Improving high street performance by communication

As part of a town or city’s marketing communications, communication strategies need to highlight retail change and need to encourage customers to change their shopping habits in a way that will sustain such change (Kirkup & Rafiq, 1999; Warnaby, Bennison, & Davies, 2005).

A good example of this is communicating changes in opening hours. For example, late night opening initiatives can fail if shoppers are unaware of the extended opening times.

Whilst place promotion and communication strategies to shoppers are, on the whole, improving; communication between traders on the High Street is very poor. A study we undertook in 2005 showed that only 40% of
SME traders were in any sort of network to receive information about their sector or location.

There is more commentary about communication contained in our blogs on collaboration, engagement and networks.


Kirkup, M. H., & Rafiq, M. (1999). Marketing shopping centres: challenges in the UK context. Journal of Marketing Practice: Applied Marketing Science, 5(5), 119–133.


Warnaby, G., Bennison, D., & Davies, B. J. (2005). Marketing communications in planned shopping centres: evidence from the UK. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 33(12), 893–904.


Place Branding and Marketing in Ireland

Today, Ireland’s Sunday Business Show on Today FM (presented by Cónáll O’ Morian) had a special feature on place marketing and branding. I was invited to contribute to a panel discussion along with Joanne Grehan, CEO of Mayo County Enterprise, Paul Keyes CEO of Team Sligo and Eoghan Predergast who is leading the marketing of Limerick. This blog takes a look at current place marketing activities in Ireland.

Mayo County Enterprises is behind “Recipes for success: The business of food“, an initiative to create a county level food vision.

Team Sligo is a Chamber of Commerce movement to promote enterprise and tourism and Sligo as “a location for new, expanding and relocating businesses” and by 2014 aims to be the most improved destination in Ireland for visitor numbers. It’s slogan is “Sligo: set your spirit free”.

Finally, the Limerick Marketing Company aims to double visitor numbers and income as Ireland’s first dedicated place marketing company. The marketing of Limerick is a strategic objective of the Limerick 2030 spatial and economic plan.

Whilst these organisations, partnerships or initiatives may be relatively new, the process of promoting places “has been, practiced consciously or unconsciously for as long as cities have competed with each other” (Kavaratzis, 2008). Ever since roads, canals, railways have linked towns and cities together they have competed to attract people and investment. Even whole nations have marketed themselves to attract population (like Canada and Australia) – just look at the emigration poster from 1948 below.

At first, from looking at the literature available on the Web, Team Sligo seemed to take a traditional approach to place marketing – in that it aims to attract investment (both mobile and fixed) to the area – it’s focus is external and transactional – new visitors, new businesses – attract them in, then attract some more. More contemporary place marketing is less about this type of exogenous development and more about endogenous growth, developing the place product through internal resources – growing businesses, up or re-skilling the workforce etc. It was good to hear that Sligo also recognises the importance of “grass roots integration” and during the programme Paul made it clear that future success was going to come from more successful partnership working amongst the existing stakeholders who voluntarily want to make Sligo better.

Both types of development are referred to explicitly in the Limerick 2030 vision for both foreign direct investment and “endogenous business growth”. Eoghan referred to the complexity of place marketing and the multi-dimensional nature of place. Whilst Limerick wants to re-brand around the principles of being “authentic, innovative and progressive” this seems to be an ‘organising principle’ (Kavaratzis, again), to encourage stakeholders to be part of the change process, rather than a constraining strap-line.

Likewise, the Mayo food vision is being created by local people and businesses – the collectivisation of the various parts of the ‘product’ being the first and most crucial step. However, like the other place marketing initiatives discussed today there is a preoccupation with making money out of place initiatives. This is explicit in Mayo’s “Recipes for success: The business of food”. But food is more than a business, and so are places.

Critics of place marketing and branding see the adoption of business principles as the creeping commodification of place. “Places are being increasingly packaged around a series of real or imaginary cultural traditions and representations” (Hall, 1997). So food could be promoted at the expense of other traditions, such as music or things which cannot be so easily sold such as folklore or story-telling.

As Cónáll pointed out, many places are ‘competing’ against each other but with exactly the same offer – food, culture, creativity etc. and a word that came up a lot in our discussion was ‘authentic’. Place marketing and branding has to accurately represent the place product. Otherwise it is just empty rhetoric.

On the whole, the three initiatives we discussed today reflect a shift away from rhetoric and towards reality. Place marketing and branding is finally becoming more substantive and about time! The idea that slogans, iconic buildings or a few more tourists, on their own, can change the fortunes of a place in decline is rather desperate. Nevertheless, a lot of place marketing activity is publicly funded – so we should continue to be vigilant and ensure the local people that fund these initiatives get a suitable return on their investment.

You can download a podcast of the programme here.


Special Issue of Journal of Place Management and Development

Volume 6 Issue 1 is now available on early cite. This is the Special Issue: The Business of Place: Critical, Practical and Pragmatic Perspective that contains selected papers from the 3rd International Place Branding and 2nd Institute of Place Management Conference which is taking place 13th and 14th Feb. Congratulations to all our authors.

My Place is not Your Place – Different Place Brand Knowledge by Different Target Groups by Sebastian Zenker and Suzanne C. Beckmann

My City – My Brand: The Different Roles of Residents in Place Branding by Erik Braun, Mihalis Kavaratzis, and Sebastian Zenker

A Study on the Delivery of City Branding Advertisements in China: City Branding Advertisement on CCTV, 2007-2010 by Chunying Wen

Developing a Collective Capacity for Place Management by Tore Omholt

Slum Tourism, City Branding, and Social Urbanism: The Case of Medellin, Colombia by Jaime Hernandez-Garcia

The Tools for City Centre Revitalization in Portugal by Pedro Porfírio Coutinho Guimarães

50th speaker at place conference confirmed

We have just confirmed our 50th speaker at our conference next year (13th to 15th February)

The response to our Call for Papers was really positive and we have reviewed over 90 submissions.  We have now confirmed speakers from 20 countries (see list below).  We are expecting competition for one of the five places for papers in the Special Conference Issue of the Journal of Place Management and Development to be fierce!  However, all authors that get a full paper to us by the 3rd December 2012 will be included in the ISBN conference proceedings.  There is an early bird rate for the conference until the 14th November 2012 and we are now taking bookings at

We look forward to seeing everyone in February (13th to 15th).

What makes a good place marketing website?

I asked my Final Year Location Planning and Place Marketing students to come up with evaluation criteria to enable them to identify a good place marketing website from a bad one.  They then compared their criteria and found that they had all come up with very similar ones – and we tested them out on other sites to ensure they were robust.  There’s a list of all the websites we evaluated at the end of this blog.

What did we learn?  Well the criteria they decided upon were.

  1. Originality – communicating a sense of place.   Too many websites were similar, unless you looked at the web address you didn’t get any clues about where the place was.  Originality could be communicated through colourful place images and also, in some cases, comments and ‘breaking news’ stories coming through a discussion forum.
  2. Design – whilst originality was important, the best websites looked professional and modern.
  3. Navigation – the students liked the clearly structured sites, that weren’t ‘cluttered’ and were instinctive to navigate around.
  4. Inclusive – an interesting one; and a controversial criterion.  Some students liked the websites that had information for a wide group of stakeholders, including children.
  5. Targeted –others thought the websites that had a clear target audience (the type of ‘visit x’ websites) were better as it was clear what their offer was.
  6. Useful – the website needed to provide useful and current information.

On the whole, the more targeted the website the more sophisticated it was in marketing terms.  But we were investigating place marketing.  Some of the council or community websites were poor in digital marketing terms but were stronger in terms of ‘place’ – and communicated important information to the people that lived there. 

Just like places themselves, there are many stakeholders and it is hard to market a place to all these different stakeholders through one website.  In addition, as no-one owns any trademark (i.e. the place name) any group can set up a place marketing website.  Some students were surprised about the negative images of a place some websites portrayed but  everyone is entitled to air their own opinion about a place.

Have a look at the websites we reviewed and see what you think.  Which ones do you think are good or bad?  And why?