‘Show people how vibrant we are’
Groningen’s low self-esteem is bad for the economy
The name Groningen conjures up images of the Martini tower and students, but also farmers and earthquakes. ‘An area’s image is extremely important, for example if you want to boost the economy’, says Karel Jan Alsem, marketing lecturer at the UG.
According to Alsem, the main things taken into account when making economic policy are prosperity and health. Image is often overlooked. ‘But we should be including it; it places a hugely important role in how people make choices’, he says. ‘People’s subconscious plays a role in 90 percent of the decisions they make. Image influences behaviour.’
The National Programma Groningen (NPG) commissioned Alsem, economic geographer Sierdjan Koster, and two other colleagues to create an image monitor. The NPG’s goal is to improve widespread prosperity and Groningen’s image over the course of the next ten years.
The four researchers created an extensive survey asking Groningen residents, non-Groningen residents, and corporations to describe what they associate Groningen with. The eight thousand participants were asked if they wanted to study, live, or start a company in Groningen, among other things. They could rate their willingness from 0 to 10. The survey also focused on word association: what did people think of when hearing the name Groningen?
Many of the non-Groningen residents answered with words like ‘Martini tower’, ‘student city’, and ‘earthquakes’. Groningen residents had expected them to think of words like ‘too far’, ‘farmers’, or ‘surly people’.
‘What we’ve seen is that Groningen residents underestimate themselves’, says Koster. ‘They think non-Groningen residents think poorly of them, but that’s not true.’
Another result showed that people don’t associate Groningen with entrepreneurship. ‘That might lead to Groningen corporations not investing as much capital, or corporations being hesitant to set up shop in Groningen.
‘This can also lead to banks or other corporations refusing to settle in Groningen’, says Koster. ‘The wrong image can negatively impact an area.’
He says that the fact that Groningen residents underestimate their province also impacts its image. ‘If they don’t have faith in themselves, why should outsiders have any? If you show people how vibrant the province is, people will automatically be attracted to it.’
Koster says there is room for improvement. ‘The authorities should show their own people that Groningen is doing pretty good! And they should show not just outside corporations, but also the corporations that are already here.’
Usually, corporations appreciate the area they’re in the most. ‘That makes sense; why else would they set up shop there?’ However, Groningen is less appreciated than Drenthe or Friesland, for example. ‘We don’t know why’, says Koster. ‘My economic geography students are currently studying this.’
He thinks Groningen should focus more on entrepreneurship. ‘People don’t really consider Groningen to be a young area, when especially the city is a student city with a large number of young people.’
The information from the study could be used to pick special projects to improve the province’s image. ‘Like a special campaign that shows that Groningen is a good area for entrepreneurs’, says Alsem. ‘Specific marketing can be very useful. But you have to make funds available. In the end, you want corporations to settle here and to attract tourists.’
Before this study, there were no data sets on how people felt about Groningen. ‘Now there is one. We’ll definitely be studying it for a while’, says Alsem. Additionally, Groningen’s image will be measured annually over the next ten years. ‘That will allow us to see how it develops. Hopefully it improves. That would be great.’