Responding to short-sighted views in the field of city branding

URBACT

By URBACT, on September 11th, 2012

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Very few transnational projects funded by the EU have addressed systematically the topic of place-branding so far, even though communication is increasingly getting importance in the strategic management of cities. Indeed more and more cities in Europe are involved in one way or another in processes of branding and re-branding. That is, in processes of positioning and re-positioning the city, trying to gain visibility in a changing economic landscape.

However, such kinds of initiatives are often addressed without method, or they are merely approached as a matter of “logo and motto”, with little empathy with the feeling of local communities. Many of them end up with circumstantial or inconsistent results. In this sense, five common gaps can be identified in the practice of place-branding:

The strategy gap: Branding as a matter of just “logo & motto& campaigns”, without a solid connection to a city strategic planning process should be built collectively.

The community gap: Weak involvement of civil society and related stakeholders in city-brand building and management. Initiatives that depend only on the willingness of a local government, more or less well advised by brand agencies, just quickly melt down.

The timing gap: The question of circumstantial brands, just related to specific events. For instance, the European capital of culture competition seems to have gained much popularity in the last years. It simply may provoke lack of durability while positioning is a matter of time.

The performance gap: The real urban experience does not match with the expectations created by the brand messages. Consequently the effect is a lack of credibility and authenticity.

The differentiation gap: Cities in Europe seem to brand themselves on the same topics and qualifications –knowledge, creativity… The abuse of a short range of mainstream terms drags many branding strategies into the same common place, and subsequently distinctiveness between cities is limited.

But also we can talk about the budget gap. The low public spending environment is pushing to a radical re-thinking about how many cities should promote and market themselves. And this is certainly an opportunity to set up more effective patterns for stakeholder involvement and management (business community, tourist promotion boards, University and the knowledge system, main facilities…) which should aim at both co-production of the strategy and co-delivery of the communication initiatives, including in terms of financial co-responsibility, for sure.

Actually CityLOGO, the URBACT project on innovative place brand management, was born as a reaction to those most common gaps in the way cities face branding and marketing. Undoubtedly the URBACT programme is the best framework to take a step forward on this issue, conducting a systematic process of collaborative research and exchange of experiences around the communication dimension in urban management.

The partners of CityLOGO, led by the Municipality of Utrecht, agreed that place-branding should be embedded in a broader and participatory process of re-thinking urban identities to be then translated into a coherent new narrative of the contemporary city, including a related new visual culture of the city. A multi-dimensional task fed by different perspectives and local agents, with a clear strategic scope. In short, a true exercise of integrated urban management. In the course of the project, all results will be published on the project’s mini-site. Have a look at CityLOGO latest news and outputs!

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Miguel Rivas
Lead expert for CityLOGO
mrivas@grupotaso.com

One Response to “Responding to short-sighted views in the field of city branding”

  1. Commentator Commentator says:

    Some thoughts on this issue: “branding” concept for me is very much connected with marketing area and selling the product.
    Therefore, if one speaks about branding of the specific thing, in this case let it be a city, for me it seems that it indeed would be a job for marketing agencies and branding specialists.
    However, a little bit different I would feel if instead of the concept “city branding” we would use the idea of defining the identity of the city, which maybe is the step before any city branding could be done.
    And this identity definition is, in my opinion, indeed, a process, which should come from the inside – with the participation of the related stakeholders.. But the way how this identity is branded – it is up to professionals choose..

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