Smart technologies are a top investment priority for place branding professionals, according to the Evolution of Place Branding, a survey commissioned by UK-based strategy consultancy Populus as part of its City Nation Place initiative. The survey, which included responses from more than 100 place branding professionals in 44 countries, also identified tourism development, education and transport infrastructure as areas where brand professionals aim to increase investment. The survey also found that there is less interest and investment in advertising and identity design.

Respondents to the survey were most interested in opportunities in areas such as south-east Asia, south America and eastern Europe, when it came to investments in place branding and place branding strategy. About $13.6bn will be invested in smart grid infrastructure in south-east Asian countries by 2014, according to Washington DC-based consultancy Northeast Group. Meanwhile, the European Commission is keen to modernise transport infrastructure in Poland, and has approved an investment of €37m for the country's railway.

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The survey revealed that the most essential parts of branding strategy include constructing a productive team, successful use of social media, influencing international or external opinion, competing with other places, securing investments to promote infrastructure growth and setting up a place brand ‘from the inside out’. Having a powerful consensus in all policy areas is also very important, despite the fact that it is considered one of the most difficult factors to deliver on.

Regarding neighbours, the majority of respondents believed that there should always be competition and collaboration when it comes to place branding strategy. Cities should compete to attract investment in smart technologies, but they should co-operate in terms of handling investments, tourism or trade.

Social media is considered an increasingly important component in place branding communication strategies by the respondents working within consultancies, academia, infrastructure and media. Those that are elected representatives or place branding team members say that the successful integration of social media management into place branding strategy is essential.

The survey showed that those in charge of branding strategy development for cities, regions and countries do not work only on tourism features or on one specific element of the strategy – their approach is multi-faceted. They also they focus on FDI, talent engagement, citizen attraction, job provision and trade.