Place branding and marketing

For your town and city centres to be distinguished from the functionality of retail parks or shopping online, it is important to collaborate with communities, emphasise their cultural character and create a collective place brand. This will be increasingly important as part of a phased re-opening and celebration of communities as part of post-COVID 19 recovery.

In essence, a place brand should be a shared understanding and expression of place to enable a full range of consistent and coherent communications activities to support your place marketing objectives. Events will also be a critical element of engaging the local community and attracting new visitors.

Place marketing

A place marketing strategy needs to have clear aims and objectives, use a range of channels, provide a breadth of insight and have clear methods of evaluation. It is also vital that you make sure that place marketing is captured in a simple, straightforward and engaging story that residents, partners, businesses and stakeholders can understand and rings true. Advice on how to develop an authentic place story is available as part of guidance on place branding on the LGA’s online Comms Hub.

Identifying the brand

Work by the LGA underlined that effective and sustainable place marketing must be authentic and show an understanding of distinctiveness, which is reflected in the marketing collateral and is supported by online resources. A report written for Historic England on place branding and heritage provides an authoritative understanding of heritage-focused place branding. The report proposes good practice including developing a shared online resource and creating flexible place branding and marketing materials for different local stakeholders to use.

Understanding place brand and council brand

Place brand and council brand are two very different things and are too frequently confused. Advice on the LGA’s Comms Hub explains the differences amongst other helpful guidance on developing a place brand:

  • Your council brand is that of your organisation and the services it provides.
  • Your place brand is about the place or places that the council serves. It is not about the council, its partners, or individual businesses.

It is difficult for one brand to do both things. Keeping them separate is vital for a clarity of understanding about what you are doing, and what you are trying to achieve. The distinction between place and council brand doesn't mean that the two should not be used together in a complimentary way, only that the demarcation should be clear, and clearly understood by everyone using the brands. In the end though, they are two different things, telling different stories albeit with important common ground.

Promoting the visitor economy

An LGA report recounts how boosting the visitor economy can help councils to showcase the unique identity and heritage of places by contributing distinctive branding to area-wide destination management and marketing. Councils play a vital strategic leadership role in achieving this through engagement between local tourism forums and Destination Management Organisations. In return, town-based tourism can help underpin the viability of the £2.6 billion that councils invest annually on supporting culture, heritage, sport, business and major events.  

Driving growth

In its report on driving growth through the arts, the LGA provides a reference point for the ways that councils can lead local growth through investment in arts and culture including town and city centres. Such investments help boost local economies by attracting visitors, creating jobs, boosting businesses, revitalising places, and developing talent. Cultural anchors such as libraries, theatres or museums can play a key role in hosting events, attracting additional footfall, underpinning regeneration and boosting the evening economy.

Organising festivals and events

Town centre festivals and events including specialist markets can celebrate local culture and provide benefits for the local community and economy. According to the LGA’s report on the local impact of Christmas markets, evidence of wider benefits include additional purchases and raising the profile of places by attracting new visitors. The report also highlights that customers expect authenticity in events and often more could be done to systematically measure impacts.

The joint LGA and Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association publication on the role of culture in placemaking puts a strong emphasis on the community benefits. By creating vibrant events and experiences in town centre locations, areas can boost wellbeing, improve mental health and tackle isolation.

Managing multi-purpose places

The Institute of Place Management’s high street UK2020 study identified 25 priorities for local action for places wanting to increase footfall and ranked cultural and community factors such as entertainment and leisure, multi-functionality, recreational space, attractiveness and place marketing, alongside issues such as the retail/services mix and accessibility. The Government-backed High Streets Task Force has adopted these top 25 priorities for vitality and viability to help place leaders and partnerships make towns sustainable. The full list of priority actions is:

  • activity hours
  • appearance
  • retailers & services
  • vision & strategy
  • experience
  • management
  • merchandise
  • necessities
  • anchors
  • networks & partnerships with council
  • diversity
  • walking
  • entertainment and leisure
  • attractiveness
  • place assurance
  • accessible
  • place marketing
  • comparison/convenience
  • recreational space
  • barriers to entry
  • chain vs independent
  • safety/crime
  • liveable
  • adaptability
  • store development

Creating partnerships

In the report on improving places by the Arts Council and Mayor of London there are examples of how BIDs, cultural organisations and local authorities can work together to help town centres thrive. The research highlights the success of such partnerships and creative programming in boosting the economy, bringing people together, promoting tourism and civic pride, and revitalising neighbourhoods. The report’s conclusions identified a pivotal role for local authorities including brokering contacts between organisations and promoting best practice in managing the night time economy.

Added animation and foot-flow

Art, culture, music & heritage are very likely to play an important role in post-COVID 19 recovery with festivals & events helping to drive footfall back into town centres. Such activity will need to adapt to public health guidance regulating crowds. For town and city centres to maximise their appeal, it is important to that collaborative place branding and marketing emphasises their cultural character and distinctive identity. Events will be a critical element of re-engaging the local community and attracting visitors back.

Marketing and events planning needs to focus on imaginative and flexible solutions during 2020 that respond to necessary restrictions on social gatherings whilst developing capacity and ambition for organising future events and festivals in 2021 and beyond.

Case studies

Wakefield Council has invested significantly in developing tourism in the district by supporting major cultural attractions such as The Hepworth Wakefield and developing its own tourism attractions, events and festivals.

Derbyshire County Council is working with Marketing Peak District & Derbyshire and partner authorities to develop the county’s visitor economy by boosting the capacity, quality and identity of individual towns as part of wider destination management and place branding.