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Towards a taxonomy of place brand attributes. A content analysis of Greater Manchester’s place brand architecture

Roberts, Gareth Jonathan (2013) Towards a taxonomy of place brand attributes. A content analysis of Greater Manchester’s place brand architecture. Masters thesis (MSc), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Recent years have given rise to the proliferation of place branding practice and research; however there remains little consensus when it comes to deciphering what place branding is. Furthermore, whilst much research has approached the subject from a theoretical or conceptual perspective; there has been very little empirical research dedicated to the subject matter, particularly in relation to how place brands are being created in practice, and more specifically there has been a lack of comparative empirical research. This explorative study proposes an empirical methodology for the deconstruction of place brands in order to assess how they are being formed, and subsequently the creation of an initial taxonomy for classifying place brands based on their constitution. In order to build towards the initial taxonomy of place brands, a thorough analysis of extant literature is carried out (chapter 1), moving through the following stages: - Firstly, the research looks at how place branding has proliferated over recent years, moving into how the majority of current place branding practice is governed by methodologies associated with product or corporate branding, an activity which is referred to for these purposes as ‘traditional’. - After seeking to clarify some of the common terms employed, often interchangeably, the key distinction between place brand and place image is made. - The research then looks at problems which occur as a result of the application of ‘traditional’ branding practices to places, and asks the question whether the creation of a truly representative place brand is even possible. - The incorporation of a sense of place is then introduced as a means of engendering requisite authenticity into any branding attempt. - From this, the theory of looking at places in terms of their attributes is brought into the discussion. - These attributes are then looked at in terms of their level of manageability, using town centre management theory as a basis, whilst the notion of places as thick and thin is employed to round off the discussion. An important outcome of the literature review, and a key step towards forming the empirical methodology employed, is the clarification of some of the terms pertinent to place branding theory. A particularly important aspect of this clarification is the separation and distinction between place brand – as a created, controllable construct – and place image – as pertaining to perception of place in reality, shaped and affected by myriad contributing factors. By offering this as a valid theoretical basis for progression of knowledge in the field; place brands can be analysed and deconstructed as created, controllable constructs, unencumbered by the vast array of associations and pieces of information, often subject to contestation, which are more adequately associated with place image. As such, whereas much place branding literature has included contributing theoretical strands emanating from areas as diverse as economics theory, sociology, planning, psychoanalysis, anthropology, and social and political philosophy (Bridge and Watson, 2010. P.1); this study is able to address these, where necessary, purely as pertaining to facets of the brands themselves - as opposed to treating them as disciplines contributing sources of theory and knowledge to branding as a practice. In order to deconstruct the brands, and using knowledge derived from the review of extant literature; a meronomy is formed (chapter 2) which sets out potential meronyms (constituent parts) which can contribute to the formation of a place brand, and the perceived level of manageability of these meronyms. The meronomy is employed as the framework for analysis (chapter 3) to content analyse brands representing the ten boroughs of the Greater Manchester metropolitan area, in order to deconstruct them into their constituent parts. The research moves through five levels of analysis (chapter 4): Level 1 – The first level of analysis comprises the basic deconstruction of the brand of each borough using the meronomy as the framework. Words and images are both incorporated into the units of analysis. Results are analysed by meronym to ascertain which attributes are being utilised by each borough under analysis. Level 2 – Once an initial overview of the attributes employed is complete, the next step is to begin to group the places. In order to do so, the data is run through the SPSS statistics package, with correspondence analysis utilised to present the brands in a two dimensional space which facilitates the initial stage of their grouping. Level 3 – The third level incorporates the manageability of the meronyms utilised, in order to ascertain the places which focus their brand on created content (more manageable aspects), as opposed to those who utilise content inherent or natural to the place (less manageable aspects). Level 4 – The penultimate level incorporates the notion of thick and thin places (Casey, 2001), in order to provide a method of triangulation with the data derived from level 3. By cross-referencing the manageability of the meronyms employed with the range of meronyms employed by each borough’s brands, the brands can be positioned on a scatter plot diagram with a quartile divider based on the average for each axis; this forms the basis for the initial taxonomy which is utilised to classify the brands into four groups. Level 5 – Based on the findings of this analysis, an initial taxonomy is created in order to provide a means of classifying place brands based on their constitution.

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