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How to Create a Successful City Branding


A brand is a name, graphic, or sound that distinguishes a company’s products from those of the competitors. Branding traditionally has its application to commodities. However, research by Hankinson (2001) concludes that “the branding of places and locations is not impossible” (p.1). Many people, irrespective of whether they consume the products, readily recognize a successful brand or not. Cayla and Arnould (2008) stated, “Brands have become ubiquitous in global popular cultures. The Coca-Cola logo and Nike swoosh are brand symbols that trigger myriad responses; their cognitive salience and ability to arouse passion are undeniable” (p.86). Branding a city means promoting the city to associate it with certain carefully selected attributes. A city’s reputation is the estimation in which people hold it. Glückler (2007) observed, “Reputation is itself uncertain information, its reliability and credibility vary with the communication channel through which it circulates” (p.953). Fombrun (2008) adds that, “reputations are useful earmarks not only for individuals and products but even for the largest companies” (p.4).

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Paris in France is a superb example of a successfully branded city. Many people positively associate it with romance. Baker (2007) stated that “the thoughts and associations that come to mind with a city’s name are likely to have enormous financial, political and social value” (p.28). The aim of branding a city is to improve its perception in the international community, and in so doing, bring in more business. El-Amir et al. (2010) have observed that “in the desire to dominate markets, brands play a key role” (p.70). The branding city determines this view. In trying to brand a city, it is vital to project those values that are truly intrinsic to the city, and which the residents can identify with. According to Kavaratzis (2004), “city branding is the appropriate way to describe and implement city marketing” (p.1). Any attempts at city branding depict itself as hollow and lacking in authenticity if a strong self-image and identity within her citizens is first cultivated. Indeed not all branding exercises are formalized strategic plans. Holt (2007) observes that “it is surprising that cultural-brand campaigns developed in this seemingly contradictory organizational environment” (p.18).

The reputation of a city

People choose cities, in which to live, for a reason. Anon (2009) dictates that a city such as Downtown Spokane has gained a reputation of being safe and clean. This reputation has made it a desirable place for individuals to want to reside in it. Of late, strategists labor at a fast pace to brand cities to make people want to reside in them. Luthar (1996) noted that some cities monitor the activities of their youth in a bid to eliminate negative reputations. Several cities continue to thrive even after the industries that they base their foundation on have collapsed. City planners are engaged in spending a lot of money to brand their capital cities.

To tag a city as a brand, it must have vital characteristics of a brand. A magnificent city must provide its residents with affordable houses, have eye-catching employment opportunities, have a well-organized transportation system, and should experience a reasonable climate. These qualities should be projected in ways that make branding work for a city. Permentier (2008) echoes this saying “that countries and cities behave, in many ways, just like brands. They are perceived in certain ways by large groups at home and abroad” (p.834).

Cities’ competition for inhabitants is on the increase. This is due to the advancement in technology and globalization. Because of these two factors, people have the choice of living in places different from where they are working. Working for an employer in one city while living in another has become a reality. Availability of laptops, wireless connectivity, and the Internet has facilitated this possibility. Cities are allowing foreign investors to invest in their manufacturing industry as opposed to relying solely on their traditional industries.


Because of globalization, newly developing cities find ease in competing with well-established cities. The ability of people to work and live anywhere that they wish makes this possible. Aiken (2004) is sure that disasters like the September 11 attack have made society scrutinize the quality of life. People aim for a place to live comfortably and not where it will only guarantee them a palatable salary as used to be the case in the past. This shift is making cities attract charming restaurants, cultural events, sports franchises, etc. These were set aside for larger cities in the past. Bernhard (2009) argues that it is the ideas of city inhabitants that make them great rather than the location or resources they have. Trueman (2007) adds that in as much as this may be true location branding still plays a crucial role for cities.

Cities ought to have a robust brand to compete with their rivals for the lifestyles of people. Henderson (2007) suggests that cities should struggle to maintain a strong brand. This is because it is difficult to convince people to change their attitude on cities with “bad brands”. Dodosh (2006) comments: “A pack of cities is racing away from everybody else in terms of their ability to attract and retain an educated workforce. It is a sobering trend for the cities left behind” (p.10).

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According to Hornett (2005), “the 1990s saw international tourism arrivals growing at an average rate of 4.3 percent a year. In 2000, the rate was 7.4 percent. That year, travel and tourism, generated directly and indirectly 11.7 percent of global GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and nearly 200 million jobs” (13). Harwood (2009) has predicted that the gross income from the world tourism sector will reach US$ 2 trillion by the year 2020. Cities all over the world consider this as big news to them. Tourism gives rise to jobs for the residents of a city and boosts retail businesses.

Hospers (2003) noted that in as much as several cities have gained an admirable reputation in terms of tourism, some are notorious for terrorist attacks, economic fall-outs, and the outbreak of diseases. A city has to be sure of the exact thing it wants to sell, and the target market before laying out an effective branding strategy. Hawkins (1991) commented, “Creating a distinctive brand that captures the spirit of a city must be able to inspire – the travelers, the industry and the general populace itself” (254). Lerwill (2009) says that the critical challenge in city branding is that cities tend to have more to offer tourists than the locals. MIddle-class individuals may not be able to afford to live in such cities.


Anon (2006) noted, “Brand equity is so valuable it now appears on major marketers’ balance sheets.” Brands have recently become more dominant than the actual products that they represent. A proper brand should satisfy all the needs of customers. Abratt (2007) said that it should not just have an attractive physical appearance but should be able to trigger a positive image in the minds of the perceived customers. Dumenco (2006) added that “the purpose of branding is to achieve consumer perception that will deliver a sustainable competitive advantage” (18).

The branding of a city is, therefore, a valuable and powerful tool for the cities that intend to market themselves. According to Susan et al (2006), “there is a widely held principle in marketing literature that: for a brand to be successful, it must have a positive image” (p.1). Implementing branding is achievable on many levels with different objectives. It can be selective to achieve the required results. Susan and Lara (2009) noted, “Marketers in a variety of industries are trying to increase customer loyalty, marketing efficiency, and brand authenticity by building communities around their brands” (p.2). City branding is most effective when organized centrally or jointly with a common goal. A different stakeholder may independently advance different ideas. Virgo and de Chernatony (2006), state that this may “lead to a lack of consistency and dilution of the strength of cities’ brands” (p.1). According to Kapferer (2008), “Turning a town onto a brand, therefore, means building perceptions among strategic audiences, turning it into a unique and attractive destination for companies, individuals or organizations that might think of moving there” (p.127). Finally, a city should take proper care not to build a name on false ideas. As Boorstin (1992) said, “in competition for prestige, it seems only sensible to try to perfect our image rather than ourselves” (p.27).


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Anon (2009) clean & safe. Journal of Business (10756124), 37-38.

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