Invitation to PhD defense: Rural place branding
We invite you to the online PhD defense of Barbora Gulisova on June 11, 2021. In her PhD project, Barbora has investigated the processes of place branding and how place branding is organized and undertaken in different places within the rural areas. In this article, Barbora gives a foretaste of her defense in a Q&A.
How did you become interested in your field of research?
It probably has something to do with my life-long interest in places, the experience of living in many different ones, and my tourism studies background. The knowledge and experience of different places has awakened my interest in the different perceptions of places that we have, and how those perceptions are formed. So, in this PhD I could look at how the local communities do place branding to influence the perceptions of their target groups.
What is the main focus of your PhD?
The main focus of my PhD is the processes of place branding, that is how place branding is organized and undertaken in different places, such as municipalities and different smaller towns within them. This also includes which local actors are engaged in the process and how engaged they are, that is when in the process, and what resources they provide to the process. I’ve also looked at the impacts of the process applied on the local community actors.
What are the main findings of your PhD?
The main findings are that there are different processes applied for place branding. The process is more professionalized in the municipalities, while it is based on voluntary work of the local communities or businesses in the smaller places. In these, there are though some who have resources to organize around place branding and work strategically with it, while in other places place branding rests more on individual ad-hoc activities. It was also clear that the municipality has a role to play in the smaller towns’ branding by supporting them with resources. These can be financial resources, but often the support is about providing expertise or facilitating help from outside, as well as promoting these towns as part of the municipality. On the other hand, some of the smaller places acknowledge this by focusing on building a good reputation for themselves in relation to the municipality. The actors provide different resources and engage in different behaviors depending on the branding process.
Who are your results aimed at, and how can they be used?
The results are relevant for those involved in place branding in rural places, small towns, but also in the municipalities. If they wish to start on place branding, they can look at which actor groups they have, which resources they have available among these actors, and organize their place branding process accordingly. If they already do place branding but do not acquire the level of local actor engagement that they wish to, they can use the typology presented in the thesis as a guidance for how they should change the process. Further, the results should also raise awareness about the need for collaboration and the lack of resources that smaller places often face when they aim to do place branding. Not only financial but often lack of time and skills are a challenge for doing more. Finally, the results emphasize the co-creational, networked nature of place branding.
Are there any results or discoveries you are particularly surprised by?
I was surprised by the difference among the bottom-up, community-based processes. While all started with some local ’ildsjæle’, they differed on their degree of organization, strategy, and how big a part of the local community actively did something for place branding. Also, in the part where we looked at how the different place branding processes facilitated local actor engagement among those not directly working with place branding, there were no extreme differences between the most top-down, professionalized process and the most bottom-up, ad-hoc process. People were willing to support, although only through relatively easy behaviors – positive word-of-mouth, recommendations, etc., place branding in all places. There was also agreement across all the cases, that rural places, including the municipalities, need to do place branding, but it has to build on the local identity and values.
If you were to do further research, what would you research?
I’d like to focus more on the individual actor level – the ’ildsjæl’, or the local resident, returning visitor, second residence owner, etc. How do we as individuals contribute to the place brands? And why do we do so? I’d also like to look at, on the local community level, whether and what difference there is between those very local people who have lived in the same place all of their lives, and the in-migrants, who have at some point actively chosen the place to live there. Some of my interviewees mentioned this aspect, and my background naturally leads me to such interests, so I hope I’d be able to dig deeper into that in the future.
Date: The defense took place Friday 11 June, 2021 at 10:00
Learn more: Want to know more about Barbora's research? Then scroll to the bottom of the article