March 26 2013

Cities as Brands: Global Recognition of Local Cultures through Place Branding

In a global economy, where places are in tight competition for investors, companies, workforce, and tourists, creating a place brand has become a powerful tool. Cities like Paris, London, and New York have distinctive features that tell a story about their urbanity, history and lifestyle. These images are commonly created not by accident, but are pushed forward by local marketing forces.


Place branding, simply put, means applying the branding for products to places. But how can a city be treated like a product? What is the difference in analyzing, shaping, and promoting this “product” compared to more common merchandise?

Apart from the world’s biggest metropolises, there are smaller places aiming to stand out in the international competition of cities. Trying to create a lasting impression within the international network of cities, more and more places are working on presenting a coherent, distinctive image that defines their uniqueness to all outsiders and strengthens local culture and pride from within. Especially for cities attempting to re-position themselves after having undergone great structural changes or recovering from a recession, place marketing becomes an important tool for rectifying a negative image. In communicating forward-looking slogans by alluding to technological or knowledge-related qualities, these cities aim to stand out. However, in doing so, they appear to be coming together in a common strategy for renewal.

When creating a brand-like image for a place, it needs to trigger certain positive emotions in the consumer (the citizen) while simultaneously relating to the learned idea of a place. It needs to tell a narrative that creates a meaningful story, that is open yet straightforward, so that many people can identify with it.

In Hamburg, this narrative is found in the harbor. Holding onto its nautical past as a trading hub not only defines the city’s typical characteristics, but also tells a story about its history while relating to the present. These distinctive features, like historical architecture from the Hansa-days, a close relation to water via canals, and its central waterfront, help define this image while keeping the area open to reuse and adapting to present-day needs.

What are typical characteristics of your city? How do you think they are represented in the official place marketing?

Credits: Photograph by Luise Letzner. Image and Data linked to sources.

Luise Letzner

Originally from Berlin, Luise Letzner currently pursues a Masters at HafenCity University in Hamburg, Germany, in Urban Planning. She also holds a B.A. in European Studies from Malmö University, Sweden, where she focused on inner-city redevelopment projects, place branding, and the concept of urbanity. She worked as a concept strategist and social media manager for several online agencies and in trend research, where she investigated new forms of communication via mobile and online technology, as well as trends within city marketing. Apart from Sweden, she has lived in France, Switzerland, and the U.S. and is fascinated by different approaches to the creation and use of public spaces within city centres. For The GRID, she investigated current urban and environmental design projects in Berlin and Hamburg.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 26th, 2013 at 9:48 am and is filed under Architecture, Branding, History/Preservation, Internet Marketing, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


2 Responses to “Cities as Brands: Global Recognition of Local Cultures through Place Branding”

  1. Weekly Lind Roundup-Newburgh Restoration Says:

    [...] Place Like Home [NYT] Shift toward urban lifestyles forecast to 2030 [Better! Cities & Towns] Cities as Brands: Global Recognition of Local Cultures through Place Branding [...]

  2. Gunter Soydanbay Says:

    Thanks Luise for this article.

    As someone who is involved in place branding, I must say it is a tricky practice. As a matter of fact, research reveals that 86% of place brand projects fail within their first year.

    There are plenty of reasons for these failures, and I wrote a couple of articles about them. You might find this link useful:

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