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Destination branding and the urban Lexicon: London, New York, and Barcelona

Willcocks, Marcus and Vitiello, Rosanna (2011) Destination branding and the urban Lexicon: London, New York, and Barcelona. In: Destination Brands; Managing Place Reputation (3rd Ed). Butterworth/Heinemann, pp. 303-319. ISBN 9780080969305

Type of Research: Book Section
Creators: Willcocks, Marcus and Vitiello, Rosanna

The notion of branding a place – one where we live, work, or visit for pleasure does not sit happy with many people. As citizens, rather than branding professionals, we tend to understand places as being ‘ours’ or ‘theirs,’ belonging to people and with strong emotional connections. By contrast, when we speak of branding, it often implies a personality applied by ‘the invisible other.’

When people talk about a place, they talk of its character, rather than its brand, as if it were a person – a friend or acquaintance rather than a conceptual entity created in a boardroom far away. For example, you could describe Paris as ‘charming’ and ‘romantic’ and San Francisco as laid-back’ or ‘cool.’ Our Urban Lexicons street workshops (Vitiello & Willcocks, 2010, based on the research project undertaken in 2007–2009) saw that people associate all manner of personal attributes to urban spaces and details, including how ‘loving,’ ‘welcoming,’ or ‘full of life’ a place may be. Like people, some were seen as more charming’ than others, from a garden ‘jammed full of personality and off-the-wall kookiness’ to a station that was ‘soulless and slightly alienating.’ (1)

If most of us see a place as a living character more than a brand, one of the first ways we get to know that character is through its streets – specifically,through the urban details that make up that streetscape: a well-placed bench, a tended flowerbed, a cracked pavement, and a vandalised door. These urban details are the ways in which a physical environment reveals its personality. While every city shares roads, crowds, and buildings in common, what differentiates one place from another are the details that define thesestructures; the clothes a place is dressed in, perhaps, more than its physique.

These tangible elements become synonymous with a place and inform an ‘Urban Lexicon,’ a vocabulary by which we read, understand, and react to our environment. In this chapter, we explore how the details that dress our public spaces inform people’s real perceptions of a place and how place brands can be informed by and contribute to this process.

Place branding often centres on promoting an image of a iven destination,elsewhere. A great logo, a memorable slogan, and a quality imagery are all worthwhile. For the perception to hold any meaning as a brand, however,it must emerge from the reality of the place; what is actually there. To avoid references to the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes,’ a destination needs a distinct wardrobe that people will recognise, more than a logo on an otherwise invisible outfit. So clearly, to brand a destination it is important that the place have a physical personality to draw from, rather than a conceptual image applied to a lackluster space, as a starting point.

In light of this, we propose a dual call for destination and branding professionals to draw from the character-filled fabric of the city, to define the ‘projected brand,’ but importantly also to ensure there is significant character filled fabric to draw upon, to define the ‘perceived personality’ of a place. The latter of these two helps to establish the character of the location, and
the former – the projected brand conveys and accentuates that perception. The better the city fabric combines and communicates its unique urban details (Unique Urban Details (UUDs) instead of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP)), the better these can be identified and inform the brand personality, which can in turn inspire future details and public spaces of a city. This ensures that the fabric of a place projects a distinct identity in keeping with the brand and establishes a symbiotic relationship between the bottom-up physical character and the top-down brand; each helping to define and develop each other. This chapter therefore:
• explores the ‘signs’ and urban fabric that influence our feelings about different parts of the city. We reference the Urban Lexicons project, initiated in London in 2007, and compare London with New York and
Barcelona, cities we have come to know well;
• examines how these cities have succeeded and failed in working with those characteristics to develop and communicate their place brands. We also observe Southampton’s Legible City project which has made positive steps toward connecting the content of the city and its brand.

(1) The Urban Lexicons 2008 street workshop results can be found in more detail via the
project website: www.urbanlexicons.com and the project report at http://issuu.com/marcus

Publisher/Broadcaster/Company: Butterworth/Heinemann
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Central Saint Martins
Research Centres/Networks > Design Against Crime at the Innovation Centre (DAC)
Date: 9 March 2011
Funders: Cardiff School of Management, University of Wales Institute
Related Websites: http://www.designagainstcrime.com, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Destination-Brands-Third-Managing-Reputation/dp/product-description/0080969305, http://www3.uwic.ac.uk/english/cardiff-school-of-management/research/welsh-centre-for-tourism-research/pages/research-books.aspx;, http://www.cinchmarketing.co.uk/destination-brands-managing-place-reputation
Related Websites:
Projects or Series: Research Outputs Review (April 2010 - April 2011)
Date Deposited: 28 Feb 2012 09:43
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2013 12:50
Item ID: 3069
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/3069

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