Through the Looking Glass : An Identity-Based View of Place Branding

Abstract: Places of today face intense global competition for crucial resources. Attracting visitors and retaining residents is vital especially for post-industrial cities and rural places facing a loss of traditional industrial jobs, and urbanization and centralization of the population and economy. To attract resources and target groups like tourists and residents, place managers and authorities are increasingly turning to place branding. A recent stream of literature has adopted an identity-based view of place branding building on an understanding that like the formation of the place itself is an open-ended process, constantly renegotiated and socially constructed so is that of place branding. It depicts place branding as an identity construction process, an ongoing process of multilogue between different place stakeholders involved as active participants in the co-creation of the place brand experience, expression, and communication. In this light, effective place branding strategies must be based on a brand identity that reflects the perceptions of its stakeholders, communicated to and with key stakeholders. This highlights the need for place managers to understand place stakeholders’ perceptions to be able to mirror, articulate and reinforce them in the brand identity and place brand communication. There is however a lack of focus in extant research on the perspective of residents, a primary stakeholder group. Furthermore, questions remain regarding the drivers behind this process, especially regarding the role of person–place bonds in relation to place-related behavioral outcomes.Therefore, the purpose of this thesis was: To investigate place-related identity concepts within an identity-based view of place branding. The current research sought to deepen the understanding of the identity-based view by 1) developing the understanding of how place-related identity aspects can be leveraged to influence the place-related behavioral intentions of key place stakeholders, focusing specifically on residents as a primary stakeholder group, and 2) to contribute to further conceptual and operational clarity regarding the elusive concept of place identity and related concepts underlying this process. Drawing on identity-based place branding literature in combination with identity, congruity, and attachment theory four research questions (RQs) were formulated: RQ1: How can the identity perspectives expressed in residents’ place image be characterized? RQ2: What is the relationship between place image, place attachment, self-congruity, and positive place word-of-mouth (WOM) across different stakeholder groups? RQ3: What is the relationship between place image, place attachment, self-congruity, and likelihood to stay in a place across cities of different sizes? RQ4: How can the concept of place identity be measured? To answer the research questions four studies were conducted, one qualitative, two quantitative and one conceptual, the results from each study presented in a research paper. In response to RQ1 the qualitative study highlights the different identity perspectives manifested by residents when describing their place perceptions. The place identity perspectives expressed in residents’ place image descriptions evidence both subject identity perspectives - through personal and social identity perspectives, and object identity perspectives – in terms of person, people/social (in-/out) group, and place object identity perspectives. These perspectives influence the content of place image descriptions both in terms of what residents describe – in terms of object identity, and how they describe it – depending on which identity lens is applied and from whose point of view. The results highlight the need for priming to activate a specific stakeholder identity when gathering place image perceptions and designing place branding campaigns.Quantitative findings in response to RQ2 applicable across two cities of different size indicate that affective place image influences positive WOM and that this relationship is mediated by place attachment for both residents and visitors. Interestingly, while the connection between affective place image and place attachment is stronger for residents, the connection between place attachment and positive WOM is significant also for visitors. Contrary to previous studies, the findings suggest that self-congruity with residents’ image may not offer sufficient symbolic value to inspire WOM behavior. Results however support that self-congruity plays a mediating role between affective place image and place attachment which is stronger for visitors than for residents. The findings highlight the need to successfully reflect the self-concept of key stakeholders in communication messages to strengthen emotional brand connections and consequently WOM behavior. When targeting residents, communication is best centered around aspects reflecting the place’s identity while, additionally, communication reflecting residents’ image may be targeted towards visitors to increase the probability of positive WOM.Findings concerning RQ3 show a positive relationship between place image and residents’ likelihood to stay, mediated by place attachment. The relationship between place image and place attachment is mediated by resident self-congruity. Implications include that perceived resident image fit may not offer any direct influence on residents’ likelihood to stay but is important to instill place attachment which impacts resident retention. Implications highlight the multifaceted nature of place self-congruity, the importance of careful consideration of constructs when operationalizing identification with a place, and that place attachment should not be used to measure residents’ likelihood to stay. Future research is encouraged to include images of both place and place consumers when studying residents’ place self-congruity. Implications highlight the capacity for place branding policies supporting inclusive community practices to unify and retain residents. Results from the conceptual study related to RQ4 show a range of elements and sub-dimensions relevant to measure the place identity/identification construct. Findings show how different labels have been applied to identify what appears to be conceptually equivalent constructs and vice-versa. A framework is presented of the cognitive, affective, and conative and evaluative elements of place identity/identification including their sub-dimensions. Results highlight the need to exert stringency when applying the terms in research and to carefully define and delineate concepts when gathering data and reporting results.Further theoretical and managerial contributions and suggestions for future research are discussed in the final chapter of the thesis. The four papers are presented as Appendices, three of which have been published and the fourth is being revised to be submitted for review in a scholarly journal.

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