Placemaking – the next big opportunity for marketers?

Guest Post by Kylie Boyd Placemaking is a relatively new term usually reserved for a mix of urban planning, urban design and community building skill sets applied to improve public space. So why should marketers take note of this emerging idea? It’s simple – your customers are rapidly changing where and how they live, and it creates a new opportunity for brands to become meaningful in this space.


Global populations are quickly gravitating toward urban centres. It’s predicted that by 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s population will be living in cities. This trend has raised the question: how will cities fit more people in them while still maintaining a high quality of life for all? Some suggest that while city landscapes will inevitably get denser, it’s the quality of public space, and the way we interact and move around within it that will define our quality of life and sense of community.


While 2050 is still a few years away, we’re already seeing the effects of a larger urban population closer to home.  Sydney is the most densely populated city in Australia, and an increasing number young people are choosing to travel via public transport, and 92 per cent of journeys around Sydney’s city centre are made on foot. There is a huge opportunity for brands to review how they engage the smartphone-carrying public as their travel habits change.


Marketing managers have been experimenting with branding in public space for the last few years, but the field is still in its infancy. For example, there are various retailers such as Tesco, Woolworths and Net-a-porter using QR and NFC technology to trial interactive shop fronts on streets and in stations, but it will be interesting to see how these trials evolve into a more functional idea.


Having a presence in the public space is not all about creating pop-up storefronts. Branding public transport has worked well for Citi Group who has created heightened brand awareness and possibly a new database of customers by partnering with NYC Bike Share to create Citi Bike. Or how about the interactive street sign developed by design studio Breakfast, which updates directions based on Twitter trends and check-ins? Brands collaborating with functional signage is a huge opportunity for brands wanting to communicate with street foot traffic in a much more useful way than traditional advertising.


So what’s next? Will we see Coke use it’s ‘happiness’ brand promise to help rejuvenate tired looking city streets? Will Apple partner with governments to produce more user-friendly communication for commuters? These conversations will need to focus on improving functionality and experience, rather than simply introducing branded surfaces, and be mediated by local councils & government, but there are a whole host of opportunities out there, and it’s exciting to see experiments starting to happen.



Kylie is a marketing campaign officer who is passionate about the role of sustainability and culture within urban space.