What is a brand, and what is heritage branding? 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 boat’, ‘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.

Waterfront branding in Malinska

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 unique, unforgettable, worthy of a visit and experiencing, and different 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 boat”). And so the ‘Riva of the great boat’ 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.

Brand “The Routes of the Frankopans”

With the cultural route – it’s that “imagined Frankopan road” – the story went like this. Theoretically, a cultural route is a physically tangible section in space defined by an inventory of tangible and intangible, cultural and historical elements, linked thematically, conceptually or by definition as well as identifying locations of existing cultural assets, linked in a point, linear or regional structure. The Frankopan heritage in the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County was ideal for this type of interpretation and branding. It includes 17 castles, and combines tangible and intangible heritage related to the cultural and historical heritage of the Frankopan family. The main assets of the cultural route are the recognizability of one of the ancient aristocratic families, the heritage of the old fortified towns and castles on the route and the beauty of nature in their surroundings, and the strong potential of the project for the local community. The visual identity of the cultural route “The Routes of the Frankopans” consists of a sign consisting of the initials of the surname Frankopan with pictograms, in basic or extended version, and made by the design studio Filburg d.o.o. from Zagreb.

In both cases, it is cultural branding that puts communication at the center of user-consumer value. It is about creating a product “with a story” that has a unique phenomenon (label, design…) through which the user-consumer experiences the identity of the product.

The role of the cultural brand in the process of transformation of culture and society is important, which means that the brand is a complex structured story, pictorially has a bulb structure: the objective appearance of a product or service (e.g. waterfront) is at the core. At this core agree the various associations that users-consumers associate with a particular product or service: the benefits of the product, user characteristics, emotions, etc. And this leads him to the destination, which is nothing but a marked place that gains in importance due to the ability to attract visitors, and they leave one location to visit another. At the same time, a carefully structured promise is sent from each such destination, based on the passion of the service provider, but also on the truth. A destination that tries to present itself as something that is not quickly is revealed.

Brand Ogulin, the homeland of fairy tales

It was on enthusiasm and authenticity as a special cultural destination that Ogulin developed, a city that had been almost unnoticed on tourist maps until then. In that branding, the legacy of Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić’s fairy tales stood out as the strongest potential for creating the identity of the city’s destination. We recognized the fairy tales of Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić as a cultural potential that goes beyond local significance and already contains a strong national, European and even world dimension.

Starting from that, the city is branded as a fairytale homeland with three umbrella cultural and tourist products: Ogulin Fairytale Festival, Ivana’s Fairytale House and Fairytale Route. The visual identity for Ogulin and its tourist products was created by Studio Cuculić and Srđana Modrinić aka BooBoo Tannenbaum, and is based on visual representations of characters from fairy tales. Ogulin is special in that sense because in his case, apart from cultural marking, what was called urban branding was in play, in which the image of the city is as important for its recognizability as its physical attributes. A small town situated in a contemporary global context, in which cities are evolving in a very strong mutual competition, it was in the marketing of the place that it sought an answer for positioning. The new identity is based on heritage: from the position of a tourist outsider, Ogulin is defined as a city of culture and creativity. In a word, it has become a brand.