Governments around the world deploy economic development strategies with the aim of attracting investment into a particular market or region. The idea is to boost local tourism, business, productivity, employment and/or entrepreneurial growth by romancing a region’s – all the way down to a unique neighbourhood’s – core benefits.
We see this all the time: ‘Incredible India’ (for tourism); ‘Made in India’ (for business); ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’ and ‘Maldives, the Sunny Side of Life’ (for country and destination branding). The examples are numerous and self-evident. Yet, when economic development strategies are created in a silo, when they fail to consider the nuances of the ground realities of the region they wish to promote, then they risk compromising the entire effort.
As Pakistan begins to redefine its role and shape its hemispheric potential as the gatekeeper of CPEC, it is absolutely critical that the country’s leadership invest in economic development strategies across the investment spectrum – be it financial or cultural. Whether that involves improving the country’s image, each province’s potential, or each city’s promise, doing so will yield a bounty of returns that will catapult our place and perception in the world at large.
But before we do any of that, it is important to consider the value of Place Branding in economic development. George Allen, Principal of Brand and Design Consultancy, Design| Strategy |Research |Inc (DSR), in his magazine article, Place Branding: New Tools for Economic Development, states: “The idea that physical places can be branded is a natural extension of corporate brand theory. Indeed, it is generally accepted that places, as defined by culture, politics and geography, are increasingly seen to be products, as subject to brand management practices as a cup of coffee or a car.”
So, Place Branding is exactly what it says it is: applying branding practices to places, so that the place brand enjoys a distinctive personality, an untarnished reputation and sustained loyalty. Which means, if a region or community wishes to promote itself, sensible economic developers must first ask a number of questions to ensure that the image they wish to portray matches the product and represents the interests of that community in such a way that they are collectively primed for future action.
When creating a place brand, we must ask who we are? What does the outside world think of us?And will we collectively live up to the expectations that we have set for others and ourselves? Moreover, we must ask whether we have the infrastructure (physical and mental), the proper landscape (internal and external), and the emotional unity needed to deliver the goods to a diverse and hesitant audience, who, until now, has been subjected to a specific, if not myopic, perspective. The right place branding will look to replace marginalised, inaccurate, and cliché-dripped imagery with persuasive narratives and contemporary truth.
When creating a place brand, we must ask who we are? What does the outside world think of us? And will we collectively live up to the expectations that we have set for others and ourselves?
To implement this successfully, Place Branding should be considered as the first step in the economic development process. Here’s how:
Strike the right balance between context and content. In other words, Place Branding is the context that creates the environment for economic developers to carry out their work, and each project (to attract business, tourists, financing, etc.) is the content. Once the context and content are aligned, a positive environment for economic growth is established.
Orchestrate the strategy. Economic developers must involve all stakeholders in such a way that every decision informs the next and is based on what they see their community or region representing. So if, for instance, Bahawalpur is branded as the City of Palaces, its tenor must continually justify this positioning. If Gwadar is branded as the gateway to Asia’s fortunes – suggesting a return to the original trading routes (those erased by imperial machinations) – it must be seen as being more than a Chinese maritime outpost.
Sing from the same song sheet. By adhering to the same set of values, a region or community can drive how it wishes to be portrayed to potential investors. Creating a song sheet, or a running theme, enforces discipline within and without. It ensures that each stakeholder will represent the community in the same, unified way so that all audiences hear the same message.
Whether it’s tourism, investment attraction, or business retention and expansion, a sound economic development strategy begins with Place Branding. Not only will this establish a working paradigm for critical decision-making and forward action, but unite all stakeholders in helping to achieve a preferred future.
I now hand you over to the Government of Pakistan.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE and CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.