My first ever post on PlacesBrands was a brief discussion of some commonly held associations about certain countries.
Selecting the ones I knew best, I listed some of their most basic positive and negative characteristics. These ranged from images of huge crowds and fake brands in China, camels and big cars in Qatar, to beer and punctuality in Germany and outdoorsy pursuits/adventure in Australia. I contrasted these common images with other, more negative ones from so-called ‘rogue states’, including North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan.
My main aim was to launch the blog by illustrating the stark differences in country image and reputation. I also wanted to define a starting point for my journey towards greater knowledge and clearer understanding of how to create effective and lasting place images. I know I’ve learned a great deal since then.
All these characteristics, whether positive or negative, have something in common: they are stereotypes. And stereotypes offer a worldview that is far too simplistic to be useful. They are oversimplified ideas about people and countries that ignore much deeper, more genuine, and more valuable characteristics. Place branding efforts based purely upon stereotypes are prone to failure.
Branding consultant and blogger Günter Soydanbay has written a number of insightful posts explaining the limitations of stereotypes in place branding. I found his ideas so useful that I couldn’t resist including some of them here. He uses the Czech Republic as an example.
Every city or country possesses a set of unique underlying themes that have developed throughout its history. Soydanbay uses the Jungian term ‘archetypes’ to describe these themes and to differentiate them from ‘stereotypes’. Archetypes are ‘recurrent symbols or motifs’ that have been present since the dawn of humanity. They stem from what Jung calls the ‘collective unconscious’, and exist in every human system – including places.
Described by Soydanbay as a ‘timeless storyline’ (I love this phrase), an archetype is consistent, durable, and stem from reality. Archetypes reflect a truer picture of the place than stereotypes, because they have developed organically from the consciousness of the place’s citizens.
Let’s make a direct comparison of stereotype and archetype. For example: ‘they drink a lot of beer’ is a common stereotype for the Czech people. Compare this to ‘the pursuit of perfection’ (referring to the Czech reputation for making excellent beer). The stereotype is highly simplistic and carries elements of negativity. But the archetype is rich, characterful and positive.
In another interesting post, Soydanbay uses the example of a branding campaign from Ottawa to further illustrate his point about archetypes. The campaign aimed to turn around the commonly held stereotype of ‘boring’ Ottawa. But stereotypes are usually so deeply entrenched that attempting to alter them is a wasted exercise. A branding campaign with this aim will probably fail.
The key to success lies in discovering the archetype, or storyline, of your place. This means digging deep and exploring aspects of the place’s history, culture, language, music, and people (to name but a few possible influences). Then it’s a case of crafting compelling messages to tell the place story based on the elements you discover. This approach may be much harder work than simply slapping together a colourful logo and witty slogan, but it’s more likely to garner lasting results that truly make a difference to a place’s prospects.
Inspiration for this post came from Günter Soydanbay’s blog.