The power of City Branding

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Great cities are charged with energy. New York is so buzzing it never sleeps, Paris is intense yet laid back & cool and charged with romanticism while cities like Austin and Berlin are filled with creative energy. These cities have formed a lasting impression in our minds. We have often caught the vibe of those places without even visiting them. These cities have enjoyed a favourable word of mouth and popular culture has further helped shape them as brands.

The benefits of a strong city brand

There are namely three reasons (or segments) why cities (and countries for that matter) actively try to build a favourable image. They are all about creating an attraction for those segments.

1. Inhabitants

Cities are looking to retain and attract new inhabitants. Just like for companies, inhabitants with a strong sense of the image of the city they live in are happier. A city that has a strong, positive image becomes an attractive place to relocate to. Being a sought out city brand for inhabitants means that the talent pool grows.

A city that has a strong, positive image becomes an attractive place to relocate to

2. Tourists

A strong brand comes first in mind when it comes to deciding on consumption. A city that has a strong image pops ups first when people are thinking of taking a vacation. There are of course many things that exclude a certain city such as the occasion of the vacation or the time of year.

3. Companies

Companies, like most people, seek out to be in the company of their peers. If you are a start-up, your dream is Silicon Valley — If you want to produce a film, you go to Hollywood. It is not just about the hype, if you know that your peers are there, chances are that the infrastructure and knowledge are already there. And along with companies come jobs and jobs attract inhabitants.

Landmarks are like iconic logos

Building a powerful city brand is about being an attractive city in the eyes of the consumer or the stakeholder. It is not about creating an attraction. The Empire State Building and the Eiffel tower are great landmarks or icons for their cities but Paris and New York are about more than that — landmarks are kind of like logos — a logo is a graphical representation of a brand but there is more to it than the logo for great brands. Just like strong product brands — strong city brands appeal to people because of an emotional connection. The strongest city brands in the world are strong because they provide people with an intangible benefit, an experience.

The Empire State building and the Eiffel tower are great landmarks or icons for their cities but Paris and New York are about more than that.

Energy as an ingredient for the city brand

While every city has a certain energy to it or a vibe, not many cities have actively built their brands around energy in the literal sense. There are of course cities like Houston or Aberdeen that have become known for their oil industries but that image often has a hard time to translate outside the energy industry. We can see cities that are building an energy brand on a B2B level. Vasaa in Finland has a strong energy cluster and another example is Berlin. Berlin is not known as a powerhouse of energy sources but rather a powerhouse of creative energy sources. The image of Berlin as an energy brand builds on its image of creative energy and focuses on energy innovation.

We can see cities that are building an energy brand on a B2B level.

Energy imagery as part of the city brand has not yet been fully utilised. There are enormous opportunities for cities around the world to become strong energy brands. It can be based on novel or innovative ways of energy usage or it can use landmarks as icons for their energy brands. The Hoover Dam and the Niagara falls are great examples of iconic landmarks that have attracted millions of people for decades. But there is yet a city to emerge that uses those kinds of landmarks as an active ingredient that adds value to the city brand.

Energy can create even more value

When I set out to research the possibilities of branding energy, I wanted to do more than guide energy retailers into creating new logos and jingles or adopting a new colour. I wanted to see how energy can create more value than it already does by making an emotional connection to the consumer’s minds. This can be done by branding energy as a valuable ingredient for sectors outside the energy space. One of the areas this applies to are cities and countries as brands -as energy brands.

I wanted to see how energy can create more value than it already does.

That is why cities and places as energy brands have been a topic in at the CHARGE Energy Branding Conference agenda. To make energy more valuable we must look at ways to connect energy to other things than devices through a socket in the wall.

The sustainable energy brand

When preparing for his presentation in the track on the branding of sustainable energy, search engines turned Ayoola Brimmo to the CHARGE website. In the introduction of the presentation, he noted that this was the only place to discuss how to successfully brand sustainability.

A brand needs to take a look at the past to be able to build towards the future was the key point to take from Ayoola Brimmo’s lecture at CHARGE 2016. Ayoola works at the Nordic Innovation hub in Abu Dhabi and used the case of Dubai as an example of a city brand that has become more valuable due to a strategic brand building that focuses on the perception of luxury. Another example of a city brand that has been developed in the Emirates is Masdar City. When Dubai is the luxury city brand, Masdar takes footing as a luxury brand but goes further to differentiating itself by focusing on the sustainability of the city. Even though sustainability has become sort of a buzzword in the last decade, Masdar has yet to become a city brand with a worldwide recognition.