An international brand resource for neighbourhoods, towns, cities, regions and economic clusters.

Just because you say so doesn't make it true...

Posted by Claire Matthews
At Taiji Brand Group, the fundamental underlying principle of all our branding work is that it has to be done "from the inside out." If the residents of a town or region don't believe in the brand, nobody else will.

Unfortunately, governments (and their tourism and marketing agencies) often have difficulty working from an authentic core. There's a tendency to impose a brand, whether it reflects any kind of truth or not. They seem to believe that they can control their brand more than is really possible—and that crafting a clever tagline is enough to make the brand "real."

Sometimes, government campaigns hit it out of the park. The "A place to live, a place to grow, Ontari-ari-ario" theme song has entered the pop culture mythology of everyone who lived there in the '70s. "Georgia on my mind", which came from Willie Nelson's interpretation of the song, is simply inspired. And even Victoria, BC's "The City of Gardens" works—because that is how many people who live here see their city.

But many place brands feel false. Perhaps they reflect a desired reality instead of the true picture (Liverpool has "The World in One City"? Really?). Maybe they're making too big an effort to ignore problems that everyone knows exist (it's hard to swallow BC as "The Best Place on Earth" when the Downtown East Side is known as one of the poorest and most troubled places in North America, and when BC burns more dirty coal than just about any other place in Canada).

Or maybe they're just plain weird—my favourite so far is "Kentucky: Where Education Pays".

At their worst, these brands—or rather, attempts at branding—are hard to differentiate from all-out propaganda. Did you know that North Korea brands itself as "Best Country in the World"? (And when an absolute dictatorship says it's "the best," you'd better believe it.) Wait a minute—isn't that awfully similar to BC's "Best Place on Earth"? Hmmm…

Changing people's perceptions of a place can take a long time—and that can be frustrating. (Ottawa is a great city. It is!) But you'll never change perceptions—or your local economy—by just slapping on a brand like a band-aid.

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Placebrand.ca© is a Taiji Brand Group project that explores the role and importance of place branding. We invite your comments and contributions at any time.