Branding the Seaside City of Miri

By Dr. Shen Goh

Just as branding has expanded from products to persons, it is now the norm to brand places in order to attract new financial investors, business owners, permanent residents, taxpaying workers or revenue-generating tourists.

How a city decides to brand itself often depends on what unique characteristics are available to differentiate it from other places. For example, Miri has shifted from focusing on an oil and gas industry that attracts workers to capitalising on the natural beauty and cultural diversity that attract tourists to the seaside city.

When it comes to natural beauty, Miri has many beaches, caves, parks, trails and waterfalls of which to be proud. Its pride is tarnished, however, every time a tourist encounters plastic garbage while photographing Tusan Cliff, scuba diving at the Miri-
Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park, or strolling on the beach alongside Miri Central Park.

Such tarnish is unjust when the plastic garbage is not generated by local litter but from marine litter swept in by the sea. Australia turned a similar problem into an advantage with its branding campaign, ‘Keep Australia Beautiful’. Likewise, Miri can turn its ‘World Cleanup Day’ and ‘Upcycle Ocean Trash Competition’ into ongoing ‘Keep Miri Beautiful’ campaigns to remind the world of its natural beauty and to educate its citizens on the environmental pollution that threatens it.

When it comes to cultural diversity, Miri can boast of multi-ethnic cuisine, a multi-lingual population, and the multi-religious harmony shown through the sharing of facilities by the Muslim Masjid An Naim and the Christian Good Shepherd Church, as well as by the Hindu Sri Kamini Eswari Temple and the Buddhist Hua Kwang Temple.

Toronto in Canada is similar to Miri in this regard, and has added arts and culture events such as ‘Summerlicious’ to highlight its international cuisine, ‘TIFF’ to use film to transform how its population sees the world, and ‘Open Doors’ to showcase its historical architecture. Likewise, Miri has much to add to the arts and culture scene from the ‘Miri Lights Festival’ to the ‘Borneo Jazz Festival’ held annually at Coco Cabana.

The purpose, however, should not be to associate Miri with such events because they can be relocated easily to other places. The purpose, instead, should be to associate such events with Miri so that they become inextricably linked to the seaside city’s unique characteristics.

For example, Coco Cabana could consider replacing ordinary plastic planters with original palm trunks, ubiquitous bar stools with local rattan chairs, and common food stalls with indigenous attap huts. Such changes would add to the Mirian brand already created and communicated by the seahorse statue, tree swings, wooden seating areas, and the weekend artisan bazaars featuring Sarawak’s handmade arts and crafts.

In addition to its natural beauty and cultural diversity, Miri can also capitalise on its history to attract tourists. The Grand Old Lady and Petroleum Science Museum located on Canada Hill currently serve an educational purpose – built to commemorate Miri’s first drilled oil well – but could be repurposed as a recreational destination as well. Paris turned The Iron Lady – built for the 1889 Universal Exposition in order to commemorate the French Revolution – into the Eiffel Tower currently known for love and romance, thereby attracting 7 million tourists annually. The Grand Old Lady has just as much potential to become Miri’s shining light upon a hill, with a lovely restaurant from which to watch romantic sunsets, as well as hiking trails from which to admire the growing cityscape.

Miri has much to offer to the world. This gives it the luxury of choosing what unique characteristics to highlight and who it wishes to welcome to its seaside city. Branding helps it to create and communicate that message to the world.

Dr. Shen Goh is a lecturer in business law in the Department of Accounting at Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Business. Prior to Curtin Malaysia, she was a lecturer in the Faculty of Law of York University, Canada. Her research interests include intellectual property, branding and international trade.