Destination branding for small cities

Back in 2007, Destination Branding consultant Bill Baker released one of the best ‘how to’ books for city branding practitioners, mayors, planners, governors and anyone else tasked with or interested in the branding of cities.

‘Destination Branding for Small Cities: The Essentials for Successful Place Branding’ was so successful that he has updated it and you can find the updated version on amazon here

Bill Baker, defining the city branding process from the trenches

Bill understands better than most that city branding is much more than a logo, tag line or a communications exercise. With more than 30 years experience branding destinations, Bill outlines and explains the complexities of developing a place brand, the research needed, the stakeholders involved and the importance of developing a well defined strategy.

With plenty of case studies and comments from other practitioners (My contribution is below), this book should be required reading not only of practioners and government servants but also of students of marketing and branding.

Here’s my contribution to the book:
Singapore and Hong Kong have built internationally respected brands. This was achieved not by using creative taglines or cool advertising campaigns, but through their holistic approach to the process of branding.

Other Asian cities can benefit by emulating their practices through a better understanding of the elements required to build a destination brand and by having a more customer-centered approach.

Unfortunately, when it comes to destination branding, too many Asian cities have a top-down focus with a fixation on taglines or a brand essence or a one size fits all communications campaign that develops what it thinks is an interesting message that tries to speak to everyone, but really speak to no one.

As an example, in an attempt to boost tourism, the State government of Perak in Malaysia announced that the state capital, Ipoh would be known as the ‘City of White Coffee’.

Ipoh – city of white coffee. Would this tempt you to visit Ipoh?

A State executive said at the time, “Ipoh should have its own identity and branding just like Shenzhen (China) that is known as the “Shoe City” and Paris which has long been known as the “City of Fashion”. This shows a lack of understanding of what is destination branding and is an unrealistic expectation and hardly a concept to drive significant tourism growth.

I wrote an article about how to brand Ipoh, a beautiful city with massive potential and only a couple of hours north of Kuala Lumpur at the end of 2010. You can read the article here.

Similarly, the large Indonesian city of Surabaya has developed the tagline, ‘Sparkling Surabaya’ in an attempt to communicate the sparkling of the city as a centre for jewelry.

Surubaya tagline

In addition to being rather naive, the idea was controversial because citizens felt that the concept did not fully represent their city. A more thorough branding process might have helped avoid this situation.

On the other hand, the branding of the city of Zamboanga in the Philippines as ‘Asia’s Latin City’ has gained wide endorsement because it speaks well to the city’s culture and strong Latin influence, and appeals to external audiences as well.

The globally accepted principles of place branding are certainly valid in Asia however, the level of their application is very patchy at best.

Few demonstrate what can be considered ‘best practice’, and too many are influenced by basic misunderstandings concerning the practice and processes required, and how a city brand should be communicated and perform.

In general, too many see city branding as simply a tourism driven creative advertising campaign or a new slogan pushed out across traditional media.


7 thoughts on “Destination branding for small cities

  1. Hi, I’m writing a piece on branding and identity for secondary cities in Asia. Would love to carry a quote from you. How can I get in touch? Am based in Gurgaon, India.


  2. Hi, I’ve read parts of his book. I wanted to send them the email. How do I talk to? Thanks for your help me


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