plaatjeThis paper explores the role of place branding, specifically at the regional scale, as an instrument for the attainment of strategic spatial planning goals. It aims to contribute to the academic debate on place branding by discussing its relevance and effectiveness in supporting economic and social spatial realignment through civic participation and the shaping of clearly envisioned agreed futures.

Exploratory in nature, this paper’s theoretical exploration is developed by detailing relevant findings from a case study on the significance of a regional branding initiative, integrated in a wider planning strategy for northern Portugal (NUTS II). In conducting this exploratory research, primary data were gathered through 16 in-depth, semi structured interviews with key-regional actors and organizations with a stake (and expertise) in the region.

Findings show the key-strategic domains in which the region excels. These domains could fuel a potential regional branding initiative. However, the key regional actors interviewed agree that the diverse and fragmented regional assets and the socio-economic scenario all require and yet hinder regional coordination efforts. In addition, territorial reorganization and the definition of a regional economic model, plus decentralization of decision-making and the establishment of leadership, are imperative for the effectiveness of a regional branding strategy aligned with the ongoing strategic spatial planning initiatives.

Managerial implications of integrating the opinions and perspectives of regional actors into a potential place branding initiative as strategic spatial planning instrument include improving socio-spatial and spatial-economic condition of the region and envisioning shared futures.

By guiding the thoughts of scholars, practitioners and policy-makers towards a strategic spatial planning approach to place branding, the paper contributes to the advancement and maturation of the place-branding field, by lending a more strategic approach and geographical/spatial consciousness to the process of place branding. The paper also sheds light on the challenges and complexity of branding regions, a scale of analysis seldom explored in place branding literature.

Oliveira,E. (2016) Place branding as a strategic spatial planning instrument: a theoretical framework to branding regions with references to northern Portugal. Journal of Place Management and Development 9 (1) online first.