Place-Branding: Finding the Soul of Kuching

Jan 14, 2016 | Commerce, English, Malaysia, TheColumnist

In a world where people are seeking meaning and authenticity, it is time to build places that mean something and not merely brand them.

Can business help to contribute to the identity of a location? This was a question we posed to our client in Kuching; they responded that it was always their dream to build something different, something that will make every Kuchingite proud. But they were struggling to find a way to differentiate their mixed-use township from other projects which were all claiming to have luxurious Western-influenced design mushrooming in Sarawak.

Described as one of the most attractive cities in Southeast Asia, Kuching is a delightful blend of modern structures and old-world charm. When we first visited Kuching, the CEO, Dato Chris Chung, played tour guide and brought us to the old town. As he shared his personal stories about growing up and what some of the shops meant to him, you could see his face light up. In our experience, people tend to search from the outside for what they think are the best, forgetting about what they already have. As we have done in so many projects, we tend to invite our clients to search for their hidden gems from the inside; and in the case of Kuching, to start with a very fundamental question, “What makes Kuching special?

As we moved around the city, one can sense that something different is emerging. Yes, there is this old town charm, but from the new cafes emerging you can sense that there is this great capacity for creativity just like how you can feel the vibe of Penang. To affirm our initial thought, we decided to ask people, who call this city home, through an online storytelling contest.

But why through stories? Stories, especially the stories about a place, matter. Stories have always shaped civilizations, religions and in our times, even businesses. Above all, stories form a unique identity and helps future generations understand what it means to be part of a people. This contest is then absolutely critical to identify the aspirations and thoughts about Kuching and shape how we can design the mixed-use township to fit the vision of the people. This is why we named the contest “Kuching for me” and invited contestants to start their stories with the line “Kuching for me is…

The search for Kuching’s Identity

Over two months, the contest attracted and engaged almost 6000 people from Sarawak, aged 16 to 70 years old, with over 130 stories submitted and more than 3000 comments on both the contest’s official website and Facebook page. It ignited new thinking and imagination and reinforced the dream of the developer to build a meaningful place.

Kuching for me Prize Presentation Ceremony

Kuching for me Prize Presentation Ceremony on November 5, 2015 (Dato Chris Chung (middle, back row)

The description of memories of times spent in the beloved Cat City has spurned nostalgic conversations and heartwarming stories amongst Kuchingites.

“The Kuching for me contest is really meaningful as it allows everyone to share their thoughts and experience in this Cat City and this inspired me to join this contest with the thought of sharing my life journey,” one of the winners shared at the Prize Presentation Ceremony.

Property developers can build many more buildings, but it would not make any difference to the local community if you cannot answer the very fundamental question of what the development or the town means to those who call it home. As for our client in Kuching, they realized that their role as a developer is meaningful only when they can build something that represents the spirit and identity of Kuching and can bring people of Kuching together. Their project is now the most anticipated development in Sarawak in the next few years.


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