The thesis is based on an identity-based view of place brands. This means that a place brand is not static or something that can be dictated by the marketers alone. It is a constantly ongoing process where the place's various stakeholders shape its brand in more or less conscious dialogue and interaction, while adopting different identity perspectives. Effective place branding strategies must therefore be based on the perceptions of these stakeholders.
The inhabitants of the place are important
A group often overlooked in research is the place's inhabitants, both in terms of their view of and relationship to the place but also how the image of the inhabitants affects people's attitudes towards the place. Through a qualitative study of residents in Luleå, the thesis shows that what the residents describe and how they describe their hometown is affected by the identity perspective they adopt. The thesis identifies three identity perspectives that a resident can adopt when describing their hometown: as an individual, as belonging to a group of residents and from the perspective of an outside visitor. Which identity perspective is activated and reflected in the description is not always clear at first glance but requires a follow-up to determine, or a pre-thought-out design of surveys with instructions designed to activate a specific identity perspective.
“The result demonstrates the importance of taking into account the different identity perspectives that residents can adopt when conducting market research and place branding campaigns. Otherwise, you risk comparing apples and oranges, which has consequences for the results of the analysis and subsequent communication measures”, says the dissertation's author, Carola Strandberg.
The study shows that the content of the descriptions can vary significantly regarding both the feelings and attitudes associated with the city and which specific places or characteristics of the city are highlighted depending on whether it is described as a place to visit or a place to live.
“When residents were asked to describe the city as a place to visit, the descriptions became more positive and "selling" with more recommendations and helpful advice. You can say that some then assumed the role of ambassador for the place. This highlights the importance of being aware of and planning for how to activate a specific identity when researching place image perceptions and designing place branding campaigns.”
Two cities are analysed
In the thesis, a quantitative analysis is made of two cities of different sizes (Jönköping and Stockholm). The result suggests that the image of and connection to the place affects the tendency of both residents and visitors to recommend the place. Unlike previous studies, the results suggest that the experience of fitting in in a place has no direct influence on the likelihood of recommending it. However, the results indicate that the experience of fitting in is linked to a stronger place connection and that this connection is stronger for visitors than for residents. According to Carola Strandberg, the results give an indication of how location communication should be adapted to the target group.
“When addressing residents, communication should focus on aspects that reflect their experience of the place's identity to strengthen the sense of authenticity and the city's positioning in relation to other cities. Communication aimed at visitors should also reflect the image of the residents to create a stronger identity connection. In this way, the probability increases in the long run that both visitors and residents recommend and speak well of the city.”
In a third study, the thesis shows a similar positive relationship between the image of the place and the likelihood that the residents want to stay, which in turn is affected by their attachment to the place. The relationship between place image and place attachment is influenced by the residents' experience of fitting in in the form of the correspondence between their self-image and the image they have of the place's inhabitants.
“The experience of fitting in does not have a direct impact on how likely it is that the residents will stay, but it is important for creating a sense of place, which in turn affects the likelihood of staying, says Carola Strandberg.”
Important to strengthen the sense of cohesion
The results also indicate that place attachment alone is not a sufficient variable to assess the likelihood that residents will stay. There is a complex interplay between the image of the place, its inhabitants and an individual resident's identity linked to the strength of the place attachment. It points to the importance of investing in projects and communication that lead to an increased sense of inclusion to strengthen the sense of cohesion and ultimately to retain residents.
“It does not mean that everyone should be forced into a template, but that the template needs to be broadened to be able to include more identities.”
The thesis also contains an in-depth theoretical analysis and mapping of the concept of place identity and its building blocks. The study presents a model and classification of place identity and the surrounding concept flora – based on the questions used in previous surveys – which can be a tool, both in research and practical place branding.