Place branding is seriously studied in various academic disciplines. Its impact on strategic development plays a vital role in processes of sustainable urban transformation. Place branding originated in tourism management and over time its research focus spilled over and evolved in environmental science, urban studies and public administration. Scholars and policy makers are currently faced with a myriad of concepts in place branding research, which show considerable overlap but should be carefully distinguished from each other. To increase our understanding of this body of research, this article observes a strong pattern of the concepts in use, in their references to location types (i.e., urban, city, destination, place) and broadcasting activities (branding, marketing, promotion). It builds on this observation by collecting studies from the Scopus database by location type and broadcasting activities (LT–BA) reference pairs and systematically analysing and reviewing these from 1980 to 2018. A total of 2665 articles and reviews were identified and analysed based on (1) occurrences per reference pair, (2) co-occurrences per reference pair, and (3) co-occurrences for each reference pair with other concepts. On that basis, the origin and evolution of the research field including multiple reference pairs in use is explored and described.