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Sustainable Rotterdam

The city is re-inventing itself

City Branding

Saturday, May 20, 2006

With this post we want to start a series of short, and very unscientific essays regarding city issues. What you will find here may usually address the need to answer a specific question in a quick & dirty way. Three-step method: 1. Identify question, 2. Googlelize, 3. Mash-up.

City Branding

How relevant is city branding?* The global agenda invites cities to re-think their strengths and market them as it's done with products. And just like with product brands, some cities are more successful than others when selling their message.
City branding strategies target two groups of recipients which require different approaches: citizens and "outsiders". The city is a key reference for its inhabitants and a feeling of pride and belonging ensures positive attitudes towards the surrounding. Visitors and investors may be more interested in the unique characteristics of the city that make it stand out of the crowd. Anyhow, it may just be a good idea to consider how you engage citizens in building an ideal of values, believes, behavior and attitudes towards a prosper future. It is not about dictating what it "has to be" but properly manage what already is. We find examples of cities successfully building and selling the brand in both sides of the Atlantic; Barcelona & Chicago.

Barcelona has experience in building the brand, by the end of the 80's both the Autonomous Government and City Council started using marketing techniques to build up a message. But it was the candidature as Olympic city which shaped the ground for creativity. Currently the city holds typical branding elements highly recognizable by the inhabitants as a logo, motto, colors, patterns, quotes, and values that are imprinted in billboards, web, uniforms, public transport, urban furniture, and everything that is public.

Recommended - For a review of Barcelona's branding strategies take a look to Barcelona Communicates by Toni Puig for Actar. And for a rich overview of Barcelona's characteristic graphic elements in the public space, you shouldn't miss Barcelona Grafica by America Sanchez. For web experiences visit Barcelonagrames, or hang a falling star in Barcelona's sky.

In America, Chicago has gone under a major re-discovery after the opening of Millennium Park which has brought the city to the international catwalk with its eye-catching elements. The development of such unique emplacement has unified Chicago citizens' feelings about the city, and therefore contribute to the brand. Interestingly, the Millennium Park is a branded-branding element, since its music areas, bridge, gardens, and plaza show endorsement by corporations or foundations.

Recommended - If you plan a visit to Millennium Park, download first the audio tour to your mp3 player and get a fuller experience. If you prefer printed media, take a look to Millennium Park: Creating a Chicago Landmark by Historical Studies of Urban America.

But, what does it take to be a successfully branded city? The Google search pointed towards the master thesis from Julia Winfield-Pfefferkorn at Syracuse University entitled The Branding of Cities, Exploring City Branding and the Importance of Brand Image. The study explores branding of commercial products and branding of cities by reviewing case studies from New York, Paris, San Francisco, Rochester, Berlin, and Charlotte. From the conclusions regarding successfully and poorly branded cities, we pick the following findings:

Successful braded cities
  • Each city resident is a walking-talking advertisement, receiving support from residents and belief in the city brand
  • These cities brand themselves in ways their residents find believable, and in doing so the brand is reinforced as truthful
  • These cities also have functionality and added value
  • These cities exercise cooperation between the residents and municipal government, moving forward with common goals to initiate growth, development, and success for the city
  • Possessed a definite identity and a projected city brand is consistently portrayed
Poorly branded cities
  • Poorly branded cities are characterized by consistent brand confusion: a mixture of either negative brand images from the past, which the city is attempting to replace by doing promotional "good" or there was no city brand at all
  • Lack of common goals between the residents of the city and the municipal government and a lack of cooperation between these entities
  • Lack of foresight to create a place of attraction not only for businesses but also for public spaces and cultural venues was not widely accepted or appreciated
  • The final weakness of these cities is a lack of distinction
Ref. The Branding of Cities, Exploring City Branding and the Importance of Brand Image (pdf) by Julia Winfield-Pfefferkorn, Syracuse University

So, is your city a unified entity or a fragmented one? What does all this mean? You may consider to define where do you position by benchmarking towards other cities. For a quick analysis, you may be interested to answer the following questions:
  • Do you know what the core values of your city are, what unifies (almost) every single inhabitant?
  • Does all media support controlled by the municipality hold a unified image? From letters & e-mails to maintenance services uniforms and vehicles?
  • Do you have a homogeneous collection of urban elements or an eclectic one?
  • How does your website look? Is it communicating what the city stands for? Is it functional and interactive for both citizens and prospect visitors?
  • Do you invite citizens to participate and contribute to the process of building the city's brand?
Citizen Involvement
Cities can benefit from web 2.0 by offering collaborative tools for citizens. Imagine a place where it's easy for everyone to find insiders' suggestions and a sense of "real", take as example Metroblogging, - the largest and fastest growing network of city - specific blogs on the Web. From San Francisco to Bangkok, from Karachi to Toronto, Metblogs are a hyper-local look at what's going on in the city. Our hand-picked core of regional bloggers give each site a new perspective on daily life; less calendar listings, more friendly advice. With Metblogs, you can read about life and times in your neighborhood, your favorite places to visit, places where you've never been, or get a feel for them all with the daily "best of" blog on the hub"

What if instead of reading you can watch reviews? TurnHere offers high-quality video documentaries covering neighborhoods (the beta covers mostly North-American cities) a destination "created by professional and amateur filmmakers specifically for the Internet, TurnHere's high-quality videos offer a first-hand, insiders look at different destinations around the country, and are hosted by real people who live there. Films focus on the people, culture, history, local businesses and political landscapes specific to each destination"

While the previous two examples may be appealing because create an experience based in exploration and discovery, content creation is not limited to recommendation of places; citizens can also be actively engaged in the maintenance of the surrounding. Lewisam, in UK has developed Love Lewisham, a site which "involves residents in keeping the southeast borough of London clean. After installing special software on their cameraphone, observant townspeople can snap a picture of 'offending graffiti' or overflowing litter bins, enter location details, and send it to the local council". Picture gallery (via Springwise)

These are just three examples of the relationship between city (place) and brand attachment. The potential is out there, you just need to address it properly and provide the right tools that empower residents.

Reccommended - USA Today article Insider' info puts city blogs on the map

* Which is different from banding in cities where commercial messages take the public space. We'll come back to this one.

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posted by Oriol P., 5:55 PM


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