vitality and economic viability (Peel and Lloyd, 2008). Indeed, as Hall (2008, 234) suggests: 'place branding needs to be understood in the context of both servicescape hardware and branding software'. Ultimately, a focus on branding provides an opportunity to develop an understanding of how the place is perceived and experienced and how those perceptions can be managed to strengthen and improve perceptions of the image and experience of the place.

Place branding is widely recognised to be complex relative to other types of branding, such as product or corporate branding, due to the nature of the place offering and the fact that the: 'product is assembled by the consumer from the variety of services and experiences obtainable there' (Warnaby and Davies, 1997, 206). Hence, research can make a valuable contribution to understanding the processes associated with the development of place images and experiences and the management of those processes, supporting those involved in regenerating and revitalising their place with benchmarking and enhancing their practice.

Whilst there is a growing body of research in place branding, this research has two key limitations. First, much of the commentary on place branding is conceptual and theoretical. In addition, such empirical research as has been conducted is predominantly case-study based and tends to focus on specific place entities, such as countries, cities and regions (Hankinson, 2001; Morgan et al., 2003; Bennett and Savani, 2003; Balakrishnan, 2008; Hanna and Rowley, 2008; Moilanen and Rainisto, 2009). Both Hankinson (2009) and Kavaratzis (2004) call for a more detailed analysis of common points and differences as a platform for further development of both practice and theory in the field.

Second, much of the existing research on place branding has focused on the brand or place image (Kavaratis, 2004; Peel and Lloyd, 2008). Notwithstanding the significance of the representational element of places and their regeneration in communicating with diverse audiences, what is equally powerful in driving reputation and engagement with the place is the experience of the place, which is captured in the brand experience. …

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