In the province of Zeeland, on the border of Belgium, lies Hulst, a medieval fortified town with 11,000 inhabitants. The city council’s aim is to rebrand Hulst as a lively, attractive town that appeals to tourists, local people and the business community. But young people no longer see Hulst as a popular destination, and the town’s new image must appeal to them, too. Which is where the challenge comes in: how to reach out to this young demographic without alienating the current target audiences? In late 2018, we kicked off a place branding trajectory and a City marketing strategy.
If you want to succeed at creating and implementing a shared identity, along with a place or city brand, you need to involve all the stakeholders. Which is precisely what we did in Hulst, where we encouraged the municipality, local people and businesses to take an active part in the process. We unlocked Hulst’s DNA in dialogue with the city. After scanning around a hundred personal stories and anecdotes about the town, we discovered Hulst’s true identity: a place that enjoys the finer things in life, is incredibly modest, and proud of its rich heritage.
The place brand was developed in a couple of co-creation sessions with dozens of ‘tastemakers from Hulst’: a mix of entrepreneurs, passionate policy makers and locals. The sessions buzzed with energy and entrepreneurial spirit. Together, we brainstormed, and came up with a preliminary idea for a place brand, which we then presented to a broader group of residents and businesspeople. The place brand was refined, and, in the final phase, the finished version was greenlighted by the mayor and executive council. In the phase that followed—also in co-creation with business owners, policy makers and inhabitants—the marketing strategy was developed.
This intensive process yielded a broadly supported brand for the city of Hulst (mapped out on an urban canvas) and a perfectly tailored marketing and communication strategy based on three key components.
The people of Hulst were so inspired by the process they couldn’t wait to pitch in and help promote their city’s brand. They were fully in favour of plans to establish the Inspiration House, a central, physical location for promotional activities, and a Hulst brand team is being created. The #INULST campaign (dialect for ‘in Hulst’) has also been launched to ramp up online visibility. Throughout this process, the municipality’s key role is that of facilitator. Hulst is ready for the future.
At the end of 2019, this case will appear in an international publication about the co-creative approach to brand management (publisher: Bloomsbury, London). We will keep you informed.