Challenges of City Branding
We recently came across an excellent article Teemu Moilanen (2015) entitled the “Challenges of city branding: A comparative study of 10 European cities”. It is written from the viewpoint of the public sector economic development organization, but certainly his research is applicable in the US and for private secotr organizations as well. We’ve summarized his findings below and you can find the full article here.
1. Large number of stakeholders - The process of place branding requires participation of large number of stakeholders ranging from public sector organizations to firms and non-profit organizations, who have different objectives. A significant proportion of the stakeholders have conflicting and parallel activities. The sheer number of stakeholders makes it difficult to include all relevant parties in city brand planning process.
2. Limited understanding of branding within the network of stakeholders. Marketing in general, and branding in particular, is foreign to many public sector stakeholder organizations and individuals, who occasionally reject it as too commercial. Similarly, public sector representatives have a narrow view of branding (perceived as logo planning) or do not understand the purpose and process of branding at all, and accordingly it is difficult to make all relevant stakeholders understand that they do have a role in the development of city brand.
3. Limited internal buy in the challenge of securing sufficient political support from the public sector and city hall. The private sector is more familiar with branding as a concept. However, it is challenging to mobilize private sector organizations to participate in the city branding process, and to find ways to make the organization in charge of city branding relevant for private sector actors.
4. Securing sufficient funding - A major element of this challenge is the need to convince public sector decision makers that branding is an investment with positive return on investment. Limited funding leads to other difficulties, including the need to make compromises, eliminate necessary activities, and limited or non-existent market research. To a lesser extent, attracting funding from private sector stakeholders also is problematic.
5. Slowness and time-related issues - Large numbers of stakeholders increase the time needed for internal communication and decision-making, and generally slow down several phases of the brand management process. Funding-related decisions made in the public sector are often delayed. Private sector actors are generally faster than public sector stakeholders, leading to frustration at one end and feelings of haste at the other end.
6. Organizational issues and lack of authority to lead - This challenge appears to be a composite of two major features: conflicting opinions of key stakeholders, combined with lack of clear leadership. These are exacerbated by an unclear decision-making structure, limited coordination between stakeholders, stakeholder’s fear of losing power when engaging in a cooperative branding process and the challenge of building an effective system for internal communication within a loosely structured network organization. The lack of a linkage appears to be the main difficulty in finding individuals or organizations to be in charge of the process.
7. Operational brand management - This challenge appears to have two major components. The first one is a set of issues related to the difficulties caused by day-to-day management of the external marketing communication campaign. These include difficulties in combining city branding activities with the activities of a single stakeholder, difficulties in finding ways to help stakeholders to use the brand, lack of marketing skills, parallel activities and inconsistent messages. The second component is the difficulty in transferring the brand identity to product experience. In other words, how to move from words to action, to diminish the gap between marketing and the reality experienced by visitors.
8. City brand strategy formulation - It is a composite of several smaller interlinked issues, that is, the difficulty in identifying target groups, defining brand identity, differentiating from competitors, focusing on the wrong competitors, difficulties in tailoring the marketing message to different markets and customer segments, difficulty in defining the relationship between the city brand and the regional/national brand, and general lack of strategic thinking and dialog. Challenges related to brand identity definition appear to be closely linked to the first two challenges discussed in the literature review; determining if there is a common and collective character in this complex entity of products/services that could be captured by a single brand and simply reaching a common agreement as to what is being marketed/branded. Several interviewees also emphasized that a city is a highly complex product, but in many ways similar to other cities.
9. Monitoring and poor situational awareness- Interlinked features of this challenge are the lack of good measures for brand success, utilization of wrong measures and use of unsophisticated monitoring tools. Combined, these features lead to poor situational awareness and market understanding, inefficient use of resources and failure to justify actions and budget requirements to decision makers.
Moilanen, Teemu. (2015) Challenges of city branding: A comparative study of 10 European cities. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 11 (3): 216–225. Article