Re-building Hamilton's Image

Place branding and marketing

A place brand creates a recognisable place identity, which can subsequently be used for place marketing to generate financial investment, political capital, or influence changes in user behaviour[69]. Place branding establishes the place's identity, and place marketing is the promotion of this identity. Branding is central to marketing but the first step involves the discovery of place identity and a framework to manage it [68]. Place marketing implements a wide set of activities, starting with an analysis of the current situation, including assets, opportunities and audience. In other words, what is the product and who is the consumer?

As with contemporary product branding and marketing, identity establishes a relationship between the place brand and the consumer. The consumer, or user, can be local residents or prospective visitors and businesses. The goal is to use the identity to further "other desirable processes, whether financial investment, changes in user (consumer) behaviour or generating political capital" [67](p. 334).

To be successful, the brand and marketing strategy needs to differentiate a city from competitors, and change the way it is perceived by different user groups [65]. A city's brand must be "rooted in what is great and unique about a city," [27](p. 2). A large part of a city's brand is how it is perceived, for better or worse. EDAC also concludes that although the brand message should be influenced by a place marketing strategy, it will backfire if it is dishonest about the realities present there. An "image-reality gap" [94](p. 348) will lead to criticism if the attempted reconstruction of a place's image serves to draw attention to social and economic issues in other areas. Paddison uses the example of Glasgow, Scotland, which successfully branded itself as the 'European City of Culture' in 1990, yet the "new Glasgow bore little relevance to the realities of social deprivation and poverty concentrated in the city's peripheral estates" [94].

A place marketing strategy must be more than a logo, graphic design and an advertising campaign otherwise it will be "a vain and foolish waste of taxpayers' money" [1](p. 1). Casting a new image for a post-industrial city like Hamilton therefore needs to "come to terms with its previous existence as an industrial city" [94]). Success also depends on convincing the local population of the city's virtues, with the goal of boosting local morale, and unravelling the rhetoric of the messaging.

Places undergoing a process of urban renewal can have a special opportunity to create an identity with unique experiential value that is "profoundly original and uncopiable" [67](p. 334). The branding focus then extends beyond imagery to "place management" in order to change perceptions of the place itself, as the place changes physically and economically. Place management includes activities and actions that characterize the city and the people living and working there. The brand can then gain broad acceptance and be more than a just a promotional tool, as it is most commonly perceived by city administrators, to become a "guiding light" for all place marketing activities.

However, there are challenges to implementing a brand and marketing strategy:

• The length of time involved,
• The complexity of assessing the success of the initiative,
• How to engage local politicians in a process that will bring results long after the next election [69].

But the public sector has traditionally been hesitant to adopt and implement "avant-garde consumer marketing techniques," [80](p. 35) but a competitive advantage will go to those places that opt to use them.


But what is a 'place' in this context of branding and marketing? A place is the result of the inter-relationships between three constituent parts: activities, physical attributes and conceptions [13]. Activities relate to the behaviour of people interacting with the place and each other. A place has groupings of different types of activities. Some activities occur in the same space, such as along a street, while other activities occur in private settings separated from other activities.

The physical attributes of the place facilitate these activities and shape where activities can occur. Physical attributes can take on any scale; shops, buildings, street corners, parks, or neighbourhoods. Boundaries of the physical space are shaped by the conception of how and where groupings of activities occur. Dynamic places become established at the congruence of large groupings of activities, appropriate mix of physical attributes, and the conceptions linking these activities to the physical forms [13].

Places develop over time as a result of an "historical pattern of interdependence," [20](pp. 134). Some places are formed out of necessity, a particular geographic location, culture or amenities specific to the area. The relationship between places in a region also comes about for different cultural, economic and political activities. A hierarchy of places develop across a region, with smaller, lower-order places reliant upon the broader range of activities available larger, higher-order places that cannot be supported there [73].

The tourism concepts introduced so far have referred to city, urban, rural, place and region. In Kavaratzis' work, a place can be any size from a neighbourhood to any jurisdictional scale. 'Place' is a "multidimensional construct" [61](p. 61-62) associated with location, country, nation, city and region, while a 'destination' related to tourism only. Place can be a country, but could equally be a city, town or region.

Region is an ambiguous term; larger than a city but smaller than a continent. City/region can be applied equally [69], and competitive cities in the same region should complement each other - work together to widen their market instead of "struggling to win a higher share of a stagnated market" [66](p.163). This concept may seem like sending your customer to your competitor, but in so doing, the vitality and interconnectedness of places in the entire region is revealed.

Is this place called Hamilton a city or a region?

In Ontario, city-regions have come about as a result of the consolidation of lower and upper tier municipal structures, creating "regionwide cities" which enabled central cities to reincorporate their suburban growth [64].

Prior to 2001, the current City of Hamilton was the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, encompassing 6 lower-tier municipalities: Hamilton, Dundas, Flamborough, Ancaster, Glanbrook and Stoney Creek (see map, Figure 2, below). Prior to the regional government in 1974, Wentworth County was comprised of over a dozen towns, villages, rural townships and the former City of Hamilton fulfilling the role as the central place within it. With amalgamation into a single-tier municipality in 2001, the City of Hamilton contains all of these formerly constituent parts but layers of individual community identity remain strong. The large rural area, densely developed central city, and interdependent urban, suburban and rural communities, make this 'place' called Hamilton function as a 'regionwide' city. "It takes the whole region to make the city: Agriculture on the urban fringe and beyond." [112]

Yet Hamilton has struggled with its identity ever since amalgamation. Hamilton has experienced positive job growth in recent years due to the former city now including its surrounding suburbs [64]. More generally, the trend away from central cities to its once dependent satellite communities has changed the economic balance between city and suburb. The relationship has gone "from one of simple dependency to uneasy parity" [113](p. 226). The shift has made place identity harder to establish as there is no longer an allegiance to one community; a "sense of place." Instead, the focus shifts away from recognizing the history of how the place came to be and relies on competitiveness for economic development without recognition of local assets and actors [16]).

Figure 2 - Map of Hamilton (Map data source: Land Information Ontario, 2012; Hamilton, 2011)

Sense of place (or place-making) and symbolic identity

"Sense of place" is how we relate to a place and whether or not it can be rethought "in a progressive, outward looking way" [79]. It can start with a symbolic centre, the place that comes to mind when thinking about a city [103]. It could be an icon of the skyline, a large public space or natural feature. However, cities must not rush to build an iconic centre. "The Bilbao Effect assumes that buildings become icons overnight, history suggests otherwise." [104](p. 135)

Hamilton has many symbolic spaces, such as Gore Park, Dundurn Castle, the Skyway Bridge, Niagara Escarpment, the Harbour or industrial landscape. But a symbol that unifies the entire city's sense of place is difficult to identify. The city's current logo (Figure 3, below), which represents the six former municipalities as vertical bars, connected by spans of bridges to represent a stylized 'H' also misses the mark in terms of brand identity. According to the city's website, the bridge spans on the logo represent the Burlington Bay Skyway Bridge and McQuesten High Level bridges at the east and west ends of the harbour respectively, yet there are three span lines in the logo. Possibly, the reason is that the Skyway bridge consists of twin spans.

Figure 3 - City of Hamilton Logo "Our Visual Identity; The Symbol" (Hamilton, 2013).

Although the logo functions effectively in making one think of Hamilton simply due to the ‘H’ shape, the symbolic identity is at first unclear until it is explained, and even then the ambiguity of the brand remains. A weak place brand and lack of cohesive sense of place still remaining twelve years after amalgamation represents a gap in the city’s identity that needs to be filled.

Figure 4 - City of Toronto logo.

In contrast, the City of Toronto’s logo (Figure 4, above) uses one of the city’s most recognizable symbols, its iconic city Hall. The logo needs no explanation, and is instantly recognizable and meaningful to both its citizens and visitors.

Related Articles:

Next >>: Economic Development in the Post-Industrial City

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Community Resilience

Concepts for Hamilton

The preceding is adapted from the academic research paper that accompanied the book, Hamilton: Brutal Beauty | Hidden Heritage - The making of a guidebook to the City of Hamilton as a practical exercise in context-sensitive place marketing and community economic development. (Dunlop, 2013)

© Copyright Ian Dunlop, University of Waterloo, 2013
Published by Strategic Interchange (Div. of Dun-Map Inc.)