Ernes Oliva, Dipl.Oec., Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Ernes Oliva, Dipl.Oec., Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Marko Paliaga, Assistant Professor, Ph.D., Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Ernes Oliva, Dipl.oec., Juraj Dobrila University of Pula



In recent years, town marketing and town branding have become a frequently discussed topic for towns, municipalities, various associations, the public and the media as well as various state authorities. The main problem for all towns is how to act efficiently and promptly, how to adjust to constant market changes, how to be competitive and become recognisable and unique. The same problem is tackled by small towns, which may find a solution in branding. Small towns have to establish themselves as brands in order to develop in the global environment, attract and keep investors and tourists and raise the level of satisfaction among their citizens. Branding provides each town with a possibility of defining and differentiating itself from every other town. Small towns seek to differentiate and become recognisable and attractive. The creation of a town brand based on its particular features at the same time lays foundations for valorisation of cultural, tourist and market identity of the town, which in turn makes it possible to unify its tourist, traditional, cultural and natural qualities. By developing a brand, little towns may valorise their identity and become unique - a destination recognisable for their culture, tourism and market placement using its potentials. The present paper explores branding potentials of small towns in Istria. We expect research results to show whether there is branding potential and, if there is, for which towns, what entities are relevant for the introduction of a brand, what elements support branding potential of a small town in addition to branding benefits for little towns and the entire region.

Key words: town branding, town marketing, differentiation


In this day and age, countries, regions and towns face the increasingly fiercer competition and the ever higher demands of tourists, investors and inhabitants. The problem of growing competition is also present in small towns in some regions, particularly in tourist regions. Market struggle and competitors spurred the need for searching, creating or emphasising sources of competitive advantages.

Like countries, regions and big towns, small towns also have to find a way to valorise their competitive advantages embodied in their in unique characteristics. Unique features of small towns are part of their identity that differentiates them from all other places. By the same token, it is necessary to find a way to communicate unique characteristics of small towns or their identity to target segments. A dynamic environment requires strategic thinking that becomes the key strategic marketing issue for small towns. Tourist destinations as well as particular towns find a strategic solution in creating their own brand so that their market presentation could be different from others. In this regard, strategic solution to the above problem for small towns may also be found in creating their own brand based on their identity. Brand building would enable the preservation of identity of small places with the brand also used as a communication method and a promise whose keeping builds long-term loyalty.

Seeing that creating a brand for small towns based on their particular features enables valorisation of their identity, brand creation may be described as a key strategic marketing approach geared towards preservation of identity and development of economy of a particular town. Brand building creates preconditions for the implementation of development strategy and improvement of small towns, which should produce long-term benefits both for small towns and for their entire region.

This research explores brand building potentials for small towns in Istria. We identify and analyse elements that affect the own-brand creating process for small towns. Consequently, the research attempts to address potential benefits of creating a brand both for small towns and for the whole region in addition to revealing the most important entities in the brand building process for small towns.

The paper also defines and proposes a possible model of branding small towns. The proposed model comprises seven key steps used as fundamental guidelines in the small town branding process.


The idea of competitiveness among towns is not new, and it primarily refers to globalisation-related changes. In fact, in the course of the twentieth century, globalisation affected competitiveness so that a good brand became a decisive market conquering tool as opposed to merely having a decent quality product that is reasonably priced. In recent years, town marketing and town branding have become frequently discussed topics in western countries, Croatia included, for towns, municipalities, various associations, for the public and the media as well as various state authorities. The main problem all towns are experiencing today is how to act efficiently and promptly, how to adjust to constant market changes, how to be competitive and become recognisable and unique. Town branding process actually means changing the way towns are developed and planned.

Small towns have to establish themselves as brands in order to develop in the global environment, to attract and keep investors and tourists and raise the level of satisfaction among their citizens. Branding provides each town with a possibility of defining and differentiating itself from every other town. In terms of towns, regions or countries, a trademark or a brand denotes a particular sort of town characterisation, or a set of all expectations, thoughts, ideas, notions, feelings and associations individuals have to a country, town or region. If we consider the fact that each town is limited by its available funds and the increasing global interrelatedness, each local community has to compete with any other town or place for its share in the world's wealth, talents and knowledge. Renowned companies renowned towns, regions or countries alike will more easily find channels for the sale of their products or services, more easily find workforce, have a larger number of visitors, tourists, investments and events and a more significant role at the national and global level.

In spite of a common perception that town branding actually means promoting its natural and cultural assets and finding a way to attract tourists, branding is actually a lot more. The fundamental starting point for the implementation of town branding concept is that the name of the town should become a brand, and that its result is the creation of an image in the consciousness of all identified target groups (potential investors, tourists, citizens, entrepreneurs), which helps everyone evaluate town products and services, makes it easier for tourists to make a decision about their visit to the town, it affects making business decisions and residents' decisions to move and similar. Town branding is oriented to improving the town as a product.

Town as a product is defined as a set of all natural elements (climate, position) and town planning and physical elements that reflect its character and the entire town heritage, housing and basic infrastructure. It also comprises basic town services, fire department, police department, emergency services, municipal services and education, all of which have to be planned by every mayor. A town product is improved by means of construction of particularly attractive landmarks such as a unique park, stadium, historic building, shopping centre, five-star hotel in the historical centre and similar. This will make it possible for the town to realise its development potential through attracting particular target groups, which will benefit the entire local community. Yet a town as a brand does not have to focus solely on one target group, but rather on several groups, which depends on the vision of local authorities and what they want from their town, where they are directing it, what future development they want for it and how ready they are to accept new development ideas and objectives.

A town brand has to be seen as some sort of contract between town authorities and users of all services of the town product whereby users of services offer loyalty and trust to the brand and in turn ask the town to provide them with benefits through maintaining a constant level of quality of the town product, appropriate prices of all basic services, promotion of local community and equal distribution-accessibility of all town services to everyone.

Although some towns have better natural, cultural and historic assets compared to other towns, all of them can be successfully branded. Success of one town does not have to overshadow possibilities of other towns although they might appear to be similar. For instance, the distance between the towns of Rovinj and Poreč is small, they are similar in size, and yet each of them can be branded in a different way.

Boosting confidence of local economy and local inhabitants in their own forces, their own economy, their own expertise and their own skills is the greatest success of town branding. This confidence and strength will generate significant differentiation and recognisability for all target groups. Creation of new and maintenance of existing business, social, cultural and emotional ties and relations through encouraging and developing local economy, boosting town exports and creating new workplaces is the greatest positive effect of town branding. It is advisable that branding should be considered carefully, without being susceptible to services provided by creative and advertising agencies that only create the “packaging”. In fact, no product can be successfully marketed if it is not rooted in quality. Town brand building requires much effort, systematically and methodically collected data about the town, a clear vision of town development, clear town development objectives, select brand development strategies, a political consensus, but most of all, it requires perseverance. A town or a place is not branded only because its inhabitants or representatives of the owner say so or because they designed a logotype and selected a slogan. This is merely “make-up” branding. Small places and towns also seek to become differentiated, recognisable and attractive.

Small town branding process may be divided into seven steps (Baker, 2007.): 1. Assessment and Revision, 2. Analysis and Advantage, 3. Alignment, 4. Articulation, 5. Activation, 6. Adoption and Attitudes, 7. Action and Implementation.

Implementation and success of these steps in building a small town brand first of all depend on local policies, budgets, time and autonomy of entities in charge of brand building and development (Baker, 2007.).

The following table shows a possible model for introducing brands into small towns.

Table 1: Presentation of a possible model of small town branding

First step
Assessment and revision / Questions that need to be addressed in this phase: Who are we? What do the users of our services and our guests think of us? What do we want to become? / This phase includes:
a) Identification of markets that are relevant for a particular place
b) Assessment and perception of attitudes of all stakeholders to their place
c) Identification of competitors
d) Identification of strengths and weaknesses of the place
e) Defining differentiation point
f) Identification of advantages and trends
Second step
Analysis and emphasising advantages / Questions that need to be addressed:
What do our stakeholders want? What are the strengths and the advantages of our community?What are the strengths of our competitors and what do they offer? / This phase includes:
a)Defining needs of all users of services
b)Defining competitors' offer and assessment of competitors
c)Defining the Value of future Brand/Trademark, what values can be emphasised by local community (knowledge, patriotism, safety, innovations, environmental concerns...)
d)Defining the vision of future brand (tangible benefits, emotional benefits, social benefits)
e)Choice of promise of trademark or brand (what will the brand offer and guarantee to all users...)
Third step
Development and improvement of the place/local community / Questions that need to be addressed: Are there strengths that can improve the place? Are there programmes that can improve the place? Will new elements improve or worsen a particular local community? / This phase includes:
a)Defining key improvement points for the place or local community in conformity with the chosen vision and promise of the brand (what will be improved or developed, concrete projects)
b)Realisation of key projects
Fourth step
Brand building / Questions that need to be addressed:
Will the brand be understandable and accepted? Will its visual identity conform to brand promises? Is our brand recognisable? Does our brand differentiate us? Etc. / This phase includes:
a)Defining and choosing the name of the brand
b)Design and choice of logotype that follows from key projects-points
c)Creating the story about the brand in conformity with realised key projects-points
d)Defining key words, phrases that strengthen brand recognisability
e)Defining key colours, fonts, photographs enhancing brand recognisability
Brand activation (launching) / Questions that need to be addressed in this phase: What kind of advertising should be used? Which media should be engaged? How much money to spend on advertising/brand activation? / This phase includes:
a)Selection of promotional mix (advertising, public relations, events, publicity...)
b)Defining the budget
c)Implementation of the principle of integrated marketing communication
d)Measuring promotional effects
Implementation and Control / Questions that need to be addressed in this phase: Does the brand we built meet our expectations? Does the brand fit promised actual situation in a small town? Are there needs to change place branding strategy? What are economic benefits of branding process? / This phase includes:
a)Implementation of the brand through all forms of promotion and communication
b)Following implementation and monitoring
c)Assessment of indirect and direct economic and social benefits from place branding
d)Quantitative effects - following (increase in the number of guests, growth of production, increase in the number of inhabitants, growth of GDP)
e)Constant improvement of implementation in all segments of society and among all stakeholders, implementation has to be above the level of choice of logotype and colour
f)Feedback, corrections, co-branding, revision of branding solutions, improvement.

Source: Authors, 2012, partially according to Baker, 2007.


Place name building based on special features of a particular place lays foundations for the valorisation of cultural, tourist and market identity of the place. It also enables the unification of historical, traditional, cultural and natural assets of a place. Brand building provides small towns with a possibility of valorising their identity and becoming a unique cultural, tourist and market destination which benefited from its existing potential. In this regard, it is necessary that a particular place becomes a destination. Only then may it use its uniqueness and take part in the market competition against other destinations. The origin of the word destination is Latin destinatio, theend of a journey orthe place to which one is traveling (Anić, 1994). To explain the term, we will quote a few definitions of tourist destination. In fact, the term “tourist destination” refers to a small or large compact unit of space whose tourist product coming from the original and derived tourist offer has potential or actual tourist marketability (Meler, 1998). Tourist destination is a modern expression of the totality of tourist offer of a particular area (Žuvela, 1998). Tourist destination as a competitive unit represents a context chosen by the tourist as the objective of his/her travel and stay. The meaning of destination may comprise different elements that form the value chain, although, eventually, one has to be able to meet all guest expectations with a comprehensive offer, even by cooperating with other destinations (Bieger, 1998). Therefore, in order for an area to be characterised as a tourist destination, it must be able to attract and keep tourists, i.e. provide a complete complex tourist offer (Križman Pavlović, 2008).

Growing competition among tourist destinations and significant changes in tourists' habits and expectations during their journey support the idea that destinations should be treated like products and managed according to marketing-based approach (Ashworth & Voogd, 1994; Caldwell & Freire, 2004; Kotler, Asplund, Rein & Heider, 1999; Kotler & Gertner, 2002). Some authors argue that destinations, like products or services, may have their brand (Cai, 2002; Caldwell & Freire, 2004), defined by the American Marketing Association (AMA) as a name, term, sign, symbol, design or their combination with the objective to identify goods or services of a particular seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from goods or services of their competitors. Vranešević (2007) defines trademark as a name, symbol and any stimulus that can be related to characteristics of a product or service and their functional and psychological benefits. Vranešević (2007) sees trademark as a means of differentiation, a functional means, a symbolic means, a risk reduction tool, a time saving tool, a legal and strategic instrument. A tourist destination brand is the image building process for a place based on the perception of tourists and other stakeholders that relies on communication strategy aimed at target market (Cai, 2002). One of the main objectives of building a place brand is enhancing the attractiveness of the place (Rainisto 2003) based on its identity (Qu et al. 2011). Some authors believe that intensification of branding concept in regard to destinations requires greater place management integration and that the identity of a place as well as its reputation affects the possibility that destinations attract visitors, inhabitants and investors (Ashworth & Kavaratzis, 2007; Cai, 2002; Park & Jaworski, 1986; Qu et al., 2011; Ritchie & Ritchie, 1998). We may state that trademarks are a clear and unique reflection of our time (Olins, 2008). In the world characterised by fierce competition in which reasonable choice has almost become impossible, trademarks represent clarity, a new safety, consistency, status, even membership, i.e. everything that helps people define themselves.