City branding: Tell me where, I’ll tell you why

With holiday period in its fullest, it is worth taking a step back and have a closer look at our deepest traveling desires.

branding new york

Have you ever wondered what reasons behind your vagabond whims are? What truly motivates you to spend 10 hours on a plane or in a car to reach your beloved destination? Despite your geography awareness, peer pressure and tourist folders, there’s another key factor that comes into play (or maybe the factor which conditions all the rest):

Place branding.

Place branding is a term describing countries, regions, and cities as individual brands which – due to globalization, easy traveling and the tourism growth – increasingly compete with each other vying for attention in the international arena. Possibly perceived as market entities, consequently, struggle to create a solid background for their promising communication strategies.

Promises, this is what we should take into consideration when discussing the issue: how should we give the word as to what people can expect from visiting a certain area. It’s not about randomly picked photos and videos but the distinctive values and personality the city has or aspires to have. About communicating a certain mindset and the experience which emanates from crossing popular streets, entering famous sites and the overall feeling you get as a tourist, citizen or business visitor.

branding Paris urban space

City Branding

In the case of city branding, there are numerous ways which can change the city’s image and improve the brand equity. When joined together, can bring best results. These strategies can be conceived within the framework of political aesthetics, which means redesigning the urban settings, investing in new cultural initiatives (the Bilbao Effect) or improving crucial infrastructures.

It is also a common practice to use the characteristics the city already has, like noticing the vibes and the energy buzzing in the local cafes or expanding the potential of interesting neighborhoods. You need to observe, listen and become aware of what makes people feel good in the particular areas, what are their little habits related to the indoor and outdoor space they live in.

Last, but no less important is the visual identification system which embodies the identity of a place and speaks directly to our senses. Needless to say, though, some countries and cities have a good head start on that.

Case Studies

visit oslo logo

Like the minimalist logo of the official marketing organization for the capital of Norway and the surrounding regions, which perfectly reflects the Scandinavian style. Used accordingly in the Old and New Media proudly strengthens its image allowing us to associate the brand’s visual representation with certain experiences, emotions, and places.

Some city identities are so rooted in our minds, thanks to the popular culture, that we don’t even need to be bombarded with marketing campaigns to constantly dream about visiting them.

Take the example of London, Rome or Paris. Used as diverse movie locations, marriage proposal destinations or bucket-list positions, these cities of career, love and lights patiently perpetuate their well-established tone of communication. The same goes to New York City whose 80’s campaign I <3 NYC still stands up to people’s needs and expectations while the T-shirt, with the logo designed in a cab by Milton Laser, becomes the wardrobe essential for many tourists.

London - the city of opportunity

Bigger picture in mind

Traveling to big urban centers is thus gradually becoming the customer journey map, where every touchpoint is strategically planned and calculated, improving our personal experience of the area. Many smaller cities, however, that wish to enhance tourism and the overall quality of living are missing a sweet opportunity here. Caught up in a ceaseless logo redesign and singular cultural activities, remain unknown to a bigger public.  Being unaware of the benefits of clear and consistent city branding strategy are at disadvantage of more popular and recognizable destinations.

In such cases, we as tourists can face the challenge of staying open to the world around us and discover for ourselves the charms and unique qualities of less popular places.


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