European Cities. Make up your brand!
Cities are prettying themselves up. Just like a company of ladies preparing for the grand ball. Some of them are young, others are more experienced, but they all are competing to be the most attractive.
Be attractive for whom? Well, for their own inhabitants first of all, but also for investors, businesses and tourists. And, exactly as women do, they need to keep one eye open to watch and observe other cities’ brand strategy in order to refine their techniques.
EUROCITIES, the network of European cities based in Brussels, serves precisely this function of gathering international urban experiences, allowing cities to share best practices and gain international visibility.
In early 2010, EUROCITIES established a Working Group in Brand Management and City Attractiveness. Chaired originally by the city of Lyon, the group is today guided by Gothenburg and counts more than 40 participating cities. Just to quote some: Nantes, Valencia, Tampere, Zaragoza, Bologna…and many more.
At the end of the same year, the group published a practical and easy best practice guide (link) that goes over a set of case studies, highlighting the different strategies adopted by cities to build and promote their brand internationally.
Let’s see some examples.
Where do city brands come from?
One of the most outstanding cases in Italy is represented by the Genoa city branding process. In the 1980s and 1990s, the city went through significant changes.
After the economic collapse of the port area, Genoa decided to re-discover its waterfront: the former location for maritime trade and production was turned into a space for recreation and leisure. In 2007, Renzo Piano started off a process of regeneration of the port area of its own city and developed a new image for Genoa, that of an inclusive urban laboratory: Genoa Urban Lab. The choice of this brand was based on a long-term vision for the future and on the idea of an on going progress and research.
Which type of city brand?
In 2006 Munich hosted the Football World Cup. In order to promote itself to the whole world, the city decided to choose an umbrella brand strategy, able to picture the city from different points of views.
“Munchen mag dich” (Munich loves you) is the chosen motto. A promotional video was launched on social networks. The new brand is designed to convey different aspects of the city life at the same time (culture and leisure time, sport, environment, cosmopolitan outlook, hospitality, excellent economic and scientific networks), all this through an immediate symbology: the heart of “I love NYC”. But this time citizens and visitors are the one who receive love first.
A different choice has been done by the city of Manchester, homeland of industrial revolution, football and music. This city opted for a “naked brand” able to convey an absolute message: the brand is the city itself. The M of Manchester is called the “Original Modern” brand.
The M brand is essential, it is the city itself made up by individual different coloured lines that intersect, that is its citizens. It is not a slogan. Peter Saville himself, the logo designer, contends that “If your place needs a slogan, it has a problem.”
An inclusive branding process?
Taking back the Manchester brand case, it was the product of widespread engagement: not a conventional media or ad campaign but a broader, more grown-up process that worked through experience, action and word of mouth. Manchester started a series of brand workshops across the city that in the end reached over 400 senior figures from all areas including a number from the creative sector.
The Lyon city branding experience represents instead a blatant case of how the city image can be strongly shaped by the metropolitan entrepreneurial drive.
The successful ONLYLYON brand is the result of a strategy drawn up by 12 economical and institutional stakeholders started up in 2008, with the aim of making the Lyon metropolitan area an economic flagship. The declared challenge of the new brand is to attract new companies, start ups, researchers, talents and influential leader. This video gives you a taste of it.
How to promote the city brand?
The City of Tampere, in Finland, ran for European Capital of Culture 2011. Even though the title was won by the near Turku, since then Tampere developed a great communication startegy of its new image. First in 2007 Tampere invited its citizens to a social contest, proposing them to create a two-minute video on “My Tampere”, hosted on YouTube. Secondly, two years later, the city invited 100 media organisations from all over the world to a 3-day thematic discovery trip. This cost-efficient marketing investment reached an audience of some 88 million people. Then the city launched a brilliant official website Visit Tampere: a smart platform that includes all information, everything you need to know if you want to visit, invest, live or innovate in Tampere.
How to manage the brand?
Managing the brand means providing it with space to move and evolve at the same pace as the city. A good compromise between total top-down brand control and an inflating overuse of it, is provided by the city of Utrecht. “Cultural Sundays” are monthly thematic events open to everyone, during which local art institutions and venues work together in preparing the programme on a theme. Every art discipline, including theatre, opera, music, dance, film, literature, visual arts, street culture and storytelling are at one time or another represented. All participating artists can use Utrecht’s ‘Cultural Sundays’ branding to promote their activities at these events. That’s a good compromise!