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Branding Croatia as a European heritage destination

What is a brand, and what is branding of a destination? What strategies are applied in the development and interpretation of a destination? How to use and make use of heritage in this process? What does theory say about that, and what kind of experiences do we have from the projects such as the ‘Riva of the great barque', ‘The Routes of the Frankopans’ cultural route and Ogulin, the Homeland of Fairy Tales?

“Is that a brand?” The mentioned sentence has become so common that only a few people try to add a Croatian version to the common English word, which admittedly doesn’t help much either, colloquially “brand” in the Croatian language (marka) is likened to the German word “Marke”, which again is a borrowed term. Does it mean that Croats, if they don't have their own word, do not know how to brand?

Of course it doesn’t, but before practical examples here is something of a little theory that we could call the successful labelling, designing and management of “something special” (which for the purpose of this text we’ll call a “brand”). It concerns a whole series of procedures with which we identify a subject, product, service or place highlighting what makes it different from potential competition. Which procedures we will make use of upon the creation of the concept, name, symbol, design (which is most commonly a combination of all the mentioned) depends on the specific case, however what is unquestionable is that it concerns patient and dedicated interdisciplinary work, which is not feasible without the collaboration of interpreters of heritage, designers and architects, professional planning and long-term investments. Of course, this isn’t about any kind of product, but a cultural or heritage organisation and destination!

This process, in which together with our collaborators we have a great many successful experiences such as the mentioned Riva project in Malinska, the Frankopan castles and the town of Ogulin, you guessed it, is called – branding. At the beginning, none of these localities and their heritage were branded, nevertheless in this sense, they did show potential.

The Riva in Malinska on the island of Krk is a town around which a good part of the life of this side of the island took place, as well as a place in which the local people recognised their own heritage. In Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, there existed the possibilities of creating a special cultural route as a link back to the rich heritage of the Frankopan family, which had its origins right here in this region.

What about the writing and narration of fairy tales? This is connected to the art of the writer Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić and the fact that she took great inspiration, according to her own admission, from her native Ogulin. On the basic level, the island’s waterfront, the roads that lead to the old castles and the personal gift of one writer – are still, if we express it in alchemist’s terminology - prima materia. What kind of magic creates a new, more recognisable, more complete, if not more competitive value from them?

This procedure has its roots in advertising from the 1950s in America, when individual products were advertised recommending just one certain quality and use of the advertised product to its users. Twenty years later from that developed the so-called mind share, whose main characteristic was the maintaining of the focused position of a product or service in the mind of the users.

The branding of a destination is a process that includes the management of messages and experiences connected to the place, which must be different, unforgettable, worthy of a visit and experiences, and more attractive in comparison to others. Yet how to choose and know which heritage values which will explicitly highlight a place from others, by which that destination will become unique and special? With expert analysis and creative and strategic deliberation, taking into consideration all the features and values of a place, from which will emerge the basis of identity on the foundation of which the brand of the destination is built. Of course, the whole process begins with the initiative of the local community who feel the need for the valorisation and highlighting of their place, which will enrich their cultural and tourist offer, so that it will become an attractive destination for tourists, as well as for new business projects. After the planned brand of a destination, the task of the local community plus the key stakeholders and partners of the project is the animation of the brand, who via activities, promotion and direct contact with visitors, participate in the creation of a positive image of the brand. How does this look when transferred from theory into reality?

The Malinska-Dubašnica municipality began the project of the landscaping of Riva, whilst amongst the local community there appeared the need for the valorisation of their maritime heritage. The plan of interpretation combines these two determinants into what the identity of Riva is. Upon the consideration of its name, two determinants emerged as essential: a modern urbanistic-architectural project of the new Riva designed by the architects and architectural studio NFO in Zagreb plus an important determinant from the history of the place with which the community identifies, and that is the little boat, built partly from Dubašnica downy oak, which for centuries transported firewood and other goods from Malinska’s harbour to Venice. The boat is still called “vela barka” (residents of Malinsksa and Dubašnica call it “velika barka”, the “big barque”). And so the ‘Riva of the great barque’ brand was created and added to it was a visual identity which is fluid and consists of lines that are associated with the concentric waves on the surface of the sea, and create the symbolic outlines of the bay, oak tree rings, oak leaves… Credit for the visual identity of the Riva goes to the Filburg Ltd studio in Zagreb.

With the cultural route – the “envisaged Frankopan road” – the story went like this. Theoretically, a cultural route is a physically palpable section in a space, which is defined by an inventory of tangible and intangible, cultural and historical elements, connected thematically, conceptually or by the definition as well as the identification of locations of existing cultural assets, joined in a dotted, linear or regional structure. The Frankopan heritage in Primorje-Gorski Kotar County was ideal for just this kind of interpretation and branding. It includes 17 castles, and combines tangible and intangible heritage related to the cultural-historical inheritance of the Frankopan family. The main advantages of the cultural route are the recognisability of one of the oldest aristocratic families, the heritage of old fortified towns and castles on the route and the beauty of nature in their surroundings, plus the strong potential of the project for the local community. The visual identity of ‘The Routes of the Frankopans’ cultural route consists of symbols that make up the initials of the surname of Frankopan with pictograms, in a basic or extended variant, and was created by the Filburg d.o.o. design studio in Zagreb.

In both cases it concerns cultural branding which places communication at the centre of the values of the users-consumers. It is about the creating of a product “with a story” which has a unique appearance (label, design…) by which the user-consumer experiences the identity of the product. The role of a cultural brand is important in the process of the transformation of culture and society, which means that a brand is a complicated structured story, it has the figurative structure of a bulb: the objective appearance of the product or service (for instance the Riva) is located in the centre. To that centre are matched various associations that users-consumers associate with a particular product or service: benefits of the product, user characteristics, emotions, etc. And that leads them to the destination, which is nothing other than a marked place which gains importance due to the ability of attracting visitors, and they leave one location in order to visit another. In doing so, from destinations such as these there transmits a carefully structured promise, based on the passion of the service provider, as well as authenticity. A destination that tries to present itself as something which it is not quickly becomes exposed.

It was precisely due to enthusiasm and authenticity that Ogulin, a town that until that time was almost unnoticed on tourist maps, developed as a special cultural destination. In this branding the legacy of the fairy tales of Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić stood out as the greatest potential for creating the town’s identity as a destination. We recognised the fairy tales of Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić as a cultural potential, which goes beyond the local significance and already had a strong national, European and even global dimension. Starting with this the town has been branded as the homeland of fairy tales with three main cultural-tourist products: The Ogulin Fairy Tale Festival, Ivana's House of Fairy Tales and the Fairy Tale Route. The visual identity for Ogulin and its tourist products was produced by Studio Cuculić and Srđana Modrinić aka BooBoo Tannenbaum, and is based on the visual descriptions of characters from the fairy tales. In this sense, Ogulin is special because in its case besides the cultural branding also at play was what is called urban branding, in which the image of the town was equally important for its recognition as well as its physical attributes. The little town located in a modern global context, in which towns develop in very strong competition with each other, right in the marketing of the place the answer for positioning was sought. In doing so, a new identity was designed on the basis of the heritage: from the point of view of a visiting tourist Ogulin is defined as a town of culture and creativity. In a single word, it has become – a brand.

Do you love your homeland? Are you proud of your town? Do you want what you feel to transform into story about identity and share it with others? Send us your thoughts, your questions and suggestions and we will help you so that with our combined forces we form a unique fragment for a mosaic of the heritage of Croatia!

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