Regional Studies, Regional Science
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Place branding has become an increasingly integral part of local and regional economic development strategies in the global competition for business investment. Professional and academic understanding remains limited, however, regarding whether place branding can be classified as a ‘high-road’ policy with substantive and effective merits or a ‘low-road’ policy that is generally inefficient and ineffective at fostering sustainable economic growth. Through the context of business attraction, this study examines whether place branding represents ‘high-road’ policy by comparing what economic development practitioners are doing to create and support their brands against the needs and desires of businesses considering relocation. The research goal is achieved through a series of in-depth interviews with economic development practitioners (n = 25) and private-sector site selectors (n = 10) in the province of Ontario, Canada. Gaps between policy and practicality are identified by comparing the responses of the two groups. Results demonstrate that place branding has the potential to be ‘high-road’ policy given its utility in business attraction. In its current implementation, however, place branding remains better described as a ‘low-road’ policy, as it is not being used efficiently. Several gaps in place-branding policy are identified, including an overreliance on visual identities and narratives, poor communication of the brand information, and overemphasis on presenting quality of life and affordability. These gaps present possible areas of ineffectiveness that can limit the ability of a place brand to attract investment, but provide areas of future policy improvements, thus enabling place branding to shift from ‘low road’ to ‘high road’.