Book Review: Five Reasons Why Place Brands Fail

Chapter 2 of this book is about Keys for place brand success. Perhaps all of us will want to jump to this chapter. Not so fast. We want to continue reminding you to spend time learning the fundamentals of place branding- that is where the answers lie. Failure to grasp this is one of the reasons for failure. We would also like to put another speed bump quite early on in this review; “place branding cannot be achieved merely through promotion and advertising”.

An Insiders Guide to Place Branding offers 5 reasons why place brands fail:

  1. Misconception about what place branding is
  2. Political or institutional instability and lack of leadership
  3. Insufficient funding
  4. Insufficient stakeholder engagement and collaboration
  5. Non-representativeness

You do remember that in our review of Chapter 1, we talked about advertising agencies and their application of private sector methodology on place branding activities. We have also just put a speed bump on promotion and advertising as not being the only success factor. Florian, reflects on this issue by sharing the frustrations of Todd Babiak the CEO of Brand Tasmania in Australia. Todd says “there is nothing more frustrating for a place branding advisor than when someone – often the agency partner- decides that it should only be an advertising campaign and nothing more.”

“there is nothing more frustrating for a place branding advisor than when someone – often the agency partner- decides that it should only be an advertising campaign and nothing more.” Todd Babiak

We keep going back to this issue of advertising and promotion and agencies because from an African place branding perspective, it is the biggest contributor to failure. Let me show you how; if the agency does not understand the fundamentals of place branding, they will be starting the process on a wrong footing.

Secondly, if they go the advertising and promotion way yet it is the politicians who determine budgets, the politician will want to see how that campaign impacted his/her constituents- the stakeholders. Advertising and promotion results may fail to show impact to communities. The results is that the politicians will withhold funding to Place Branding because they want to see tangible results not as in their words ‘good pictures and videos’ or what one called vanity metrics.

On the second cause of failure; political and institutional instability, it sometimes seems like place branding initiatives are set up to fail. If we take a broad understanding of place branding, and take a look at the many public agencies created by governments to handle individual facets of the whole, each in its own silo, and with its own politics of survival to keep jobs that politicians want to flaunt as achievements, we begin to see failure. Combine that with the policies of changing governments, ministers, mayors and governors who may not see place branding in the same way the previous government saw it. In cycles of 5 years the strategy can change into a political campaign tool, get back on track as a wholesome place brand initiative or simply be kicked to the back burner as not being important to the current government.

At Place Brand Africa, we believe that of the five reasons for failure, political and institutional instability, lack of leadership, insufficient stakeholder engagement and collaboration are the greatest contributors to failure of place branding in Africa.

We can learn the fundamentals of place branding, create great strategies, surmount the challenges of stakeholder engagement and work with the assumption that issues of insufficient funding for place branding initiatives are universal. Yet with one swoop of the pen the politics of the day can render all these as useless things a chasing after the wind.

It is important to understand how politicians think. Quoting Caio Esteres owner of Places for Us he states “a place brand must be shared by all. If it becomes just a government brand, something for the international market with no reflection of the local community, local economy and no understanding of the process as a whole, then this is a place brand that failed”.

Florian delves into the issues of failure with openness. It confirms to you that the challenges you face managing an African place brand are universal in nature and can be navigated by learning from others’ experiences. These experiences are richly availed in the book.

What then are the keys to success? This book lays them down for you to put them to test. We believe you will enjoy them. Quite insightful and with a broader look based on the fundamentals in Chapter 1. Some examples on how to surmount the causes of failure based on real place brand experiences are shared. This may be that one resource you have been looking for to unlock your place brand.

You will get to appreciate the various funding models that can bolster your place brand and cover your strategy from the howling winds of politics. A good example of this is through greater partnerships.

An Insiders Guide to Place Branding makes the logical argument that you can prime yourself for success by getting all the keys to success right but your outcomes and KPIs will never be met if the brand is not authentic to the local community. The soul of the local community must be seen in reality, at every visual, and verbal brand cue, and must be constantly ‘hacked’ to assure correspondence with changing times. We as African destinations cannot be selling the same brand proposition 50 years after independence.

Finally, there is the need to measure and find the impact of place brand strategies. This chapter opens this up too. It concludes that “in sum, measuring the effectiveness of place branding can be tricky due to it’s complexity, the many stakeholders involved and the difficulty to prove the causality between your activities and changes in performance.” By all means though, always measure.

Click here to enjoy a preview of this Chapter.

For more of Florian’s works and resources on place branding click here.

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