Place Branding: Authenticity at All Times

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May 16, 2022

In place branding, our goal isn’t to construct or formulate a new narrative for a space. It’s to unearth the narrative that reflects what is authentic to those who live, work, visit, play and study there. That’s the brand promise—what a place says it offers, and what people experience once they’re there, must align.

To ensure authenticity at all times for a place, consider the following tenets.

Heritage and Environment

A place’s brand should consider its heritage—its cultural history, its natural environment, the key characteristics that give it a sense of place. The brand should strike the balance between its history, and its aspirations for the future. And this delicate dance should be informed by its community, not dictated to it.

“Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” – Marty Neumeier

Without engaging stakeholders, you won’t know what stories aren’t being told, and why not. They have a unique and true perspective of how the space is used—and its strengths and challenges. Without their input, the story is far less likely to be authentically told.

Perceptions

We have to acknowledge current perceptions—and projections—by learning what people currently think and say about us. And then ask, “Why might they think or say these things?” You have to dig into the good and the bad to articulate the “true identity of a place…” which is also subject to change. We have to capture it and analyze it—and put in the work to challenge it, or change it.

Credibility Over Credit

When all of these factors come together, we give a brand credibility. Sometimes, a brand is about who made the thing, assigning credit for the work. It’s not about who anymore, but about how and why. We build credibility for the work we’ve done, together, and the place it represents. And those who helped create it? They become our champions.

 


 

To paraphrase Woody Guthrie—this place is your place, this place is my place, this place belongs to you and me.

If you listen to Woody’s version of that song, it’s not all about rolling in clover. It’s got some rough reality in it about who feels welcome, and who feels cared for and about, too. And with that knowledge, we must design and co-create experiences that are credible and true, and that matter.

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