A Sense of Place – part 3
So how does one go about creating social currency around a place such as a major mixed-use development, for example?
At Wunderkind, we believe place branding requires a blending and inter-connecting of three disciplines:
1/ Anthropology – a keen understanding of the local, cultural and political context around the development, as well as a clear sense of the audience psychographics, which may extend well beyond the local context into international audiences and media. We would gain insight into(from?) such questions as:
– What is the history around the local environment and region that will affect perception?
– Are there symbols, features and stories from the local landscape that will give us a unique flavor or image?
– Who are the opinion leaders and taste makers both locally and beyond, who will help shape our reputation? What do they care about the most and why?
– What are the semiotics (signs, symbols, colours, metaphors, lexicon) we should leverage or avoid when it comes to these discerning and fickle audiences?
2/ Business – a thorough understanding of the business model, revenue streams and ancillary businesses that pertain to the project. As well, we’ll need to have a clear sense of the business partnerships and investor/stakeholder interests around the project.
3/ Creativity and Design – the crafting of the right image, stories and tools to attract your most valuable and influential audiences. All the good anthropology and business smarts in the world won’t help you if your brand identity, collateral and communications are generic or ‘club-footed’. And you have one chance to make the right impression, so all of the touch points have to be perfectly designed to send the right impression, and start the process of generating social currency.
To give you a quick example of ‘club-footed’, a few years ago, I met with a very large real estate developer in New York, who is developing a set of office and residential towers that will certainly alter the skyline of the city. But their ambition was, and is, to alter the very cultural life of New Yorkers, to make their development the new “mecca for the creative class”. A very tall order indeed, but given the size of the development and the investment behind it, not impossible.
However, we were dismayed when one of the lead executives on the project declared to us that the brand positioning of this project had to be about “looking up” at the impressive new skyscrapers they’d be building, to stimulate awe and pride. Awe and pride? Hmm… didn’t feel very ‘creative class’ to us.
We counselled them instead to “look down” at street level instead, at the cafes or galleries or little parks they might create, the micro-destinations that would give neighborhoods within their
development a unique local flavour. We said, bluntly, that they had to appeal to elite audiences such as “A-list” gay designers and design journalists/bloggers, creating spaces that these highly refined, jaded audiences would express sheer delight about. You want them to Instagram and blog about that beautiful little corner where they just had the most delightful Masala tea, invite people to join them for meetings in these little spots. These little swirls of activity then grow larger and larger, eventually creating…. Social Currency. And creating Social Currency with ‘creative class’ types requires refinement, precision, taste and imagination. Big tall phallic structures – just won’t cut it.
The suggestion was met with deaf ears, or blind eyes, as you can imagine. But as the development won’t launch for a few years, we hold out hope that they’ll see the light and start to apply a more human-centric approach to their branding. An approach that shows they understand what is still missing from the lives of otherwise privileged and fortunate well-heeled audiences, and how to deliver that missing piece in a way that heightens emotion to such an extent that people will decide to shop, eat, live and do business there.