Place marketing for economic growth: Successful place marketing is about listening first

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Friday, April 28th 2017
Author: Amy Houldey, Westco Account Director

Place marketing – showcasing and constructing desirable places to live, work and play – is high on the agenda for local authorities across the UK. Various factors are driving this focus, but perhaps most important is the promise by Central Government to devolve the £26bn of revenue it currently receives from business rates to local authorities by the end of the decade.

However, authentic place marketing is far from focusing solely on the economy of an area, it’s also about listening to the different voices that make a place what it is. People are the lifeblood of any town or city, so it’s critical that they sit at the heart of your place marketing or city branding strategy.

Place marketing for economic growth case studies

I recently led two place marketing for economic growth projects for Westco, one commissioned in the North, and the other commissioned in the Midlands. Both places have a rich manufacturing heritage, but now need to redefine themselves, celebrating their successes of the past, but also refocusing their identity on what will make them great in the future.

Strategic behaviour research

Before beginning any strategic thinking, in both places, we embarked upon an intensive listening exercise with a wide range of stakeholders, from university students, through to the Leader of the Council. We listened by conducting one-to-one interviews and running focus groups. Our questions were loosely structured, based on extensive desktop research we had performed (reviewing policy documents, news stories, and analysing Google trends), but most importantly, we wanted the participant to lead the conversation so we could understand what was important to them.

As we were a third party, individuals spoke openly and honestly about the challenges and opportunities they felt the place faced. The qualitative data, coupled with quantitative data from a national business omnibus survey, provided us with an in-depth insight into what a diverse range of stakeholders were thinking and feeling when it came to our clients’ places. What we found was that businesses and individuals perceived there to be a lack of vision and identity for the area, and this was creating a barrier.

Equipped with this knowledge – as well as a political understanding of the area and its aims for the future – we developed bespoke SMART marketing objectives that would be delivered through our proposed strategy that focused on reputation, resources and retention.

Because of this work, both places have gained a greater understanding of their economic growth audiences such as businesses, skilled workers and students. This awareness will now not only feed into their place marketing for economic growth agenda, but everything they do. They were also prepared to listen, which is hard, as sometimes you hear things you don’t want to, or things that don’t fit nicely into your project plan. But without this component, anything you do will be inauthentic and unsuccessful in the long-term.

To find out how we can work with you on your place marketing strategy please contact us on 020 7641 1719 or email us at