Every place is a brand—nations, regions, cities, districts, streets, even individual shopping malls and individual buildings. Whether as an origin or a destination, a place to buy things from, or a place to travel to or invest in, most people want their “home” to be perceived positively. Places compete to find markets for their exports and to attract tourism and investment money.

Many residents are aware that the way outsiders perceive them could do with a little improvement. The bigger the place, the more people have a stake in building its brand, and the longer it takes. A building can be branded in a matter of weeks; a country may take a generation or more to alter its brand image.

The birthplace—or origin brand—is a fundamental component of many exports. Nationality is a key attribute of German cars and Swiss chocolate, English clothes and American sportswear, French wine and Japanese electronics. Many people believe Italian olive oil is the best in the world; while many other Mediterranean nations produce olive oil of equal or better quality, the Italians have done a superior job of developing their olive-oil-origin brand.

Many local brands take their nationality with them when they go global and use it to differentiate themselves from their international competition. For example, many countries brew good pilsner, but the Czechs have managed to exploit their status as “the birthplace of Pilsner” to make their brand successful.

What is the difference between clothing “made in China” and clothing “made in Italy” to people around the world today? What do the Chinese hope their origin brand will mean 20 years from now? One of the issues that countries like China, India, Russia, and Brazil need to deal with as they establish their local brands in a global market, is how to turn their nation-brands from being a hindrance to being a help.

Taiwan went through this in the 1990s. The slogan “It’s very well made in Taiwan” was a clear attempt to deal with the fact that many people around the world viewed the “made in Taiwan” label as an indication of low price and quality, even though the quality was often fine. In Taiwan’s case, the problem was mostly with foreign perception, so an advertising campaign was an appropriate solution.

Ironically, developing nations often seem more aware of the need to develop their destination brand than their Western counterparts. Brand development needs to be well coordinated among authorities at all levels. It is sometimes more of a challenge to get this focus in a developed, liberal democracy than in other societies which have more at stake. Some of the best examples of destination brands come from small, developing countries, such as Guatemala and Estonia.

Sometimes it seems as though every architect and real-estate developer wants their building to be a brand. This is easily achieved if the location is already a prime one, if the architect is a well-known brand in his or her own right, or if the developer has an established market presence. In other cases, it is necessary to start from scratch. A building can benefit from a strong micro-destination brand in obvious ways: more visitors, higher rent, a higher rate of occupancy. But a good building brand also benefits the brand of the city or region the building is in, and vice versa, and naturally the tenants’ own brands gain by association.

The elements of a building’s brand can include a prestigious address, good architecture, an attractive identity (mostly expressed through signage and advertising), and the right mix of support services for tenants and visitors. In some cases, the association with the developer or architect also has lasting value for the brand.