Our February chat discussed city branding and its role in placemaking. City branding strategies are adopted by an increasing number of cities around the world to strengthen their competitive advantage. City branding doesn’t however only address image and marketing, its effects extend to spatial planning, economic and community development.
This month, #TheGlobalGrid chat was co-hosted by the Institute of Place Management (IPM) at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). Louise Platt, a fellow at IPM and a senior lecturer in festival management at MMU, led the conversation. We were also joined by three experts who contributed their insights and pertinent statements:
- Malcolm Allan has practiced as a town planner and development economist for 25 years. In 2002 he founded PlaceBrands and has been working as a place and destination brand strategist ever since. He also founded PlaceMatters in 2012, before merging with Bloom Consulting.
- Eduardo Oliveira is a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research. He specializes in place branding and strategic spatial planning.
- Thorsten Kausch was the managing director of Hamburg Marketing, responsible for the brand building. He is currently a place branding consultant and has worked with the city of Hamburg on multiple projects including the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg.
The discussion was further enriched by the contributions of a number of great participants who shared their local experiences and views on what makes a city brand true and authentic.
As in our January chat, we had five questions. Here is a summary of the main points discussed:
- A successful city brand is built on the strengths and the involvement of its community:
The recognition of a set of shared values, a well-defined niche and the involvement of all key stakeholders constitute the foundation of a strong and successful brand. These elements were key for places such as Singapore, Cork (Ireland), St. Petersburg (Florida), Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Melbourne, and Estonia to develop strong brands.
A1: a strong brand typically means a well-defined niche, however, in destination marketing you need more flexibility in order to successfully grow. Chattanooga, TN and Cleveland, OH are good examples of overcoming and regrowth. #TheGlobalGrid
— Elizabeth Connor (@artifiedlady) February 21, 2018
These same elements are also found when analyzing cities like Paris, London and New York City, which have no formal branding strategies but enjoy a worldwide resonance. In all of these places, brands have acted as vehicles to improve people’s quality of life and create quality spaces and environments.
1A: #Copenhagen& #Amsterdam are very successful city brands. They build on the tangible strengths and rely on a high quality of life. Copenhagen is experiencing the idea of the city of cycling, in Amsterdam a high openness to individual living and working models. #TheGlobalGrid
— Thorsten Kausch (@ThorstenKausch) February 21, 2018
- A city brand reflects a strong, yet flexible, core conceptualization within which the city’s diversity still finds means of expression:
Even if the approach and tools of city branding are similar, each city remains unique in terms of its values and offerings. A city’s brand is not its identity, it is rather a collection of stories and visions told by the different members of its community. As such, it is able to accommodate various identities and deliver value while providing consistency and enough room for growth.
City brands have the capability of reflecting diversity and of providing something for everybody, only when, and precisely because, they are created by everybody #TheGlobalGrid Q2. also
— Eduardo Oliveira (@eduoliveira98) February 21, 2018
But place branding cannot stand alone. It is only when integrated as a spatial planning instrument and coupled with good governance, that city branding is able to reinforce a place’s identity (or identities) and contribute to the community’s development.
City branding doesn't stand alone. It needs good spatial planning, good governance and some good luck sometimes #TheGlobalGrid
— Cathy Parker (@profcathyparker) February 21, 2018
- City branding is not synonymous with growth, rather it can be used to drive development:
A city’s growth should be informed by a vision and supported by spatial planning documents and tools. Within this framework, city branding acts as a link that connects various development and planning efforts.
A.3. Place brand strategies should be developed before planned growth or action to address decline #theglobalgrid
— Malcolm Allan (@MalkyAllan) February 21, 2018
It is however important for city branding to be supported by a good understanding of the city’s assets, business and governance systems as well as by community involvement. Collaboration and leadership are key to ensure that a city brand is strategically managed and that its potential is fully leveraged.
Yes, and I think it also needs an understanding of WHY place managers think branding is needed - who is the target audience and does this align with what the residents actually want/need? But I'm not sure this happens, and is why backlash occurs! #TheGlobalGrid
— Trudie Walters (@walterstrudie) February 21, 2018
- City branding, as a tool, should be used to facilitate community participation and not to hinder it:
When a city brand has been conceived through a collective process that has involved all stakeholders, it is more likely to be accepted as a guideline for placemaking and community-based initiatives.
A2:Placemaking is a messy ongoing process and place branding can only momentarily capture a moment in that long ever emerging process. I am not sure that it ever will reflect the diversity but as long as that is accepted and a brand isn't thrust on a place #TheGlobalGrid
— Louise Platt (@Lu_knit) February 21, 2018
Communities usually have a hard time accepting top-down projects especially if they cannot see direct benefits. A city brand that doesn’t embed its residents' values and is not able to embrace their stories will only alienate them.
Would be good to see a place branding campaign that builds on embedded shared values - justice, freedom, fairness, ethics - the responsibilities of place - would get my buy-in #TheGlobalGrid
— Dr Steve Millington (@DrSDMillington) February 21, 2018
- A city brand should permeate all levels of government and governance:
A city brand should be adopted and supported by the political leadership as well as by the community. It should also be rooted in the city’s shared values so that it transcends successive political cycles and advises long-term growth.
A5. However, the focal point must be the city residents. If your city brand can not attract your residents, how it can lure 'external city customers' #TheGlobalGrid (2)
— Alp Hacıoğlu (@AlpHacioglu) February 21, 2018
It is therefore critical for a city brand to focus on its resident's interests and well-being as much as on building an attractive image for prospective visitors and businesses. Investment priorities should first be directed toward improving the quality of life of the community in addition to building flagship projects and organizing international events.
Final thoughts - focus on shared values, everyone must be heard,brands can't be imposed, city branding must be inclusive, genuine, resonate with the city's inhabitants and prospective inhabitants, investors, visitors, and not just focused on short-term objectives #TheGlobalGrid
— Heather Skinner (@CorfuHeather) February 21, 2018
What is your city’s brand? Do you identify with the message and values it carries? How does it influence your city’s development? Share your thoughts and your city stories in the comments area below.
Check more highlights from #TheGlobalGrid February chat in our Twitter Moment. And if you’ve missed this month’s conversation, join us for our next monthly Twitter chat on Wednesday, March 21st at 12:00 p.m. PST. Do you have ideas for topics that you would like to discuss with us in future chats? Let us know. We look forward to your participation!