I recently went to an exhibition around ‘Genius Loci’, the Spirit of Place, or actually the Soul of Place as it was called in Swedish, at Artipelag a newly opened “meeting place for culture, art, design, music and food” in Stockholm.
As with so many ideas, the spirit of place dates back to Rome (a rather prominent brand itself), then meaning the protective spirit of the place. Today, when we talk of ‘spirit of place’ it is ‘soul’ we mean. The ambiance, atmosphere, and authenticity. Ah, the ‘three As of place soul’, I can feel this featuring in my next presentation in a place near you.
There are many related and important discussions going on touching on this. The global high street is busy crowding out local corner stores, and it can be bewildering to walk around English city centres where signage and shop windows are blandly similar. And the same stores are expanding in places like India and China. Hotels are equally guilty, hands up everyone who has woken up in an international hotel chain with an interior that looks the same in every country and had to spend 10 seconds thinking ‘where in the world am I…?’
And when cities try to pitch themselves for tourism, business, conferences, to all kinds of visitors whether transient or permanent, aren’t they becoming remarkably similar in their ‘positioning’ and ‘marketing’? Why should we care? Why would we be interested?
I think cities need to dare to be interesting. Not to mention countries. Calling something ‘amazing’ or ‘incredible’ is decent advertising in the short run, but just doesn’t build authentic and sustainable brand equity in the long run (and if you can think of any other relevant buzz words please do email them to me…).
Soul. Spirit. Mojo, the right stuff, the life force, the essence, what the French call ‘I dont know what’. What is your place mojo? Where do you come from, what are your roots? Where do you want to go, do you want to be famous when you grow up? Sure, think target audiences, think segmentation, think wants/needs/musts, think outside/in. But also think inside/out. Reach into your soul, and think what will ignite people at home as well those you’re attracting from elsewhere.