Branding Regions and Destinations

11 years, 11 months ago

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Changing consumer perceptions of cities and other geographical areas presents many marketing and PR challenges. By Frank G. Kurzhals.



Gouda, Netherlands, Chardonnay, France and Hershey, Pennsylvania are places so deeply associated with the products they produce that the city names and products have become synonymous. Regional marketing is clearly not a new concept. However, what is new is the approach that a number of regional governments and tourism organisations are taking to consciously develop new marketing strategies.

European regions are in competition for investors and skilled personnel, for tourists and residents. If a specific region is not visible, it will be overlooked. State governments, business development agencies and others benefit from a more attractive brand profile and better recognition. The result is changing the way one views European cities and markets.

Regional marketing is a crucial success factor in today’s competitive market, yet many regions struggle to create a strong regional brand. Creating a strong profile requires focus. Branding can strategically manage and shape a region’s image; therefore, a clear concept of what the region stands for and its future vision is essential. The brand promise needs to be relevant to the target group and the core concepts need to be credible.

A regional brand takes shape in the perceptions of a desired target audience. Over the years a clear method has emerged for discovering how regional brand opinions are formed. In my experience, four central elements are absolutely fundamental for regional branding: They must be Market-driven, Strategic, Authentic and Consistent. Determining if you have the fundamental elements can be gauged by a series of questions and steps.

Market-driven: Whom do we want? Who needs us?

As a star needs fans, a brand needs its target groups. To ensure that communication is relevant to a target group, ask the key questions: How do international target groups currently perceive the brand? What are its core values, themes and products?

Pleon – the Agency I work with – systematically investigates a target group’s perception of a region using a process called Brand: Face, a qualitative instrument for understanding regions in terms of individualized characteristics. For example, Italian target groups have a specific brand aesthetic that is not congruent with the expectations of British target groups. With Brand: Face, these specifics can be defined and used for working the brand. This information can help identify which target groups find the brand appealing and what core values and themes are currently associated with the brand.

Strategic: Evolve with your brand

Managing a regional brand successfully requires consistent follow through on long-term strategic goals. The democratic bottom-up structures of cities, regions or countries are good prerequisites for this.

For example, we have been working for a long time with Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a community located on the Baltic Sea in northern Germany to reposition the brand strategically for the future. The overall characteristics of theMecklenburg-Vorpommern brand were summarised as sub-brands of the federal state: tourism, the healthcare industry, agriculture and the food industry, culture, education and population, everything that will play a role in shaping the state’s image in the coming years.

What makes Mecklenburg-Vorpommern special? The state is part of northern Germany – not eastern Germany – with a maritime flavour and lots of wide-open space. It was a real coup to attract the 2007 G8 Summit to Northern Germany and we used a simple visual – a wicker beach chair – to symbolise the region’s maritime tradition. The symbol became an ideal photo opportunity for international media as we had heads of state sit in the wicker chairs for a “group photo”. This photo went around the world promoting a maritime image of Northern Germany.

Authentic: Stand out by being yourself

A region’s brand profile is also defined by authenticity. This can be illustrated through another example from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern: the Baltic, characterized by its freshness and gourmet cuisine.

At the beginning of the last century, whitefish was considered a delicacy, but when the fish became threatened it fell into a long period of oblivion. The region’s recent restocking project has turned the situation around and the Baltic whitefish is seeing widespread consumption again. Its comeback is not only a joy for gourmets: it is proof of a successful symbiosis of the fishing industry and environmental protection.

Consistent: Stick to your brand’s essentials

Just as we all want recognition from friends – a regional brand wants recognition from its target groups. A consistent, and integrated, brand presentation can help. Consistently communicating the brand’s characteristics and values in publications, Internet, advertising copy, office equipment, trade-fair appearances, and giveaways will go a long way towards creating a strong regional reputation.

With this roadmap, things are no longer left open to chance, but rather, a clear concept of what a region should stand for is developed and actions for how to achieve this unfold.


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The Author

Frank G. Kurzhals

Frank G. Kurzhals, branding expert, Pleon Berlin.

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