20 May 2019
Last month St Albans BID attended the City/Nation/Place UK conference in Birmingham to discuss strategic place branding and marketing in the 21st century. A day of workshops, presentations and insightful evidence-based examples of successful placemaking have cemented St Albans’ BID ambition to work with St Albans Council to produce a comprehensive and overarching Destination Management Plan for the future of St Albans.
I will share a range of thoughts, challenges and observations made at the event here, with a view to kickstart conversation and thinking about St Albans. Ultimately, all thoughts on place, branding and strategy come down to one question: How do you make the world curious about your place? We are incredibly lucky in St Albans that we don’t have a lack of civic pride, a lack of history or a lack of narrative about the City. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to history, heritage, culture and built environment. Sometimes, however that cornucopia of opportunity can be overwhelming and lead to many voices from around and across the city talking excitedly, but at cross-purposes, about their place. With the rise of social media, the challenge now for destination managers is not in creating a logo, a brand, a poster campaign and then making sure it gets ‘out there’. The challenge is in ensuring that the right kind of stakeholder engagement will create brand ambassadors in the business, hospitality and resident communities so that everyone is proud to share the same messages about St Albans. The consistency of these messages sustained over time, will then deliver results.
London was given as an example. The messages that were agreed about London were specifically designed for the audiences that were being targeted so that:
1 London as a creative energy (business and culture)
2 City of old vs new (Chinese)
3 London as a city of opportunity (business and students)
You will never see these statements overtly made in public, but if you look at all messages about London, officially and unofficially, they will come back to these roots.
With the rise of social media, influencers and new kind of tourism planning, the challenge of managing a tourism website was considered also. 90% of content on Visit Wales is influencer-written, for example Lonely Planet writers, locals and content creators. With these articles it becomes possible to “create once::publish everywhere”. This creates value in the pieces that have been written, reduces time to create new content for the myriad of channels and also makes sure that your messages are consistent.
The main takeaway from this thinking is this: These strategies aren’t limited to tourism. With the right destination management plan, successful businesses become brand ambassador for economic growth. By enabling entrepreneurs and business owners to be as passionate about the place in which they operate as well as their business and their product, the businesses are enabled to tell their own stories embedded in our place. Everybody benefits.
So how do we make sure that this strategy is working? A discussion arose further around evaluation and success criteria. Pooling evaluation points and also making sure we ask the right questions is key to this. A more qualitative approach to the traditional Occupancy Rates of hotels, for example, could be where visitors are coming from, in what proportions and why.
In harnessing the power of a unified umbrella strategy, the city can aim to:
- Be place-led not organisation led.
- More leadership and fewer logos
- Find a truth about the place and share it.
Finally, let me be clear: Brand isn’t a logo. It’s a reputation and a feeling about a place.
Choose authentic stories. Scale in both directions. Use Intuitive judgement- does this uniquely connect to this place? Amplify and promote/tones/channels to different audiences. The place is only ever the people and stakeholders that live and work there.
Itineraries and ideas to classify the different products to make it easier to clarify the proposition to visitors and businesses. Different people can then tap into the narratives from various business angles.
Be true to assets and reputation that already exist to be relevant to your place.
How do you filter the overall place narrative
If you’ve done place strategy right your partners will drive it home. Influence with strong watertight credible authentic strategy for others to deliver. Measurement and evaluation to make sure you know what you’re aiming for and whether you’ve achieved it. Whoever owns the strategy you have to have a shared outcome. Unless you have a compelling sense of what you’re all trying to do together you won’t get partners filtering in behind you.
Talk about where you’re going plus where you are. Talk about aspirations to bring investment and business into the fold. Diversity means that there are many conversations to have with many stakeholders.
Disconnect place from politics but connect it to policy. Work with LEP and drive strategy across the categories.
Activate taste ambassadors: they become the voice of the place.
City of culture application. Bid at county wide level and explode what is meant by ‘culture’.
Making a Place (point of view of building developer) – wordsearch.place
Questions to ask about a space before you redevelop it with no vision. Who are we? What do we stand for? What kinds of people do we want to have in our city and how will we get them here. Who do we want to be and how can we achieve that?
The vision is not the thing. It’s belief in the vision that gets people on board.
A bigger vision simplifies collective decision making because it removes irrelevant but appealing suggestions. Have a vision. Execute it with values. Profits will follow.
Developers must rethink the historic proforma that profits and income is all. You put value into your city and you will get value out of your building development.
Chinese Proverb (maybe) “Make happy those who are near and those who are far will come.”
What are you making?
Who is it for?
Why will they come?
What will they do here?