What is city branding and how can it help your city?
We read in the press that Tesla chose Berlin to build its first factory in Europe: “Musk confirmed that the choice of Germany was due to its ‘outstanding’ level of engineering and due to its intention to harness the talent of the German capital in terms of design: ‘Berlin has some of the best art in the world’”. According to the German newspaper ‘Bild’, the Gigafactory 4 could be ready by the end of 2021 and will create about 10,000 jobs (despite the fact that the workforce in Berlin is more expensive than in many other places in Europe). We also read that, after leaving London as a result of Brexit, the European Medicines Agency has finally chosen Amsterdam as its new destination, discarding several other European cities, including Barcelona in the first round of voting.
What are the criteria behind these decisions?
The socio-economic situation of each country as well as national policies are important, but local initiatives are essential. In this context, city branding is one of the most powerful tools to attract investment, talent, tourism, and generate a sense of belonging in the population, and thus build a prosperous future for a city.
In this article we will explain what city branding is, how it can benefit a city, and we will see some examples that illustrate its impact.
WHAT IS CITY BRANDING?
Similar to any other brand, a “city brand” has the role of communicating the value proposition of a city in an attractive way. The goal is to persuade a specific audience that our city is in a position to meet their expectations. For this, the city needs to convey a concise, memorable and credible message. This last point is key: As with a consumer product, a city branding initiative must be joined by concrete public policies that support the value proposition promise.
These are some of the most important questions to ask ourselves when creating a city brand:
- What is our history and how does it contribute to the present of the city? Historically, are we a cosmopolitan city or one with strong local traditions? A city characterized by innovation, art, hospitality, or commerce?
- Who are our inhabitants? Who are our referents (internal and external)? What is the age and specialization of our population?
- What are the components of our economy? What is our “specialty”?
- What are our icons? What are we recognized for outside of the city?
- Where do we want to go? What do we want the city to be like in 20 or 50 years?
These and many other questions will help us build a brand strategy that is representative of the city and its value proposition.
HOW CAN IT BENEFIT A CITY?
A robust and well-executed city branding initiative will help strengthen the community’s economy. Exactly how will depend on the specialization of the city, but broadly speaking, it can contribute to:
A city brand can help many small and medium-sized cities to strengthen their position as a tourist destination since it can serve to spread the word about the strengths of the city in terms of its offer of hotels and culinary traditions, its natural landscapes, its night-time and cultural activities, etc. A great example of a place in which the tourism industry grew thanks to a city branding initiative is Colorado (although it is a state and not a city, the concept is the same): Before, Colorado was a tourist destination almost exclusively during winter, to ski. However, thanks to the “come to life” campaign, Colorado was able to persuade the public that its natural landscapes have value to offer 365 days a year.
Attract investment and companies
When a company evaluates making an investment in a city (opening an office building or a plant, for example), it considers variables such as tax benefits, public investment in the sector, the level of education of the population, and the size of its sector in the city, among others. In this context, through a solid city brand, we can persuade potential investors that our city is the right one because it presents the necessary qualities for their businesses to flourish.
Depending on its pre-existing characteristics and its public policy, a city will be more attractive for an automotive plant or for a technology startup. An example of the latter is Tel Aviv: After decades of economic crisis, the city led Israel’s growth thanks to the development of the technology sector, which in turn was propelled by a highly educated and entrepreneurial segment of the population. The city made use of this reputation to present itself as a “startup city” and attracted a tidal wave of foreign investment. The result: Tel Aviv is the city with the highest number of startups per capita in the world.
Just as a city brand can attract tourists, it can also attract new inhabitants. This is generally the case in cities that seek to attract talent to meet the demand of their growing business sector. In search of highly educated young people, a city branding initiative should highlight multiculturalism, openness, dynamism and growth, as well as its nightlife offer, among other things. An example is the brand “I amsterdam”, which clearly communicates many of these values. Just by looking at the logo—customized in the image below to honor the LGTBQ+ community—it is clear that Amsterdam speaks to young people and encourages them to identify with the city, regardless of their origin.
Generate a sense of belonging
Like with an employer branding initiative, a good city brand generates a sense of belonging, which contributes to greater social cohesion, stability, and retention of talent. The idea that our city has a vision for the future motivates citizens and encourages them to seek local opportunities instead of thinking about going abroad, as has happened in so many cities/countries that have had massive talent flight.
City branding is much more than giving our city a logo. The process of creating a city brand presents an opportunity to involve our people, listen to their opinions, and consolidate them into a brand that represents the spirit of our community. With our citizens as ambassadors, the new brand will contribute to create a coherent discourse and a shared identity that will strengthen the city’s social fabric and will serve to communicate a value proposition to attract tourism, investment and talent.