Is collaboration sufficient for high legitimacy of outcomes with stakeholders in public branding?

By Erik Hans Klijn

In this blog entry we discuss how important is collaboration in branding in relation to the latest paper of BRANDSUS’ own Erik Hans Klijn in collaboration with Jose Nederhand and Vidar Stevens

Full article: The necessity of collaboration in branding: analysing the conditions for output legitimacy through qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) (tandfonline.com)  (available free of charge in this link).

The paper discusses collaboration as a key variable or even a condition sufficient for achieving legitimacy in place branding processes in the scientific literature. The key argument here is that by including and working together with stakeholders their acceptance of the outcomes in enhanced (what we refer here as output legitimacy).

The authors thus question whether a high level of collaboration is a sufficient condition, in itself, for achieving high output legitimacy. To answer that question, a prominent branding campaign in the city of Rotterdam (Rotterdam makers district) and the way various companies were involved in that campaign is used as a case study.

The Rotterdam Makers District Branding Campaign

This branding campaign was launched by the Municipality of Rotterdam in 2017 to promote the idea of creating a new image of a section of the old Rotterdam harbour district, emphasising the Makers concept. Makers are mostly regarded as innovative manufacturing industries that focus on new technologies such as additive manufacturing (including 3D printing), robotization, and material science. The campaign and subsequent branding materials were primarily targeted at potential Makers themselves following their willingness to embrace the New Economy and work and live in raw, urban areas. Thus, the Makers District brand attempted to attract start-ups through cost-reducing instruments and facilitated innovation by initiating networking activities, like online showcases, decision-making processes regarding the spatial development plans, and cultural activities, thus offering a strategic advantage over other business locations. During the campaign, the municipality tried to involve the companies in the area in the process by organizing a wide variety of activities, such as workshops to discuss the brand as well as events to promote the area and connect the various firms together. Despite an open invitation to all firms in the area, due to the transient nature and dynamics of companies in the area, it could not be ascertained whether all of them were reached. In addition, the degree to which various companies became involved in these activities and in developing the brand shows significant variation. This varying degree is in fact a very interesting fact arising from the research that points towards different levels of engagement and collaboration with municipal actors as initiators of the brand, and enables us to distinguish between firms that were highly connected and collaborating with the municipality and companies that conversely did not do so.

So, is collaboration necessary?

To explore the research question: Is collaboration a necessary  for output legitimacy in place branding processes? the authors looked at 30 companies involved in the place branding campaign to rebrand the Merwe-Vierhavens neighbourhood (MH4 area) and the Rotterdam Droogdokken Maatschappij area (RDM area) as Rotterdam Makers District. For each company three main items were assessed:

1. The degree of output legitimacy for that company was measured by observing:

(a) whether the companies agreed with the goals of the campaign,

(b) whether they were willing to promote the brand and,

(c) whether they actually used the brand in their own communications (in brand jargon ‘word of mouth’).

In other words, the first two measurements concern the intention of firms and the last one tries to measure an their actual behaviour towards the brand.

2. The degree of collaboration was measured by observing whether the company was involved in the creation of the brand.

3. The level of attachment to place: the research also assessed whether companies identified themselves with the place (place identity) and whether they experienced place dependency (the feeling that this place was crucial for their activities). In addition, the research looked at the character of the firm (defined by whether it had mainly domestic or international customers).

The analysis of the conditions shows that, although collaboration is an important condition, it is not necessary for achieving output satisfaction. In fact, the authors found other combinations of conditions that suffice for achieving output legitimacy. For instance, in companies that are internationally oriented, place dependency was more important than whether or not they were involved in a collaborative process of constructing and communicating the brand. Interestingly, Dutch-oriented (domestic costumers) companies that showed high output legitimacy presented both high levels of collaboration, but also a high level of place identity. This means that their perceptions of the place were also very important!

In sum, the authors conclude that it is indeed not sufficient to rely on a collaborative relation exclusively. Perceptual characteristics (such as identification with place or dependency on the place for the execution of the company’s activities) are also important factors that determine output legitimacy. Consequently, organisations aiming to brand a place and achieving legitimacy have to work on collaboration as well as on the perceptual elements mentioned above (like attachment to place, policy services, etc.)

Connection to BRANDSUS: Expanding on the findings by Klijn and colleagues (2021) as presented in this short blog entry, BRANDSUS is exploring the link between perceptual elements about place, such as place attachment, as well as other elements affecting the relationships between members of the network that collaborate to co-create the place brand to expand our understanding of what elements determine participation in place branding process and, most importantly, how does participation affect the branding outcomes including legitimacy, and support for the brand as demonstrated by a willingness to engage in communicating the brand to others.

For more information, contact klijn@essb@eur.nl

Prof.dr. E.H. Klijn

Department of Public Administration and Sociology, Erasmus School of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Erasmus University, Mandeville Building T- 17-41

P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam

The Netherlands

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