Three suggested readings on place branding
Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Start-up Nation. The Story of Israel´s Economic Miracle. Twelve, New York. 2009. Paperback edition, 2011.
Koh Buck Song. Brand Singapore. How Nation Branding Built Asia´s Leading Global City. Marshall Cavendish, Singapore. 2011.
Ruedi Baur and Sébastien Thiery, editors, Don’t Brand My Public Space! Lars Müller Publishers. 2013.
It is difficult to highlight any must-read books on place branding, for the simple reason one can hardly find this sort of stuff. We mean an overall vision of the field from an innovative perspective. However, we have selected three readings that, for different reasons, may inspire the practitioner´s work.
Apparently, “Start-up Nation” is nothing to do with placebranding, albeit the title could brilliantly work as a strapline in any place brand campaign. The book tells how Israel, a country mostly associated to conflict, has become one of the world´s prime incubators of technological innovation. Indeed, in per capita terms, Israel hosts the highest concentration of innovation and entrepreneurship in the world nowadays. With only 7.1 million people, the country has more companies at the NASDAQ than the whole Europe. Masterfully written, the book grabs you from the first page and has reached bestseller status in record time, having been translated into over twenty languages.
It´s the perfect example on how valuable and fundamental is the role of a compelling narrative when dealing with placebranding. We mean a compelling narrative that explores into the values and unique character of the place, fact based, and told throughout a bunch of good stories – according to the authors, their book is “part exploration, part argument and part storytelling”. And much better if such a place narrative, as in the case of “Start-up Nation”, is told by third parties. That is, it isn´t part of any official promotional material. Even in this case, as the authors´ background is government, business and journalism, the result can hardly be identified as marketing-styled writing and consequently it is more credible.
The other suggested title on Singapore is quite different, in the sense it has been consciously written as a case study in placebranding. It describes the last 30 years of the Asian tiger´s impressive transformation from an underdeveloped country to a global city-state, and in particular the role of strategic communication in it, which is powerful when it is duly connected to strategic planning and action –the “soft power” of place branding in the author´s words. Koh Buck Song underlines the leading role of government in promoting and conducting the communication strategy (“central coordination”) and presents place branding as basically a matter or alignment of those entities and bodies which interacts more often with international audiences, an organizational challenge.
Certainly, the autocratic style of Singapore is not a benchmark for stakeholder involvement in Western societies, and one may disagree with some of the assumptions in the book – e.g. we are convinced places or place brands do not compete with commercial brands in the “consumer´s mind” for the simple reason we do not approach places and cities as consumers. Even so, this well documented story offers inspiring ideas, and to some extent it is almost a declaration of love to place branding by a prominent former practitioner in the field.
Finally, the collection of critical essays edited by Ruedi Baur, “Don´t Brand my Public Space!”, is not a manifesto against place branding but a reaction to the “symbolic poverty of the representational systems of territorial collectivities” and the overbranded world where we live in.