Re-imagining the address: the next Place Branding challenge

Countries, regions, cities, neighbourhoods and real estate projects around the world have been collectively designed to strengthen local identity. In Portugal, the reopening of the real estate market is an opportunity to rethink strategies and strengthen competitiveness for the future. 

Place Branding is a variable scale concept and is applied to countries, regions, cities, neighbourhoods or even real estate projects on a global level. 

On a broader level, that of a nation, the longevity and economic impact of New Zealand's famous 'Cyathea Dealbata' was debutted on the bosom of the national rugby team players on their first cross-border tour in Australia in 1884, during which they would crush 8 local teams. 

The "FernMark" was made official by the Federation in 1892 and its use was extended in a disconnected way to export products such as butter and cheese, the New Zealand army, currency and - later - industries such as tobacco, footwear or aviation. 

After several versions, the symbol as we know it today was stabilized in 1999 and was later adopted by public entities such as Tourism and ministries including Education, Foreign Affairs and Trade or Immigration. 

A “FernMark" is today a global Brand, endorsing more than one billion New Zealand products and services worldwide, with the promise of Purity, Eco-Friendliness and Sustainability.

Situated between the states of Washington and California in the United States, Oregon has struggled to attract new residents and tourists over the years, and has established a continuity link with Wieden+Kennedy. 

"We Love Dreamers" was the first campaign launched by the Portland agency, with the aim of attracting tourists and talent in the professional and academic fields. In 2014, the most successful campaign in that North American state, "The Seven Wonders of Oregon", was launched, generating unprecedented growth in the number of visitors to the region. The campaign that followed had to appeal, with a lot of humour, for tourists not to come all at once, given the difficulties experienced by the 2014 flow.

About 20 years after the relationship began, Tourism Oregon invested $5 million in an animation campaign, entitled "Only Slightly More Exaggerated" whose launch took place in late 2019. 

Over the years, investments have been increasing, as well as revenues from tourism, which are estimated at $11.3 billion.

"Every dollar invested in marketing represents a return of $237, plus 11 in taxes," said Linea Gagliano, communications director for Travel Oregon.

Travel Oregon: Only Slightly More Exaggerated by W+K Portland

NYC and Melbourne are often singled out as success stories at the city branding level.

In Europe, and on a smaller scale, Helsinki launched an ambitious project in 2016 to create the brand for a city with a rapidly growing population, rejuvenating and developing technology.

With around 1.4 million inhabitants in its Metropolitan Area, the Finnish capital was seeking to stand out among the main destinations in Northern Europe and attract investment, visitors and talent to enhance its momentum. 

O project bet on the "One Hel of an Impact" concept, underlining the collaborative nature with which the city welcomes and drives business and people who want to have a positive impact in the world, underlining the city's creativity and openness. 

The collaborative nature of this project is clear to see, and more than 1000 people were involved in the project: first of all, local leaders and officials (up to 40,000), local companies and associations, partners, residents and visitors.

In the first year the stays in Helsinki went up 19% and the city was ranked 3rd in the European Cities Talent Competetiveness. 

Helsinki City Branding by Werklig

Dumbo, in Brooklyn, is still a case-study when it comes to the impact that a communication project can have in affirming the identity and culture of a place, in this case against the gentrification of big cities. 

In the 1970s, and after the deindustrialization of New York City, the neighborhood was occupied by members of the Big Apple art community. Real estate developers then wanted to change the name of the neighborhood to "Fulton Landing", for fear that the name Dumbo (an acronym for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) would drive away investors. 

The city, local officials, original real estate developers and residents kept the name and ensured with some success the permanence of artists, galleries, businesses such as record labels, non-profit associations and media companies. 

The culture of the neighbourhood is still maintained today, as indicated by the numerous festivals of art, music or cinema, but Dumbo's unique identity has become even more appealing to New Yorkers, and is now one of the city's most sought after and expensive neighborhoods.  

DUMBO sign October 11, 2016 © Julienne Schaer

In Portugal, these cases will not be so unknown. 

At the national level, and although without the desired consistency but with positive results, efforts to promote the country across borders and its impact in terms of tourism are recognised.

Branding projects in the Autonomous Region of the Azores and the city of Porto also stand out for their positive results, the latter with levels of depth and consistency in implementation that should be acknowledged.

But there's a lot to do. The impact of the pandemic we are experiencing may require a redefinition of target audiences, position and message, among promoters of regions, cities, neighbourhoods and real estate projects. Growth will not be - so soon - what it was.

In all aspects of Place Branding, that which is largely undeveloped is the creation and management of Brands for real estate projects. 

If Lisbon and Porto have so far been hotspots in the European market, the crisis ahead may force property developers to devote more time and investment to this area.

In 2008, Born was challenged to develop the rebranding of one of the national real estate projects with the greatest global impact: Vale do Lobo.

With about 450 hectares, this luxury resort is located right in the Golden Triangle of the Algarve, and is mainly targeted at international clients.

Treasuring Life" and the new Brand Identity were born from a process of several months, having been interviewed - besides the resort management team - international PR suppliers, residents and regional entities (Vale do Lobo by Born). 

The rebranding took into account the various life cycles of the resort: purchase, retention and re-sale of properties. In addition, strategic touchpoints were identified that have historically contributed to the resort's notoriety, including the famous roundabouts for access to the resort and - even more importantly - hole 16 of the Royal Golf Course, one of the most photographed in Europe and therefore an ambassador for Vale do Lobo.

The "Treasuring Life" concept was based on the experience of living in Vale do Lobo but also on the financial side, on the generation of value over time. 

Vale do Lobo Rebranding by Born

Few real estate developers have this vision.

The most relevant part (if not all) of the investment in the creation and management of the Brand takes place at the marketing stage. Without the strategic vision of longevity for products whose life cycle will last decades. Without yet the articulation with local entities at the level of "neighborhoods" or municipalities. 

A greater stake at this level would certainly be an asset for the property developer but also for the long-term owners. It would also be an asset to strengthen the identity and promotion of cities.

The project Residências Martim Moniz, from EPUL, whose identity was based on the connection of that geographical area of Lisbon to Fado and the singer Carminho, was visible in the inscription of the project in the cultural matrix of the district.

This makes it more relevant and distinctive at the time of marketing but also an "ambassador" of local identity (Martim Moniz by Born)

Martin Moniz by Born's Residences

Projects like the building Shard or The Guerkinin London were developed from this perspective. They are icons of the city, their impact goes beyond the architectural or real estate dimensions. The branding work reflects this vision, as does the One World Trade Centerin New York, or the big Chicago project called "The 78”.

The 78 - Chicago

Lisbon and Oporto have enjoyed remarkable growth in the last decade in terms of tourism and real estate.

A possible slowdown in demand should be accompanied by the use of communication tools that - articulately - serve the needs of attracting investment at national, regional, local and - of course - industry itself.

Its implementation will therefore be beneficial throughout the chain, and it should actively rely on the adoption of metologies that force broad stakeholder intervention. 

The pandemic could be an opportunity for Lisbon and Porto, at first, to reflect on the creation of a new paradigm, in which the last mile would no longer be left solely to the promoters - and their commercial priorities - but would serve to strengthen their own identity.  

If we think of the biggest Lisbon avenue, Admiral Reis, which has more than 260 buildings, imagine the opportunities to turn numbers into concepts, ideas or messages for residents, visitors, hotels, other businesses or investors.

The assets and the know-how exist. 

All that is missing is the joint will to make it happen.

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