Branding can help with change in a number of areas, not only for products or services but also cities, regions and even countries. In this article, we explore how branding can help revitalise society and the regional economy; place branding.
Gather people under one direction
There are three main stakeholders for place branding: residents, government and corporations. They can often seem to have different interests, though these frequently connect with each other. A clear vision helps to amalgamate them.
Take Kawakami-village, the Nagano prefecture in Japan which is located at an altitude of 1,300m and which had a climate suitable for growing lettuce. Aging residents wanted to maintain the community for the next generation, the regional government wanted to reduce medical costs, and companies (farmers) wanted to establish a clear positioning as a lettuce producer in the market.
The vision that the village mayor had was “to create the community made of the happiest people in Japan”. They chose technology to make this come true. It enabled them to produce the highest quality of lettuce which led to a better income (circa £180k) per capita, better tax payment and a better birth rate. The village then deployed the system to holistically manage regional insurance, benefits, and medical and elderly care, which decreased the medical cost to a rate lower than the national average.
When people come and work together, they can turn visions into reality. It is crucial to have people from different backgrounds on board, as a place is a common asset for all. Without consensus it is likely that there is a rocky road ahead. In fact, place branding also requires input from diverse professions in society, the economy, and the environment. Thus, showing a vision helps them to collaborate towards one direction.
How can you find the vision that connect people?
A brand can stand out if it is relevant, authentic, unique and inspiring so as places. That said, looking into culture, history and nature will be a great start as it is the accumulation of thousands of human activities from the place that you would like to revitalise. I would say this process would be like a treasure hunt and the key is to discover the intersections between culture, history, nature, communities, societies, and the world. We need to go back and forth between macro and micro views in order to inspire a wider range of audiences in their background and interests.
Vision can be the heart and soul for people, for better or for worse
Place branding can consist of continuous initiatives passed down from generation to generation. The timeframe for place branding can be long. Given that vision of a place will help to articulate a belief of what all activities (i.e. branding) want to achieve.
Take Mishima-city, Shizuoka prefecture which is located near Mt Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan. Mishima is known for pure water which springs from Mt Fuji’s water veins. The Groundwork Mishima is NPO and was founded in 1992, but its origin can be traced back to the UK in the late 1970s.
They have been running over 50 projects to revitalise the waterside at Mishima. One of their well-known achievements is the revitalisation of the polluted Genpei river which is now registered as a water world heritage site and has lovely adjacent walking paths for residents and visitors.
The groundwork of Mishima's policy is proactive engagements for both planning and execution. You may wonder why they have continued their initiatives for the last 28 years, including combating the problems of rivers full of rubbish and slime sludge day after day?
The reason is that they know the outcomes, i.e. vision — to create their beloved hometown — of their hard work. Moreover, they have friends who share the goal. The vision helped people—including volunteers who would be the majority of supporters in NPO—to go through a tough time / hard-work over the years. In summary, when vision is clearly communicated to people, it attracts resources (people and funds) sustainably.
Revitalising local regions are accelerating, especially in developed countries, as the central government wants local regions to be self-sustaining rather than to keep distributing subsidies. The central government is struggling to flexibly respond to diverse requirements to boost economies, thus this activity is best led by local regions and people.
More than ever, the vision of a place (brand vision) and activities to create it (branding) is becoming like an infrastructure to connect people, beliefs and resources in order to continually achieve something bigger.