Increasingly, place branding is regarded as participatory and inclusive. Still, however, a central assumption in place branding is that there is a dominant organisation working strategically to organise the place-branding process. In this paper, we question this assumption and explore how multiple authors create narratives and collectively contribute to the branding of the small Swedish town Dals Långed.
Places around the world engage in branding, and adopt concepts from business, marketing and management when doing so. For long, place branding has been regarded as top-down management led by governments and agencies working towards economic and tourism development goals. In recent decades, place branding has more and more been seen as participatory and inclusive, involving various actors in place branding practices. Still, however, a central assumption in place branding is that there is a dominant organisation of some sort working strategically to organise the place-branding process. Although this organisation may invite and involve various stakeholders at different stages, it retains dominance over the place branding process. In this paper we question this assumption.
We align with a socio-cultural approach to branding, and thus an approach that views brands as socially constructed and reliant on multiple ‘authors’ that create narratives that inform brands. In our paper we explore how multiple ‘place brand authors’ create narratives and contribute to the branding of a place. We focus on the branding of Dals Långed, a small town in southwest Sweden, and find it appropriate to study a small town since smaller places often lack the presence of a dominant place-branding organisation that orchestrate the place branding process. Yet, many small places are still in need of place branding, to meet the challenges of depopulation in all its forms and to update a small-town rural image.
In the paper we identify the various ‘place brand authors’ that contribute to the brand of Dals Långed. There is no dominant place-branding organisation coordinating the place branding process, but multiple authors – some more influential than others – that informs the brand. Idea-based sector authors like ‘Dals Långed Development Council’ is a key author, working on a voluntary basis to create a better place, and encourage local communities to influence the development of the town. Academic and cultural sector authors moreover largely contribute to the narration of Dals Långed as a cultural and creative place.
We found three overarching narratives, or all-embracing themes, in our analysis of the field material, namely nature, culture and periphery.
- The untouched, beautiful natural environment is portrayed by various authors, some depicting it as an excellent place for rest and recovery from a stressful work life in the big city.
- The cultural and creative atmosphere of Dals Långed as well as its multicultural setting is also apparent in the narratives. The town is described as Dalsland’s capital of culture and with great potential to become a Swedish hub for creativity.
- Challenges and opportunities of Dals Långed’s small size and peripheral position on the countryside, yet with proximity to larger towns, are also evident in the narratives.
What we see in Dals Långed can be related to various ideas and concepts discussed in place-branding research, such as bottom-up, inclusive and participatory approaches that enable local communities to influence their place. Our findings are also in line with previous research proposing that the diversity of a place should be celebrated, as this can lead to richer, more complex and differentiated as well as more credible and appealing place brands.
Mapping place-brand authors and their narratives can help place-brand practitioners identify not only who influences a place brand and how, but also how to foster connections between authors to develop a place brand. Practical implications moreover include the importance not only of identifying which, and to what extent, authors influence a place brand but also how best to exploit the narratives they create and communicate, and to follow the narratives as they evolve over time. Furthermore, policymakers, authorities, DMOs and others engaged in place branding can support and promote enthusiastic people and associations that take the initiative, work with place development and create place-based narratives.
Read the original research article: Björner, E. & Aronsson, L. (2022). Decentralised place branding through multiple authors and narratives: the collective branding of a small town in Sweden. Journal of Marketing Management. https://doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2022.2043415
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