Tag Archives: city branding

Meet the city stylists: A new breed of communicators shaping today’s place brands

As cities grow in size and importance, the image of the city is coming under the control of savvy communicators who know what it takes to create a successful destination brand.

A new breed of ‘city stylists’ and ‘cool coordinators’ are shaping perceptions.

A few years ago, when global urbanisation passed the tipping point of 50%, a new era was heralded: for the first time in the history of the planet, more humans were living in urban areas than in the rural environment. Cities have always been key focal points for developing culture, trade and politics as wealth, prosperity and communications propel us ever-forwards through history.
“Like a piece of architecture, the city is a construction in space, but one of vast scale, a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time.” Kevin Lynch, The Image of The City, 1960.
Cities are complex organisms that shape-shift across history, sometimes influencing, or being influenced by, the fate of the mother state. Cities are dynamic environments, constantly in a state of flux, renewal, growth, expansion, and with numerous stakeholders, all with a vested interest in how the city functions and also how it is perceived at local, and global levels. Today, perhaps more than ever, cities are competing with one another. In the age of the digital nomad, where borders are soft, and employment is location-independent, cities are competing to attract their future citizens and to retain top incumbents. Cities have become brands, many positioning themselves as post-industrial creative hubs intent on seducing the mobile and fickle creative classes. As economies depend more and more on intellectual property, these city brands have had to up their game to woo potential citizens. Architecture has always been one of the key tools in city branding and provided a boon for so-called ‘starchitects’ as each city ticks-off their ‘must-have’ lists of Hadids, Fosters, Pianos, Koolhaas’s and Liebeskinds.
“Architecture is central to this urban rebranding, the skin on a town or city’s face.” Tom Dyckhoff, The Age of Spectacle, 2017.
By attracting human capital in the form of intellectuals and artists, thinkers and makers, cities can become hotbeds of innovation, generating creative capital that in turn stimulates further development and economic growth. Attraction, thus, is a key aspect in enticing new burgers to settle down and set-up shop. A strong city brand can go some of the way in attracting interest. However, it is the ‘content’, the way in which a city can fulfil its promise, that is the ultimate litmus test. Hype can grab attention, but if there is little to substantiate the claim, or a lack of underpinning, then attention will be cast elsewhere and one only has to look at the history of utopian communities, such as Robert Owens’ New Harmony, in Indiana, USA, for evidence of how high ideals and promises vs actuality aren’t always guaranteed to produce a successful outcome. So, this begs the question: who owns the image of the city?
“Not only is the city an object which is perceived (and perhaps enjoyed) by millions of people of widely diverse class and character, but it is the product of many builders who are constantly modifying the structure for reasons of their own. While it may be stable in general outlines for some time, it is ever changing in detail. Only partial control can be exercised over its growth and form. There is no final result, only a continuous succession of phases. No wonder, then, that the art of shaping cities for sensuous enjoyment is an act quite separate from architecture or music or literature. It may learn a great deal from these other arts, but it cannot imitate them.”(Lynch)
Many municipalities will claim that they own the image of their city. However, in today’s online world, Googling images of a city will often deliver swathes of visitor-generated content that reflects how the city is perceived – not necessarily how the municipality wants to portray it. As with many brands – the true owners are often not the brand itself, but its consumers.

Cities are people, not concrete

In 2016, I attended a forum in Rotterdam, discussing precisely this topic. Google searches on the term ‘Rotterdam’ produced unending images of the city’s edgy architectural icons. However, the people, and the culture of the city were rarely portrayed. ‘Betonville’ – was my own personal name for this phenomenon and the city’s overt leveraging of edgy architecture – a term that was somewhat validated by a speaker from the municipality’s city marketing department, who stated: “it’s all very nice, but concrete has no soul, and we miss the balance of the human element in the portrayal of our city.” Consequently, a strategy was devised to populate the citybranding image bank – part of the marketing Toolkit – with manifold shots of people on the streets in an attempt to display the character and multi-ethnicity of the city, on a human scale.
“Potentially, the city is in itself the powerful symbol of a complex society. If visually well set forth, it can also have strong expressive meaning.” (Lynch)
However, this is all still very much in the ‘self-promotion’ category, pressing the ‘send’ button and launching one’s desired vision into the ether. The narrative is much more convincing when an independent third-party shapes the perception and, in the past, this would have entailed press junkets, plying reporters with lavish food and accommodation and hoping that they would be favourable to the cause. Those days are long gone, however, partly due to the breakdown of conventional media giving rise to new breeds of independent journalists and writers.

Bringing in the press

Furthermore, to corral this new breed of reporters, bloggers, vloggers and foodies, still requires a well-considered strategy and coordinated vision if the city in question is to be represented optimally. Rotterdam has been one of the most successful cities in creating a buzz around its ongoing development in recent years. Always the poorer, less glamourous relative of long-term show-stopper Amsterdam, Rotterdam has had to fight damn hard to emerge from the shadow of its northern neighbour – now a mere 25 minutes away by regular high-speed train from the stunning, new, swoopy Rotterdam Centraal Station. The city’s previous claim to fame was based around Europoort – the sprawling harbour area east of the city stretching some 40km to the North Sea coast. It was this 24-hour hard-working mega-port that distilled the rolled-up-sleeves and no-nonsense, down-to-earth spirit that the Rotterdammers effortlessly embrace and embody. That, and the resolution to rebuild the city after it was devastated by bombing raids during WWII. The official city slogan ‘Make it Happen’ is firmly in tune with that characteristic. Now, as the modern city centre seeks space to expand, the former dockyards and industrial wharves are being turned into innovation docks, maker spaces and places of industrial-spectacle-verging-on-art as personified by artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde’s Dream Factory in the city’s upcoming Innovation District M4H.

Telling the story of a place

Despite the huge challenge in re-tuning the city’s somewhat drab industrial image into something altogether more melodious, it can have escaped nobody’s attention that Rotterdam is sweeping away the title of ‘must-visit destination’ across a plethora of media, varying from CNN and Huffington Post, to Vogue and The Guardian, throwing some serious shadow on Amsterdam, it’s old, historic competitor. It seems like every day the city is popping up in different media – a report in Spanish on the BBC World website or films on German TV around resilience and sustainability in the harbour city. This success is largely attributable to the efforts Rotterdam Partners – a focussed and dynamic organisation driven to put the city on the map. Moreover, within Rotterdam Partners, it is International Press Officer, Kim Heinen, who is being lauded for a strategy that makes other cities and destinations sit up and take notice. She has been referred to as the ‘city stylist’ by local blog ‘Vers Beton’ (fresh concrete): a title that is entirely appropriate.  

Brussels After the Bombs: Places & Brand Reputation. How Fragile?

The bombings in Brussels on 22nd March 2016 had a devastating impact on the city. Bombs at Brussels airport and a metro station in the city killed 32 people from around the world with many more injured in these attacks. The city has not yet returned to normality in a security sense. However, the impact goes beyond just the security issues, impacting the city’s economic life. The country’s tourist industry is in despair. Hospitality businesses in the northern Flanders region say revenues are down by a third since March 22nd, according to a survey by the Unizo employers’ group.

But what should the city do about trying to repair it’s reputation to bring tourists back to the city?

I was invited to give a keynote speech in Brussels on the topic by the Belgian marketing association STIMA. They wanted me to focus on the damage done to the city’s brand and reputation and to give my thoughts on the long term impact and how the city should respond. The date for the speech was June 23rd, a huge co-incidence for me, as this happens to be the day of the UK EU referendum, and here I am a Brit in the capital city of the EU itself. The first thing to realise is that Brussels is a complex place. Three languages (if you include English) two cultures, French and Flemish, and nineteen mayors apparently. I google the Brussels logotype and end up with a number of differing options. Which Brussels are we talking about? In preparation for my speech I do something that always gives me a little important insight. I conduct my own poll of just 150 diverse friends, from different backgrounds and different nationalities, asking them a very simple question. Brussels: top of mind give me a single word that sums it up for you. A difficult question perhaps, but the answers were revealing. I build these into a word cloud for my presentation (More on this below).

Never waste a good crisis

I’ve always liked the expression Never Waste A Good Crisis. An Icelandic colleague uses it when describing the devastating ash cloud that blanketed Europe back in April 2010. If you remember it, Europe went into lock down. Planes stopped flying. News media flooded into Iceland, broadcasting images of the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, spewing ash into the sky. After about a week the news media got tired of broadcasting the same images and the Icelanders realised they actually had an opportunity. They had been trying for years to get the international news media to visit their island and here they were. They started getting the news media to cover other aspects of the island nation – other than the volcano. These more positive images were beamed around the world. Not so bad. The following year Iceland launched a fresh and bouncy promotional campaign called Inspired By Iceland. They encouraged people to share their own Icelandic stories. It proved a success. Visitor numbers before the volcanic eruption in 2009 had been under half a million. By 2013 they had risen to over 800,000 with average spend per visitor up as well. A crisis can also offer an opportunity. The second world war can certainly be considered a crisis but just look at what came out of it. We wouldn’t have modern computing if it hadn’t been for the developments on both sides of the Atlantic during world war two. The Americans and their ENIAC, at the University of Pennsylvania and the British with their Colossus at Bletchley Park. Radar also came out of the second world war, and out of radar came the development of microwave cookers (after a technician figured out what was cooking the food he’d left on top of an early radar set). We even have the second world war to thank for the creation of Fanta, the soft drink. In December 1941, as America entered the war, the Germans were denied supplies of the Coke secret ingredient syrup, 7X. Being inventive, the Germans realised they had access to oranges, as they had occupied north Africa, and so they invented a new soda drink – Fantastik, eventually shortened to Fanta. A crisis can also offer an opportunity. So what about cities and places? New York, 1976 and the city and state are reeling from the oil crisis, a devastating crime wave is rampant and, to cap it all, they are on the verge of bankruptcy. President Ford refuses to bail them out. New York is in a deep crisis now. But being New Yorkers they came up with a plan. They needed to get tourists to come back. Back into the restaurants, theatres and hotels. They hit on a strategy based on the idea market today, visitors tomorrow. But they need a symbol. Something that sums up the spirit of New Yorkers. They turn to one of the world’s great graphic designers, Milton Glaser, who is a true New Yorker himself. They asked Milton for a device that can be used with the campaign. Out of that is born the iconic I heart NY logotype. Forty years later and the city has never looked back. (if you are interested in more of the I heart NY story, go to our podcast interview with Milton Glaser himself: Podcast Milton Glazer). Another case, from personal experience, is that of Stockholm – where it took a crisis for the city to take action. In late 2003 my team was selected to work on the branding of Stockholm. It was a fantastic assignment to have won. Stockholm was a city I’d loved since I’d first time I arrived in Sweden ten years earlier and I’d always felt it had not been marketed as it should have been. It struck me that up until that point in time Stockholm had never truly needed to compete. If the city promoted itself and made an effort, it seemed to grow and prosper. If the city did no promotion and didn’t try too hard, it still seemed to grow and prosper. Everything for Stockholm was easy. So there had been no incentive to really compete. But in early 2002 two things changed dramatically. First, the dot-com crash and the associated problems of the telecom giant Ericsson. Stockholm suffered more than many other places in Scandinavia during this period and the city felt the effects of the melt down. Second, the globalisation of the world was well underway. With the growth of the Internet and lower costs of air travel, Stockholm was suddenly competing globally as well as regionally for tourism and inward investment. People and companies had more choice than ever. The city only began to get its act together when faced with these issues in 2002. I’m happy to say that ten years on the resulting work and positioning of the city as Stockholm The Capital of Scandinavia has helped get the city back on top. Today Stockholm is the number one tourist destination in Scandinavia, and the place most international companies choose for their headquarters in this part of the world. Finding a viable and strong positioning for a place or city, a positioning that makes sense, and supports its marketing, can be invaluable in keeping the brand aligned with its true strengths. So a crisis can sometimes be a good thing.

Places as brands and the one word test

When considering the Brussels question and the recent terrorist attacks impact on the city’s brand image, some people might actually question whether a place is a brand at all. This is a legitimate question. But at their simplest brands are really just about what people think. If I say BMW, McDonalds, or Virgin Atlantic you’ll associate those names with certain values and expectations – both good and bad, but you will have perceptions. It’s no different with a place in that respect. Think of London, Paris, San Francisco or even Newark, New jersey and you will have certain perceptions influenced by a whole host of positive and negative interactions. And if say you know nothing of Newark (lucky you) then that informs how you feel about it as well. So places are brands whether you like it or not. They represent and stand for a set of values and expectations in our minds. It’s top of mind stuff that we are interested in at the initial stage. That’s why I like my one word test. That’s why I asked 150 friends to give me their one word for Brussels. Two topics dominated the responses I received. The EU and terrorism. A very distant third were more traditional topics such as The Grande Place, waffles, sprouts and Tin Tin. Brussels I feel is in a crisis. The EU association was overwhelmingly negative. It was associated with bureaucracy, red tape, excessive cost, pen pushers, politicians on a gravy train. Not exactly a very positive association for the city. Even more worryingly, on almost an equal level with the EU as a response, were words associated with the deadly bombings of 22nd March. Terrorism, terrorists, fear, tragedy, dangerous, bombs. It presented a clear picture. I believe if I had taken a larger sample of thousands of people the result would have been fairly similar.

How fragile is brand reputation?

The question I had been asked to consider was how fragile is brand reputation and how long does it take to fix? In this case the brand reputation of a city devastated by terrorist attacks. Are there examples we can look at to gain some insights? Firstly, to take an example from a completely different area, and a far less tragic situation, the case of Volkswagen and the emissions scandal tells us a little about human nature when it comes to forgetting and moving on. The diesel-gate news story broke in September 2015. Within days the CEO, Martin Winterkorn, had resigned and the news just seemed to get worse every day for VW as their blatant cheating with the emissions tests on cars sold throughout the US became clear. Global sales for VW in 2014 had been 10.1 million vehicles and as soon as the crisis hit, sales fell. At the end of 2015 sales had fallen to 9.9 million vehicles for the year. The brand had obviously taken a knock and people were even talking about the impact this had on the German brand itself. A new CEO was appointed, actions are promised and the company announces a €10 billion investment into electric cars as they try to get their mojo back. By mid 2016, as I’m writing this, VW sales have completely recovered and they are back into growth. As one industry commentator said “The consumer doesn’t actually take that long to forgive and forget,”. But the brand has to take action. Do things to convince us the issues are fixed. Performance creates amnesia. Look at the case of Robert Downey junior. Google the image of him being taken away in handcuffs in an orange prison overall to an LA county jail. So what does he do. He takes real, positive, action. He doesn’t launch a PR campaign, he does something much more meaningful. He just does good stuff. He makes good movies. Today we see him as Iron-Man and a great actor. He’s convinced us he’s moved on and that he has changed. Performance creates amnesia. Brands and places can learn a lot from such examples. But the question is does this apply to places? Go back to London and July 7th, 2005. A series of co-ordinated bombings left the city with over forty dead, hundreds injured and the city reeling. It prompted the first instance of consumer generated content, or citizens’ journalism. With smart phones now equipped with cameras, images and films were instantly available as the awful events unfolded. The BBC had over 50 images within an hour. Today the BBC receives over 10,000 e-mails a day when a big story breaks. The impact of the 2005 bombings? Today London feels as relatively safe as any place you could choose. Part of the reason for this is confidence in the security services and their intelligence activities. Part of the price for this security is one surveillance camera for every eleven people in the country. After the events of July 7th 2005 tourism dropped off a cliff. However, by later even in the same year it had recovered and was already growing again and since 2005 the city has staged a successful, and importantly safe, Olympics. Today Turkey is in the cross hairs of the terrorists. Tourism in the country has fallen by 40% in the last two years and recovery looks difficult. Worryingly some places never recover. Look at Beirut, favourite of the jet set in the early 1960s. The point is places and even brands, need to convince us they have taken action. Real action to fix the problems. I believe all brands are fragile but if you take real action, not just launch advertising campaigns or PR initiatives, they can recover with time and care. So my five thoughts about places facing a crisis:
  1. Use a crisis to fix a problem
  2. Positioning can be key (and it’s not just about logos or taglines)
  3. Work and think long term (especially with the politicians)
  4. Real involvement of stakeholders – it’s vital. Involve them fully in the process
  5. Performance creates amnesia (VW and Robert Downey JR,) – don’t just run advertising campaigns, take real action to fix the issue
Brussels problems have not gone away. Taking the taxi to the airport in Brussels still feels like a city under siege, with multiple road blocks and heavily armed soldiers. There are still too many alerts and threats from extremist organisations targeting the city. Brussels needs to genuinely convince us it is a secure place again and that they have made real changes to fix the issues they have. Then we can get back to talking once more about moules, frites and tin tin.

Place Branding: Roffa Rising

Years ago I used to work on the Beefeater Gin business in the UK. It’s where I first came across the phrase Dutch Courage. It goes back to the British army who, many years ago, would issue a portion or two of Gin to the troops before they charged off into battle. Gin is made with juniper berries and juniper berries came from Holland. Well Holland to me, but more rightly The Netherlands – the place where the Dutch live. OK, so they possibly have three identities. Now I know The Netherlands pretty well. We have a very active and growing UP member base there and the thing I like is that it seems you can get pretty much anywhere in the country within 45 minutes by train. I’ve been to Amsterdam a lot but never Rotterdam. Where? Yes, Rotterdam, the un-sung second city that everyone kind of overlooks. Well, if you get a chance, check it out – things are happening. I’ve just spent a day there and it’s a cool, happening, city with more of a business beat than most places and an impressive skyline. 32041024_ml
Rumour is that the folks from Boston’s Cambridge Innovation Centre (CIC) have been checking out Roffa (as some street slang calls the city) as a potential European base. That puts it in competition with cities like London, Amsterdam and Berlin etc.  so the city is punching above its weight. But it has a good list of assets such as a strong Life Sciences, Medical, Food and Cleantech offering; the Erasmus University and Medical Center and The Technical University of Delft. Added to this it has some very cool new and renovated spaces for younger start ups at a more reasonable cost.
Thinking of the difference between Amsterdam and Rotterdam raises some interesting thoughts as well. As one friend, local resident and UP member, Don pointed out, if Amsterdam is the me, me, me approach (as in I amsterdam) then very much Rotterdam is about We rotterdam – as the city is all about working industriously together. Another viewpoint I picked up from a  local coffee shop owner was ‘In Amsterdam they spend the money, in Rotterdam we earn it.’ Proud, industrious, lot this Roffa bunch.
Anyway, if you get a chance check it out. You won’t be disappointed.
Tourist bits
Not every night you get to stay on your very own boat in a harbour. Added to that the boat was a former dope smuggling boat. The Lammie is moored in a small basin off the Maas in downtown Rotterdam. So if you fancy breaking away from normal hotels for a few nights, and like the idea of being rocked to sleep, The Lammie is the perfect alternative location. Find it on Airbnb.

The good ship Lammie


Cardiff? Definitely not Lagom

I’ve lived in Sweden a good few years now but my Swedish doesn’t appear to get much better. I speak what I call ICA Swedish (ICA being the name of the local grocery store, where I can make myself understood pretty well, but that’s about it). One Swedish word I do know however is Lagom. It’s a word that is central to the Swedish psyche, and in fact pretty much everything else that has gone on in Sweden for the last few hundred years. It means just enough – but never too much. It’s about being average. Everyone being the same – equal. Now I’ve battled this word for a good number of years, as average is not really something I have an affinity for and I’ve come to the conclusion that Lagom is so embedded in the Swedish way of life, it can never be removed. Which is probably why they’ll never win a world cup – but that’s another story.  In my work with cities and place branding I find that far too often most places are Lagom in the way they approach their marketing. The positioning of cities, what they stand for, is key in their successful marketing. Too many places end up doing something average, creating what I call wallpaper positioning – trying to be all things to everyone and in so doing achieve and stand for very little. Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is certainly not a lagom city. I was recently asked to be a keynote speaker on City Branding at the Capital City Vision Event in Cardiff (www.cdffuture.com/page/programme/). They asked me to talk about my experience with the branding and marketing of Stockholm and other places. I realised I had not been to Cardiff in well over 20 years and when last there it was not particularly a city I had looked forward to visiting. Wales was a place I knew well however, having spent many holidays on the west coast, Cardigan Bay. Added to this my grandmother, now sadly no longer with us, was Welsh. She was from the valleys. So, in the words of Granny Stubbs, ‘I had a bit of an affliction for Wales’. So back to Cardiff. What a spectacular difference to the city of my youth. Modern Cardiff is a welcoming and interesting place with a dramatically changed architecture from when I knew it. The millennium Stadium is spectacular. It looks like something from another planet, that has been dropped from the mother ship to fit perfectly into the centre of the city. I walked round all sides of it in awe. Built for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, it’s hosted many other great sporting events, including one of the most memorable FA Cup Finals ever, between Liverpool and West Ham (which after extra time and a 3-3 score, ended up with Liverpool winning on penalties). There are several things I really like about the Millennium Stadium. One being that it’s right slap–bang in the centre of the city. It gives it a very special feeling, for such a major stadium. The other thing I love is the cost – at somewhere under 150 million pounds, it makes Wembley Stadium, which cost closer to 750 million, look incredibly expensive and actually a waste of money. I know which I prefer. The list of other dramatic new architecture in the city is impressive as well – the Millennium Centre,  Richard Rogers  Senedd (or Welsh Senate building) and the fantastic new Cardiff Bay Development. By 2018 the new BBC Wales head office will house 1200 staff right in the very heart of the city. Today the city is already home to many well known BBC productions, most notably Dr.Who (check out the Dr Who Experience if you’re into Daleks).     
Dr Who.Made in Cardiff

Dr Who.Made in Cardiff

    I had my family with me and we walked the city streets one evening looking for a good restaurant and we were spoilt for choice (we eventually chose a Brazilian restaurant called Viva Brazil, where the Passadors, or meat carvers, move from table to table, offering fifteen different cuts of meat.)   Walking through The Hayes and around the St Davids Centre the choice and variance of restaurants and food is spectacular and again a far cry from the fish and chips city of my youth.  
Cardiff Bay development.

Cardiff Bay development.

Eric Kuhne.   The St Davids Centre development is by renowned architect Eric R. Kuhne and his company Civic Arts. The centre combines leisure, retail, entertainment, office, and residential spaces into a vibrant new centrepiece in the very heart of the city. I had the huge good fortune that Eric was one of the other  keynote speakers on the platform with me in Cardiff and what a speech it was covering as a professional many of the things I appreciate about good urban thinking and design. Eric is the founder of Civic Arts which he describes as ‘a research and design practice dedicated to rediscovering the pageantry of civic life‘. Civic Arts is currently building both mixed-use and specialised projects on four continents, from urban regeneration schemes to entire city master plans. He believes that ‘the city has been, and always will be, the ultimate ‘Marketplace of Ideas.’ As a city person it’s sentiment I can easily embrace. It was a true pleasure to listen to Eric’s speech and share the same platform as such an urban visionary.
The Miner by local sculptor Robert Thomas, is a reminder of the sweat and blood that the city of Cardiff is built upon. It makes the point wonderfully well of  how very different, and comparatively easy, our modern day life is.

The Miner by local sculptor Robert Thomas, is a reminder of the sweat and blood that the city of Cardiff is built upon. It makes the point wonderfully well of how very different, and comparatively easy, our modern day life is.

Tim Williams CEO of The Committee for Sydney

Another key participant at the Capital City Vision Event, was Tim Williams – CEO of The Committee for Sydney. Tim, a proud Welshman, was formerly CEO of the Thames Gateway London Partnership where he made the Gateway in East London the key urban regeneration project for London and indeed the UK. Tim is recognised as one of the leading urban renewal thinkers and practitioners at work in the field, with an international reputation.

Tim’s brilliant speech focused on the future of cities. People are flocking to cities and most interestingly back to city centres. The dream of our parents and grand parents of living in suburbia is in full reverse. Thirty years ago inner cities had connotations of being dangerous, low quality slum districts but today more and more people want to live in the heart of cities. The easy access to amenities, connectivity and being able to conduct daily life in a simpler, lower cost way are some of the major drivers. These new urbanites offer many benefits to society as well, such as reduced carbon footprint as daily commutes are impacted and with people living in smaller city centre accommodation.

Bright Flight

These people are educated and seeking knowledge based jobs as well. This phenomenon is what the demographer William Frey has in mind when he says “A new image of urban America is in the making. What used to be white flight to the suburbs is turning into ‘bright flight’ to cities that have become magnets for aspiring young adults who see access to knowledge-based jobs, public transportation and a new city ambiance as an attraction.”

The point is to ensure you have some of what attracts ‘bright flight’: walkable urbanism.

And it’s not just the young. Interestingly the baby boomers, who are now approaching retirement age, are seeking easier, lower cost, life styles with their larger homes in the suburbs now costing them more time and effort to maintain and heat. City centre living also reduces the need for cars. This means cities need efficient, good quality, public transportation systems as well as offering walkable urbanism.

Place Branding: The Drivers and Issues

My own speech in Cardiff focused on three aspects of developing a strong city brand. Firstly I looked at some of the drivers for city branding such as the attraction of tourists, inward investment as well as new tax paying residents. Place and city branding is one of the most complex marketing tasks that can be undertaken and has to involve a high degree of stakeholder contact. Identifying and involving the key stakeholders is central to any place branding strategy. Finally I looked at positioning, which goes to the very heart of place branding. Here I referenced my own work for the city of Stockholm and its positioning as The Capital of Scandinavia. The art of marketing is the art of branding. The art of branding is the art of positioning. What do you stand for and represent? I play a little game of asking people what one word they would use to describe a city. It’s one of the most challenging questions to answer for any brand and goes to the heart of positioning.

Place branding has grown enormously in the last ten years and as one place markets itself, very other place has to. Many of the disciplines of consumer marketing apply however to place branding. Like a traditional brand, places need to develop long term strategies. These should have a ten and twenty year perspective and not change with every political cycle. This means politicians need to be engaged early on and the strategy needs to have cross political party agreement to have a long term future. Stockholm’s has been in place now over ten years and has been through different political administrations successfully.

Building strong place brands can have a remarkable impact on cities. Just take the case of Barcelona. Today it is seen as one of the world’s most successful cities. However, it was all very different forty years ago. In the 1975 series Fawlty Towers Manuel, the hapless Spanish waiter who lived in fear of Mr Fawlty, was cast as coming from Barcelona. His home town was chosen with great care – as at that stage Barcelona was considered by many foreigners to be a run down, dirty, industrial black hole. It wasn’t until the death of Franco in 1975, that a new regional focus was put in place to get the city back on a path to regeneration. One of the key springboards in the strategy was the winning, and hugely successful staging of, the 1992 Olympic games, Barcelona is one of the few destinations to have run an Olympics at a profit. More than most places, the case of Barcelona proves that it is possible to turn around the fortunes of a city given the right strategy, a high degree of stakeholder involvement, focus and – most importantly – investment.

The Barcelona case was I felt relevant to my Cardiff presentation. Cardiff has been through a remarkable transformation since my youth. It’s already impressive. But the UK needs to embrace a more decentralised approach. London still dominates but turning the UK’s regional cities into new economic power houses would have tremendous benefits for the entire UK economy.

I was asked what one word I would use to describe Cardiff and spontaneously I replied passion. It’s a city with genuine passion and pride. You can feel it in meeting the local people and politicians. Lagom? Certainly not. Cardiff is a place that deserves to succeed and stand out. As the Capital city of Wales it also has a gravitas that most cities can’t match.

Cardiff has yet more potential to offer and I believe the best is yet to come. Granny Stubbs, my Welsh grandmother, would be proud.

—————————————————————–   Watch an extract from the Capital City Vision speech here:            

Place Branding: July 4th, 2013. And I am in Amsterdam I am.

July 4th, as we all know, is a rather special day. And for me it’s special for a couple of good reasons. Firstly it’s the day our colonial cousins mistakenly threw off the rule of mad King George and us British. It was an obvious mistake by the yanks as since then they have never managed to win anything at cricket and their football team, or soccer as they call it, is absolutely rubbish. Just think what they might have achieved. I write this knowing full well that a few of my American friends will respond with outrage at these remarks and want to correct my lack of appreciation and understanding of their own culture and what they call sports (these are generally activities that no one else in the world wants to play, so that they can declare themselves world champions).

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