10.4185/RLCS-2013-985en | ISSN 1138 - 5820 | RLCS # 68 | 2013 | | |
Characteristics and functions for place brands based on a Delphi method
J de San Eugenio Vela [CV] [ORCID] [GS] Universitat de Vic (Spain) email@example.com
Keywords: place brand; branding; communication; territorial identity; marketing; Delphi.
Contents: 1. Introduction. 2. Methodology. 2.1. Justification for the chosen panel of experts. 2.2. Panel members. 2.3. Delphi questionnaires and rounds. 3. Results. 4. Discussion and conclusions. 5. Bibliography.
Translation by Nicholas G. Charles
The object of study of this article are place brands, which have witnessed a major boom in recent years in both professional and academic terms (Olins, 2004, Govers, Go, 2009, Anholt, 2010). Nonetheless, despite this peak there does not appear to be theoretical and conceptual foundations allowing for a distinguished overview of the processes for the conceptualisation and management of brands associated with places in relation to (and to a certain extent, in conflict with) traditional brands linked to products and/or services (Kavaratzis, 2005, Hankinson, 2010, San Eugenio, 2012). Moreover, several authors have warned about the risks entailed by managing place brands in the same fashion as commercial brands are managed (Muñoz, 2008).
The representativeness of places and their people currently flows through the filter of the brand, established as a kind of significant device for conveying territorial identities. This creates a divide between place brands and commercial brands, the latter being solely focussed on achieving specific market targets (Alonso-González, 2008).
The primary objective of this research is to determine certain characteristics and functions carried out by brands linked to territories (country, nation, region, city or tourist destination). This will enable us to establish some of the logic behind their creation, use and significance. This article also addresses the scope of certain ancillary purposes: a proposed state of the matter for territory brands and the establishment of a potential future scenario based on the results obtained from applying the Delphi method, a research technique that is in essence based on prediction.
This text shall centre on work being carried in relation to commercial brands, although the Delphi method also, as far as possible and according to the opinion of experts, operates from a standpoint of distancing the processes for the conceptualisation and management of place brands from product and/or service brands. This takes us towards our initial working hypothesis: at present, the conceptualisation and subsequent implementation of territorial brands follows the same working patterns as those used for commercial brands. The hypothesis gives rise to our first research question: what are the main differences between a brand linked to places and a brand for products and/or services?
Indeed, brands associated with places do not provide any new ground with regard to what has been stated and written about the subject hitherto. What we do deem to be novel is to consider whether or not the practices carried out at present in relation to the implementation and management of place brands (which transcend historical tourist brands) incorporate the susceptibilities and sensitivities characteristic of public or common property or whether, on the other hand, territory brands are subject to conceptualisation and management patterns that are identical or similar to those attached to commercial brands.
As mentioned, this article is addressed on the context of a multidisciplinary observatory afforded by the varied profile and the backgrounds of fourteen experts who have collaborated with this research project. Generally speaking, the aim is to steer clear of the historical division existing between the academic and professional world (Baladrón-Pazos, Correyero-Ruiz, 2008). We will address the social and economic framework into which this research is placed below.
On the context of globalisation, a territory takes on significant influence and importance in economic, political, social and cultural terms (Harvey, 1989, Nogué, Albet, 2007). Capital flows must focus especially on the positioning of places. Hence, the transition takes place from the realm of places to the realm of flows (Castells, 2009). Here, the logic behind territory management – in other words, premeditated and/or induced construction of collective identities as a leading competitive element – entails handling that is similar to that given to any other good or service in today’s global community.
There is no doubt that the marketing of spaces and the adoption of attitudes and fondness (sympathy) towards these places (branding), in both instances, incorporates connotations of strategic positioning managed from the standpoint of marketing and communication (Alameda, Fernández, 2012). In this respect, Nogué (2006: 208) states the following:
“We are witnessing an exceptional process for the revaluation of places which, in turn, gives rise to competition between them that has hitherto been unseen. Hence the need to establish a uniqueness, to showcase and highlight all the significant aspects which make a place stand out from the rest, in short, to ‘be put on the map’”.
Places become a new transactional asset subject to a competitive environment undergoing major changes where positioning is attained largely through perception management; that is, citizens, tourists and companies acquire the images of places rather than the places themselves. Accordingly, the purpose of a territory brand mainly affects the specific work of perception a priori of certain spaces. Indeed, territories determine their competitiveness parameters through the power of evoking their brand image, which they use to place themselves on the map of forums for innovation and knowledge.
In this dilemma of sudden changes and dramatic flows, also in the sphere of space, we can place the logic behind the production and proliferation of territory brands as tracks identifying specific local characteristics. All in all, places are currently subject to management logic specific to the commercial sphere, driven by the application of communication and marketing techniques aimed at making the identities existing in geographical areas more tangible (Moilanen, Rainisto, 2009, Fernández-Cavia, 2011). The following are some of the key concepts linked to the process of building territory brands.
Table 1. Glossary of key concepts linked to territory brands
This project opts for a qualitative approach to the object of study (territory brands). The Delphi method lends this research an analysis of the standpoint of a group of fourteen experts who will be subject to a systematic, iterative process aimed at gleaning their opinions and, to the greatest extent possible, their consensuses (Linstone, Turoff, 1975, Ruiz, Ispizua, 1989, Landeta, 1999).
This research technique has been chosen in order to establish a widely held opinion (legitimised by the panel’s experts) with which to break away from what we consider to be a current lack of data and/or knowledge related to territory brands. Accordingly, the (authenticated) opinion was chosen to avoid resorting to simple speculation (Ruiz, Ispizua, 1989). Moreover, as pointed out by Linstone & Turoff (1975: 3): “Delphi may be characterized as a method for structuring a group communication process so that the process is effective in allowing a group of individuals, as a whole, to deal with a complex problem”.
Delbecq, Van de Ven & Gustafson (1975) maintain that this technique attempts to systematically organise opinions and compare judgments of opinion regarding a pre-determined topic by providing a host of questionnaires designed in a sequential, meticulous manner and disseminated with summarised information characterised by feedback on opinions deduced from initial responses. Consequently, the aim is to reduce the interquartile range or gap observed between the expert opinion and the opinion of the group (Adams, 2001, Altschuld, 2003).
On the context of this research it seemed appropriate to use this method because, as Gaitán & Piñuel (1998: 140) highlight: “As an exploratory technique, it can be used to develop a theoretical construct relating to an area of study or to provide an approach applied to the ultimate design of a research project”. The need for a future forecast and a theoretical and concept-based establishment of the object of study resulted in this choice being advisable.
2.1. Justification for the chosen panel of experts
The criteria for choosing the experts stem from three basic concepts. Firstly, an affinity has been sought between the experts and the object of study – in this case, brands linked to geographical areas. Secondly, the prestige and/or distinction obtained nationally and internationally by the experts in the professional and/or academic spheres has been taken into consideration. Lastly, we sought to form a group which, despite being linked by a pre-defined guiding topic, provided heterogeneous profiles to enhance the discourse and, accordingly, the final outcome of the research.
The group of experts includes geographers, environmental psychologists, publicists, economists, brand managers and experts linked to market research and marketing, among other profiles. The reason for this interdisciplinary nature is that it is necessary to address the topic of place brands from a range of viewpoints.
2.2. Panel members
The Delphi method included in this article unfolded with the help of fourteen experts in a range of professional and academic spheres. Accordingly, the research carried out takes into account twice the minimum number of seven members pointed out by Landeta (1999) which are required to form a Delphi panel. The final list of participants is as follows in alphabetical order:
1) Gonzalo Brujó: director general of Interbrand in Spain. The multinational firm Interbrand has been operating since 1974; it is a leader in branding strategies in the commercial sphere and, at present, it is also a pioneer in the field of territories.
2) Julio Cerviño: tenured university lecturer attached to the market research and marketing knowledge area at Carlos III University (Madrid). He is an expert in brand management and a standing advisor of the Leading Brands of Spain Forum.
3) Josep Chias: CEO of the consulting firm Chias Marketing. He was a lecturer at ESADE business school and is an acknowledged expert in territory marketing, communication and commercial brands. He has spearheaded tourist marketing projects all over the world.
4) Anna Domingo: she has sixteen years’ professional experience in international development of marketing and place branding strategies. She specialises in territory branding and marketing communication and is the director of the consulting firm PADZZLE.
5) José Antonio Donaire: tenured university lecturer attached to the human geography knowledge area of the University of Girona. He is an expert in tourism and the use of 2.0 tools. He is currently the director of the Higher Institute for Tourism Studies (INSETUR).
6) José Fernández-Cavia: tenured university lecturer attached to the advertising and audio-visual communication knowledge area of Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona). He was the lead researcher on the project “New advertising and promotion strategies for Spanish tourist brands online” funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation.
7) Assumpció Huertas: senior lecturer attached to the advertising and audio-visual communication knowledge area of Rovira i Virgili University (Tarragona). She is a specialist in e-branding and territory communication.
8) Rafael López-Lita: full professor attached to the advertising and audio-visual communication knowledge area of Jaume I University (Castellón). He has published several articles (linked to territory brands) which are particularly pertinent to this research project.
9) Antonio Monerris: founding member of the consulting firm BrainVentures, primarily devoted to defining brand communication strategies. He regularly works on defining branding and communication strategies for territory brands.
10) Fernando Olivares: tenured lecturer in global communication and corporate image at the Faculty of Economic and Business Sciences of the University of Alicante. He is a researcher at the City Reputation Lab, the first European team to conduct research on this area.
11) Ramon Ollé: strategic planning director for the Grey Group. He is a lecturer in brand management at ESADE business school and the joint founder of the Center for Brand Leadership of the University of Columbia in New York. He chairs the Association of Strategic Planners of Spain and regularly works in the field of territory brands.
12) Gildo Seisdedos: lecturer at the marketing department of IE Business School. He is the director of the Urban Management Forum and the Madrid Global Chair on International Urban Strategy. He is an expert in city marketing and urban management and serves as technical director of MERCO Ciudad, an urban ranking of Spanish cities.
13) Sergi Valera: tenured university lecturer attached to the social psychology knowledge area at the University of Barcelona. He specialises in environmental psychology and his areas of interest include environmental cognition, experience and life processes, which are particularly important to the study of territory brands.
14) Marta Vallejo: director of Granta Consulting, a consulting firm that for the past 26 years has been devoted to the definition of territory promotion and communication plans. She specialises in place and country branding and is a member of the Association for Place Branding and Public Diplomacy.
2.3. Delphi questionnaires and rounds
Having defined the members of the panel, they were contacted via email, the key Internet tool used throughout the entire Delphi process. For this research, the decision was made to issue two rounds of questions to the panel of experts (Landeta, 1999). The first, issued between 14 October and 23 December 2009, was managed by designing a questionnaire (see table 2) which, as Landeta (1999) points out, must be considered from the standpoint of open questions to encourage an initial brainstorming of ideas.
Moreover, it should allow for the definition of the key issues to be addressed on the basis of which closed questions shall be prepared (in a multiple choice and/or alternative response form) which will be included in the second Delphi round. This is how the process definitively concluded, the direct result of establishing a discourse-based consensus among the members of the panel (Gaitán, Piñuel, 1998). The following questionnaire was issued to the experts for the first Delphi round (open questions):
Table 2. Questions put to the Delphi panel experts (first round)
Once the period for submitting responses had elapsed, the first questionnaire was sorted, classified, systematically organised and interpreted. As a result of this process, a second questionnaire arose (between 15 February and 4 April 2010), this time forged based on the approach of using closed questions. Consequently, in the latter case the possible responses bore a multiple choice and/or alternative response structure on the basis of which a choice of the responses chosen should be carried out subject to hierarchy, valuation and comparison (Landeta, 1999).
The results obtained shall be presented according to the statistical handling of the panellists’ responses to make it possible to glean the individual opinions of the experts to provide a group-based widely held opinion. In addition to the quantitative data obtained, a context-based exposé with remarks to interpret the various standpoints, consensuses and differences expressed by the Delphi members will be conducted. The twofold approach in interpreting the results obtained (in a quantitative and qualitative manner) is justified both on account of the size of the sample and on the need to report on the findings made overall incorporating all potential nuances.
To the greatest extent possible in this specific case, this seeks to prevent the Delphi researcher from solely resorting to a simple description of the data to the detriment of providing his or her own qualitative interpretation based on pre-established goals. As a result, the Delphi method shall be applied and used according to the explanatory and predictive approach (Landeta, 1999). Moreover, the complex nature of the object of study – territory brands – makes it advisable to provide a descriptive, reasoned and rational exposé (Landeta, 1999).
The results shall be arranged according to central criteria (median, mean and standard deviation) stemming from the statistical handling of the responses gleaned from the panel of experts. The second round includes ten questions stemming from the sorting and systematic organisation of the responses obtained during the first round from the panel (20 questions). The panellists operated on a scale whereby they had to rate their responses from 0 (lowest rating) to 10 (highest rating).
Question 1. A territory brand is and implies…
Table 3. Meanings and implications of territory brands
The option for which greater consensus was attained was linked to the function of the brand as a device for managing perceptions. In all likelihood, this is made explicit because this response option encompassed most concepts which, in an unordered fashion, initially had been considered by the experts for a potential definition of territory brand (perception, identity, communication, positioning) in the first Delphi round. Far behind, the option of identification between place and brand was placed in second position, while projection and external communication value of the place was placed between second and fourth position by the panellists.
Question 2. In the English-speaking world, the concept of territory brand can be assimilated with what expression:
Table 4. Match given to the meaning of territory brand in English
Equivalent to the concept of territory brand in the Anglo-Saxon sphere
Chart 1. Results obtained from the experts in percentages
The second question posed in the Delphi survey sought to address the conceptual confusion relating to territory brand when adapting and translating terminology from English into other languages. The prevailing option chosen by the experts was the term place branding. However, one expert chose two options simultaneously, specifically place marketing and place branding. Another member of the panel following this same formula chose two potential responses: place branding and destination branding. A third participant also gave a double response: destination branding and destination marketing.
Lastly, one of the panel members disregarded all options as potential responses and included his own suggestion. In this instance, he opted for the option place brand. It is necessary to take into consideration that the sum of the percentages for the results from the second Delphi question is greater than 100%. This is because some of the panellists chose more than one response.
Question 3. Who should take the initiative in implementing a territory brand?
Table 5. Leadership in creating territory brands
Who should assume responsibility for implementing a territory brand?
Chart 2. Responsibility for place brands
In terms of percentages, leadership in implementing a territory brand pertains to the respective public administration. However, it is necessary to highlight the option “others”, which encompasses the opinion of five experts. Three simultaneously chose the public administration and private enterprise, while two of them simultaneously chose the public administration and citizens. Likewise, one expert also initially chose the public administration, although he also availed himself of the option “other” to point out that companies who benefitted from the existence of a territory brand should bear an influence on the development and maintenance of it.
Similarly, one important statistic arises from the sorting of responses for the third Delphi question; namely, up to five experts expanded on the possible solutions adding the option “others” to point out the need to set up mixed management teams to take into consideration public, private and citizen interests. Indeed, the establishment of an impartial body representing the interests of all parties involved capitalises on most of the considerations made by the panel members. Moreover, it is necessary to take into consideration that the sum of the percentages stemming from the responses given to the third Delphi question is greater than 100% because certain specialists chose more than one response.
Question 4. Territory brand: place management and/or communication?
Table 6. Functions linked to territory brands
Chart 3. Management and/or communication connotations associated with territory brands
In view of the two possible responses, eleven of the fourteen experts chosen were of the opinion that the territory brand implied management and communication, in a complimentary manner. Solely three experts considered that the brand was merely a communication device.
Question 5. The foremost aspects distinguishing a commercial brand from a territory brand are as follows:
Table 7. Differences between a commercial brand and a territory brand
The sphere of public interest and that of citizen involvement in territory brands, as opposed to private interests and solely the conditioning factor of the market innate to commercial brands is the difference to which the panellists have given greatest consideration. This is followed by the relationship of place brands with the development of the territory and the boost to the economy in the area the brand represents. The variety of publics involved and the establishment of long-term targets are other characteristics that were widely taken into consideration by the Delphi members.
Question 6. Order the fields of knowledge most closely linked to the study of the territory brand from 1 to 11 (the disciplines appearing as potential responses were suggested beforehand by the experts during the first Delphi round).
Table 8. Disciplines linked to the study of place brands
On this occasion, the statistical handling of the considerations of the experts shows that the classification is highly grouped around three disciplines of preference (in this order): brand management, communication and marketing. Disciplines such as sociology, economics, town planning and geography followed further behind.
Table 9. Variety of terms for place brands
In the opinion of the Delphi members consulted, the variety of terms linked to territory brands stems from a fundamental issue in all cases: the association of a place with a brand that identifies and represents it. Indeed, the second response in order of priority can be understood as it is linked to the difficulty in naming the work entailed by building a brand from an interdisciplinary viewpoint. The result indicating that the variety of meanings linked to place brands can be explained based on an attempt to monopolise a patently emerging line of research or field of work is less representative.
Beyond doubt, the possible responses linked to the brief background of the term and the difficulty in translating certain anglicisms (the idiomatic issue) fall somewhat behind the priorities expressed by the experts in the panel.
Question 8. The inexorable aims of a territory brand should be as follows:
Table 10. Achievements to be attained by a territory brand
Positioning is the primary goal to be attained by a territory brand according to the opinion of the panellists. Consideration for the local communities and their subsequent attachment to the brand came in second place among the preferences stated, above the historical projection of territory brands externally.
As a device for managing (positive) perceptions, the brand and the need to design long-term territory development strategies were among the highest rated options by the experts. Recognition, economic boost, frankness and transformation of territory value into brand value were respectively ranked from fifth to eighth in terms of importance in the responses obtained.
Question 9. The values and/or features of a brand which underpin the communication of a territory stem from the following:
Table 11. Transfer of territory value to brand value
Based on the opinions compiled, it seems patent that the typical value on which to base the projection of a competitive territory image – the DNA – is identity. Indeed, in this context, identity is an extremely broad term which can be transformed into values and/or features such as culture, heritage, human capital, history or landscape, among other concepts. Accordingly, branding and promotion strategies will, in all likelihood, depend on the unique (tangible and intangible) resources available and on the positioning sought. This all leads to one clear objective: projecting a competitive identity among the local community and to the world.
Question 10. In a future scenario, the role the territory brand should play in societies should be as follows:
Table 12. Future forecasts for territory brands
On account of the value afforded by the Delphi method in terms of future forecasts, the experts were asked about the role to be played by territory brands in coming years. Their consideration as instruments for in drawing in events, investment and talent was the highest rated option by the panellists. The capacity of the brand as a device for communication capable of pooling the assets of a place in a cross-disciplinary manner to create a positive reputation were the second and third highest rated options, respectively. The creation of new opportunities for territories and the improvement of the quality of life of its citizens are options that stem directly from the preferences described by the Delphi members during the first round.
4. Discussion and conclusions
In light of the responses provided by the experts, it seems clear that the nature and functions of territory brands do share some common ground with traditional commercial brands. Nonetheless, this research does show there are some differences to be taken into consideration. Although the purposes typically attributed to a brand (positioning, distinction, establishment of reputation, provision of a comparative and competitive advantage) are entirely comparable, the public importance of brands linked to places requires a distinguished handling according to the experts.
Indeed, the processes for the design and/or conceptualisation of the territory brand call for proactive involvement on the part of citizens. Hence, the study highlights the need for various parties to become involved in constructing the brand (with participation from governments, private enterprise and even citizens) to pool as many voices as possible in designing and launching place brands. Likewise, the research also envisages the need to emphasise the management aspect and not solely focus on heavy communication of territory brands.
According to the panellists, brands linked to spaces are also a device for territory management (town, environment, social planning, etc.) and, accordingly, should be understood beyond their ability to project a positive image of a geographical area. Similarly, the characteristic as a public asset pertaining to the territory brand means that it interacts in a sphere of work that is as complex as it is difficult to control (the public sector, the private sector and citizens), as opposed to commercial brands which are imbued in the realm of the positioning of products and/or services (that can easily be segmented). Therefore, the economic prosperity of territories and their people should be one of the key goals to be reached by place brands.
Although on account of their origin (pertaining to commercial brands), the study of territory brands has been substantially centred on the field of marketing, the Delphi shows the need to incorporate other disciplines in order to handle and research the issue. Thus, in addition to brand management, communication and marketing, the multi-faceted nature of the association between brand and place calls for the incorporation of disciplines such as sociology, economics, town planning and geography, among others.
The link established between a brand and a geographical area is based on a fundamental reason: the need to employ a device to swiftly, simply project a territory identity both locally and to the world which, on account of its characteristics, is capable of competing on the unforeseen market of places. Therefore, the brand lends the territory the added value of competitiveness (competitive identity). This leads us to cast doubt on whether the importance currently placed on the place brand could end up conditioning (or is even conditioning at the present time) the morphology of geographical areas, in other words, the urban planning and organisation of territory.
Overall, we consider that the responses of the Delphi members give rise to the definition of certain essential characteristics and functions to be carried out by territory brands, the primary goal of this article. In some cases, these characteristics fall in line with those pertaining to commercial brands, while there are substantial differences in other cases. This study to associate product and/or service brands with place brands has made it possible to answer the research question raised at the start of the article in order to settle the foremost differences existing between both types of brands.
Furthermore, the considerations of the panellists give rise to a proposed state of affairs in terms of territory brands. On account of its prospective value, the Delphi method has enabled us to lay out a future scenario linked to the performance of place brands, thereby addressing the two supplementary objectives raised in this research project.
Lastly, it is necessary to point out that the initial hypothesis of this research can be confirmed, albeit with certain alterations. In essence, place brands and commercial brands use highly similar working standards, especially with regard to their conceptualisation and subsequent management. Nonetheless, the fact that territory brands are publicly owned makes them more complicated to manage, disperses the interested parties and calls for teamwork from three spheres: the public administration, private enterprise and citizens.
In any event, the research carried out shows that the increasing competitiveness among territories lays out a new reality to incorporate into the management of places, once again focussed on attaining added value by projecting a competitive identity. This distinguishing value and its subsequent projection calls for the use of a brand understood as a common asset and a vital device in projecting modern, territorial identities.
This research has also been partly funded through the project “Online communication of tourist destinations. Development of a comprehensive instrument for the assessment of efficiency: websites, mobile devices and the social web (CODETUR)” (CSO 2011-22691) of the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Spain). See more information at: http://www.marcasturisticas.org/
The authors wish to express their acknowledgment to José Antonio Corral for his review of how the responses given by the Delphi members have been processed in statistical terms.
This article is intended to pay tribute to Rafael López-Lita and Josep Chias, members of the Delphi panel who recently passed away.
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How to cite this article in bibliographies / References
J de San Eugenio Vela, J Fernández-Cavia, J Nogué, M Jiménez-Morales (2013): “Characteristics and functions for place brands based on a Delphi method”, at Revista Latina de Comunicación Social.
Article received on 24 July 2013. Submitted to pre-review on 26 July. Sent to reviewers on 31 July. Accepted on 6 October 2013. Galley proofs made available to the authors on 7 October 2013. Approved by authors on: 10 October 2013. Published on 12 October 2013.