Following three days of intensive exchanges and encounters, the French main conference on territorial marketing, the Place Marketing Forum 2016 ended last Friday. For this third edition of the event, expectations were high with respect to the appetizing program (see previous article) including the presentation of outstanding territorial achievements worldwide and the participation of a range of experts in the discipline. Among the countless ideas to remember, here are some insights and personal views on what took place during these three days :
The Place Marketing Trend Report 2016
Joël Gayet, French marketing expert and acute observer of place marketing trends, opened the event on a frantic pace, listing the latest innovations, disruptive models and practices identified worldwide. Although the trend inventory may have ben exiting, it legitimately raised some societal challenges : we are not just experiencing one global revolution, but an unprecedented multiplication of significant changes, amid rising citizen and customer empowerment, technological breakthroughs, but also, and more worryingly, hyper-competition, saturation of information, immediacy and a loss of bearings. I would add as well a global climate crisis. Technological advances were particularly stressed, highlighted for instance, by the trend towards the full integration of robotics, as in the Japanese hospitality industry (and the financial gains it leads to), or the capability of datas along with smart information systems, to transform as well as upgrade place management and promotion.
Anchorage, consolidation and scaling-up of trends
The main trends analyzed, updating those already pinpointed in the previous editions, highlighted a process of anchorage, consolidation and scaling-up : more place marketing integration framed around the corporate marketing pattern, greater collaboration, partnering (use of crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, sharing plateforms) and especially the rise of business oragnizations in ever more cross-sectoral modes of governance. This is being followed by the increasing setting up of global and shared place brands, following the models of Onlylyon or Iamsterdam, where local citizens and mostly the private sector are to play a key role. These brands, along with their vision and strategy, are expected to better resonate with local identity and interfere in the very development of places' values ; For instance the Be Berlin city brand and slogan (be open, be free etc.), originally business centered, are increasingly and opportunistically associated with political or symbolic events such as the historical anniversary of the Berlin Wall fall.
Beyond these trends that overwhelmingly emphasize the declination of the "co" and "hyper" terms in all aspects of territorial development (co-branding, co-creating, co-innovating, hyper-segmentation, hyper-customization etc.), the focus was also put on the need to prioritize « people » and « relationship » in tomorrow’s place marketing. With digital technology having a predominant role and hailed for its virtues of being a great means of disseminating information and managing the place quality offer, it was necessary to recall that technology must always be placed in the service of humankind.
Some of the cases and topics discussed
Destiination relationship management
The presentations made by the tourist offices of Picardy (former administrative region in Northern France) or the Val Thorens ski resort, put emphasis on the concept of customer experience as an optimization tool and value driver for the entire hospitality chain. Offline and online, customer experience is thought as the core framework guiding the place’s strategy and the actions implemented to meet the expectations of an even more demanding visitor base. As also recalled by Gayet, experience customization is paramount because it involves the creation of strong and lasting relationships between service providers and beneficiaries of the place offer, built up around trust. This is supposed to radically transform the traditional relation between supply and demand in the destination industry, with the advent of a destination relationship management system.
Endogeneous marketing, sharing and public-private management
No doubt, Place marketing is no longer just a matter of attractiveness to exogenous targets (visitors, high-income residents and foreign direct investors), it now revolves strongly around endogenous dynamics. This involves the urgent necessity to address the needs, expectations and dreams of local stakeholders (residents, entrepreneurs, associations, local businesses) seeking to realize their projects and thrive.
The Detroit Home Coming campaign, led by an independent local PR organization, achieved to encourage celebrity and influencer expats affectively tied to Detroit to reconnect with their city during few days and consider opportunities for future investment. Like the well-known initiative of Connect Ireland, DHC underlines the key role of ambassadors as an untapped source for revitalizing places in crisis. The virtues of bottom-up dynamics in a knowledge-based economy, were also highlighted by Bordeaux’s Darwin project, consisting in the conversion of former military barracks about to be destroyed, into a start-up and cultural hub (6 500 m2). The Darwin ecosystem epitomizes a process of hybridization of urban uses and social practices in the heart of a city (largest co-working space and organic canteen in France, a skatepark, art, conference and concert venues etc.).
Beyond all these revitalization movements, the issue of the social groups that benefit from them was also raised. With regard to that, the discussions also focused on the relevance of adopting place marketing thoughts at the neighborhood scale, including the most disadvantaged ones. This is what the French state urban renewal agency (ANRU) has been trying to do, with a new investment program of 5 billion € to bring back to life and light overlooked neighborhoods.
The idea of harnessing co-building at all levels was abundantly raised during the debates, particularly with the city council of Turin, recognized for having launched a major call for ideas to its 10,000 municipal employees, aiming the designing of innovative public services. Another aspect of this phenomenon is the the Smart City concept being progressively replaced by the Sharing City mantra, namely the city capable of balancing the collaborative (peer-to-peer lucrative exchange) and the sharing (peer-to-peer barter exchange) economy. This was illustrated by the presentation of Seoul’s global sharing city vision and Share Hub. The latter aims to turn a metropolis of 20 million inhabitants into a high-scale laboratory for disseminating the principles of the sharing economy.
Flagship marketing and city-making
Place flagships are still considered strategic place marketing elements. Take the District Museum in Vienna (MQW), the great iconic urban project - of which you can also be very critical for its massive look - that has helped position Vienna as a top art and cultural destination. The case of Barcelona was largely on the spotlight, not only for the Barcelona Global non-profiit think-thank, which has achieved to involve the local civil society and influence policy makers in the long-term branding of the city, but also for the specificity of its regional marketing model. Barcelona appears as an anti-model : without relying on a verbal and visual formal brand, the city has managed to strategically capitalize on major events, such as the Olympics back in 1992 and today the Mobile World Congress, as well as more informal city-making policies, to engage a profound transformation of its urbanscape and position itself as a world leading tourist and cultural destination. Other side of the coin, this worlwdide success has been questioned by the growing discontent expressed by local residents who increasingly see mass tourism as a threat to the identity and quality of local life.
Digital marketing and content strategy
The digital marketing era requires communities to undertake at least partial if not complete digitization of their communication material and media. Though image, video, and experiential contents have been prevailing over the textual one, what seems to matter most is the content strategy. The case for digital marketing efficiency was highlighted again through the 123Subsidie.nl initiative launched by an alliance of three Northern Dutch provinces. The program involves a single web portal set up to match local and supra-local businesses with the tailor-made support and funding they need. In another area, an academic institution, the University of Saint Joseph, showed how it cleverly redesigned its web portal and launched an engaging communication campaign called I will, to boost its enrollment rate of international students, benefitting overall the State of Connecticut.
The PMF 2016 was hosted by the Chaire Attractivité et Nouveau Marketing Territorial of Aix University.
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