Auckland’s economic development and cultural agency, Auckland Unlimited, collaborated with Destination Think to uncover Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s unique positioning and narrative.

Auckland Unlimited won the prestigious 2020 Place Brand of the Year at the City Nation Place global congress for Tāmaki MakaurauAuckland’s place brand. The annual award celebrates international excellence in place branding. 

City Nation Place noted Auckland’s“clear, holistic approach that anchors the city’s future in its authentic past, engages all stakeholders, and provides a roadmap for recovery in tourism and economic development.” The award also credits Destination Think.

Auckland Unlimited adopted Destination Think’s process for developing a place brand. The company’s Place DNA® process involves extensive research and collaboration with residents and stakeholders to develop a brand that is not only co-created with, but also supported by the community. In Auckland’s case, this co-creation involved collaborative workshops, focus groups, and engagement with Māori community members.

“There is no such thing as a tourism brand, an economic brand, and a citizen brand. They cannot be considered separately. A place has only one brand, one reputation. A brand is an ecosystem, and Auckland Unlimited understood this well.”

Frank Cuypers, Senior Strategist at Destination Think

In-depth research with Auckland stakeholders and residents, international sentiment analysis and a review of Auckland’s social media and online communications, resulted in the creation of Auckland’s Tāmaki Makaurau He Aratohu Auckland Playbook. This process led to the development of a self-service digital brand home, brand-aligned campaigns, photographic and video asset creation, and a brand recovery strategy when COVID-19 struck.

Head of Marketing, Shelley Watson, and Brand Manager, Clare Barker, of Auckland Unlimited describe the impact of the winning place brand project and the process that led to the award:


Destination Think: What are you or your team most proud of about the place brand project?

Auckland Unlimited:

We’re very proud of receiving the City Nation Place 2020 ‘Place Brand of the Year’ award. The calibre of the judges, finalists and congress community in general, made the recognition very special. It’s a wonderful springboard to keep progressing the work.

The award is also an indicator of success towards growing the emotional appeal of Auckland. Research has told us that our region has a strong rational appeal, but we need to work on our emotional appeal to enhance our reputation. It’s great to know we are starting to achieve this!

We’re proud of the work we’ve done developing the Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Playbook, and creating open-source video and photographic assets. It’s really encouraging to see the marketing community embracing the brand and bringing it to life in their campaigns. The authentic origins of the brand, the simplicity of using it, and the genuine need has resulted in a groundswell. 

Working with our main stakeholders has also given us the strong support of our Chief Executive and leadership team. This meant that when COVID-19 hit, we were still able to progress our brand work. We were able to build an online brand home and educational video as part of our brand strategy, allowing people to access and ‘self-service’ the brand from wherever they were. The fact that this work was supported when budgets were so tight and the focus was on tactical recovery plans, was testimony to the work we’d done prior. ‘‘Papatūānuku is Breathing’ was a very successful example of how our organisation understands the brand and ran with it in lockdown.

Community engagement and collaboration were vital throughout the place brand’s strategy and development. What made the process of stakeholder engagement so effective?

Destination Think’s trademarked place brand methodology included extensive research and workshops that were a great foundation for our work. Getting a wide range of stakeholders and citizens to really spend time exploring what makes Auckland unique in a very hands-on and fun way has been central to creating our place brand.

We have engaged our communities at all stages. Inviting those who participated in workshops back to hear the results replayed worked really well. We also spent time with a Māoricommunity collective, workshopping and playing the work back to them. It was very important throughout to ensure we had the perspective of the mana whenua (indigenous people) of Tamaki Makaurau Auckland. We’ve toured the work with businesses, council organisations, Auckland leaders – there’s always more to do. We also have an Industry Leaders group and marketing subcommittee that have been across this work from the very beginning.

What was your experience like working with the Destination Think team?

We’ve enjoyed working with Destination Think. From the first phone call with Rodney, three years ago, to our hastily halted workshops and lecture series when our borders abruptly shut this March, it’s always been clear that Destination Think are passionate experts – hugely experienced and familiar with the challenges and rewards of this work. They also bring an outside credibility to the work that is very useful, particularly as place branding is not a concept many are familiar with. It’s been helpful to have experts with credentials such as our strategist, Frank Cuypers, and account manager, Andrea Moreton to help take people on the journey.

Feature image credit: Auckland Unlimited

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