Boab Design

17. June '17 - 10 min. read


Attracting and retaining population in Northern Australia

It is widely recognised that population growth is critical to Developing Northern Australia. However, data shows that people are not coming to live in Northern Australia and when they do, they are not staying - the average tenure in the Northern Territory is only five years. This has resulted in the Northern Territory having negative net interstate migration - which means that more people leave to live 'down south', than move to the Territory to live.

At last year's Developing North Australia (DNA) conference I was intrigued to hear Professor Ruth Wallace speak about the fact that women aged 20-40 were simply not coming to, or staying in Northern Australia. As a woman who *almost* fits into this age range, who settled in Darwin almost a decade ago, this piqued my interest. I also attended the Population Series and final Summit held in Darwin last year that provided insights into why people move to the North, and why they leave - but it didn't explore why people stay long-term and what keeps these long-term residents here.

I decided that for the 2017 Developing Northern Australia conference I would work on a small research project to see if branding principles could provide strategies for attracting and retaining population in Northern Australia. While there are many complex and interdependent factors affecting population growth in remote and regional areas, this article is not written to address these - there is an insightful Developing Northern Australia Conference for these discussions!

The aim of my study was to demonstrate how branding principles could be used to define an effective value proposition for a city (in this case Darwin) that can be used to develop successful population attraction strategies. The study focused on one city - Darwin, and one demographic - women aged 20-40 who had lived in Darwin for more than five years.

The process of 'branding' is about creating an emotional connection with a product, service, organisation, person, place or even belief. A successful brand understands its value proposition (what it has to offer), its target audience (the group of people who are most likely to want what they have to offer) and how to create an emotional connection between these two entities.

My hypothesis was that if we can understand what Darwin's value proposition is to the women that stay long-term, (what it is about Darwin that keeps them here), then this proposition can be used for attracting a similar population from interstate. By understanding who these women are (what their interests are, where they work, what their family situation is) we can develop a profile of a woman who would be motivated to move to Darwin, and most importantly, more likely to stay in Darwin. This profile and value proposition could then be used to develop strategies for attracting women to Darwin.

I undertook qualitative interviews with 23 women aged between 28-47 years, who had an average tenure of 14.8 years in Darwin. The results of this research were used to develop a value proposition for Darwin and to define a profile of this key target market.

So what is Darwin's value proposition to these long-term female residents? Remote and regional cities cannot be everything to all people like larger cities; they are essentially niche brands whose value proposition is not attractive to everyone. The common value proposition across all the participants was that Darwin gave them:

  • Opportunities for work, sports and family that wouldn't be available interstate.
  • Freedom in the form of a relaxed, unpretentious lifestyle and a freedom of space.
  • Everything is so much closer in Darwin and commuting is quick and easy which gives them more time to spend on social, family and sporting activities.

As a value proposition for attracting a working population these are powerful drivers.

So who is the woman that settles in Darwin long-term? She is most likely to work in a business or professional role, is deeply connected to her local community through membership of local clubs and associations, and she is more likely to participate in sport than the average population.

This woman enjoys the outdoors and relishes all the opportunities that Darwin has to offer her to get out into the landscape. The most common interests in our research group were:

  • Nature - being outside in nature, being surrounded by landscape.
  • Camping and outdoor pursuits in the bush.
  • Sports - the climate in Darwin enables these women to participate in sport all year round.

The profile of this woman reflects the unique experience of living in Darwin in that her interests and past-times would not be similar to women of her age in a large city. This provides many opportunities to develop targeted population attraction campaigns.

The retention of population would come from attracting the type of woman who is most likely to develop a long-term connection with Darwin, and settle here long-time because it offers her the things that she values most in life - freedom, opportunity and time.

While this is a small and limited study, it does demonstrate the role that branding principles could play in empowering regional cities, towns and regions to be more relevant to potential population groups.

Instead of understanding why people leave, look at the people that stay and see what value proposition keeps them there. Who are these people that get so much value from living there and where can you find more people like them. I am in no way saying that branding is the only answer to attracting and retaining population in regional and remote Northern Australia, but branding is about developing human connections, which are key to building communities.

Boab has been selected to provide a poster presentation at the Developing North Australia conference in Cairns, 19-20 June, and I will be available at the conference to talk in more detail about our research.


Aaker, D (1996) Building Strong Brands

Australian Government Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.

Boab Design (2016) What the Territory Needs Most is Youadvertising campaign for Northern Australia Development Office.

Baun, K et al (2013) My City My Brand: the Role of Residents in Place Branding, Journal of Place Management and Development.

Cox, T (2016), Lifestyle communities - development initiatives needed to attract and retain workers families. Developing Northern Australia Conference

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (2015) The Purpose of Place Reconsidered.

Kavaratzis, M & Hatch, M (2013) The dynamics of place brands: An identity-based approach to place branding theory, Marketing Theory

McCrindle Research, The McCrindle Blog.

Mosley, R (2015) CEOs Need to pay attention to employer branding. Harvard Business Review.

Northern Australia Development Office (2016) Population Series event (July), Darwin

Northern Australia Development Office (2016) Population Summit event (August), Darwin

Pretty, G et al (2003) Sense of place amongst adolescents and adults in two rural Australian towns: The discriminating features of place attachment, sense of community and place dependence in relation to place identity. Journal of Environmental Psychology

Said, E (1978) Orientalism, Pantheon Books.

Wallace et al (2010) Attracting and Retaining Staff: The Role of Branding and Industry Image, Workforce Development.

Wallace, R (2016) Workforce Development that supports Economic Investment in Remote Northern Australia, Developing Northern Australia conference, 2016.


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