Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Featured Site: Branding for Cities

As someone who is interested in civic branding, I wanted to highlight a relatively new blog called Branding for Cities, which is put out by one of the brains behind City Mayors. I’ve already found some very interesting information via this site. One of the things I like about it is that, being based in London, it brings a global perspective to the table. This is too often missing from US urbanist discussions. Particularly in civic branding, I think European cities are ahead of American ones, so that global perspective is especially helpful here. I’ll share some interesting highlights I’ve found to give you a flavor for what’s there.

The Brand-Territory Matrix

One highlight is a framework for relating commercial brands with territorial brands called the Brand-Territory Matrix. It was developed by Gildo Seisdedos of IE Business School and Cristina Mateo, a member of the Madrid City Council.

The general idea is that the brands of products draw on the brand of their place of origin to create part of their own image. Think Hermès , Barneys New York, or Ikea. In return, the products themselves then strengthen the place brand. This reciprocal benefit between commercial and territorial branding has developed organically, and has disproportionately benefited only a few places. However, there is opportunity for cities to look to more consciously encourage this process as part of a place branding strategy.

Here’s a very informative ten minute video where Seisdedos explains his framework. For anyone with an interest in place branding, I strongly encourage watching it. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).

As someone with a background in management consulting, I’m a sucker for 2×2 matrices. Since not everyone will watch a video, I took the liberty of turning their framework into a framework diagram for you. This is part of my continuing effort to provide useful frameworks and techniques cities can apply themselves.

There are two axes, the market scope of the commercial brand (wide or narrow) and the emphasis on the place of origin (low or high). This produces the four brand quadrants of Emerging brands, Ambassador brands, Impostor brands, and Aristocratic brands.

Ambassador brands are those like Ikea that are both broad in scope, but also make high use of place. You know it is a Swedish company through and through. Emerging brands are broad in scope, but downplay their origin. Seisdedos uses Spanish clothing chain Zara as an example. Aristocratic brands are often then most powerfully associated with place. Barneys New York, for example. And as an example of an Impostor brand, Seisdedos uses Victorio & Lucchino, a clothing line that sounds Italian, but is actually from Seville.

For cities, you can catalog your commercial brands and map them on this matrix. Then look at where there are opportunities to mutually enhance commercial and territorial brands through linkages or other mechanisms. For example, how could emerging brands potentially be encouraged to be more ambassadorial? Can aristocratic brands be leveraged for tourism benefits? If your city has lots of Impostor brands, what is that telling you?

Actually, I think Impostor is the weakest of the four, since not all low-low brands are faking who they are. I think of Endangered Species Chocolates in Indianapolis, which isn’t trying to fool anyone about its origins, but doesn’t highlight them either.

Whatever you think of this framework, the exercise of examining the relationship between your city and the commercial brands that call it home is a useful exercise.

Philippe Mihailovich

In part of a series on luxury branding, Philippe Mihailovich extends this theme of the linkage of place brand and commercial brand.

Not long after meeting someone for the first time, you may expect to be asked, “where are you from?” based on your name, your accent or your look. The same will be asked (even if just in thought) of your brand, especially if it is different. We may be interested to know the brand’s place of origin, nationality, neighbourhood, everything. Here’s where heritage kicks in, even for new brands. If a watch brand is from Switzerland, that helps. If the car is from Germany, that helps. Luxury branding cannot be separated from place branding. They work by adding brand value to each other.

Places now compete in the same way as companies do and the emerging nations now realise the need to start developing their own luxury brands instead of importing them. Clearly cities, regions and nations can benefit from encouraging the development of local luxury brands. Paris is no stranger to this. The city positions itself as “Paris, Capitale de la Creation”. It’s a branding operation that brings together 20 professional fashion and home decoration exhibitions annually and helps the city to compete with all others and it works. We believe Paris to be the capital of creation just as we believe the best sparkling wine comes from Champagne and that the best watches are Swiss.


Hermès without Paris, could be misperceived as being Greek. Hermès and even L’Oreal, by adding Paris to their brand names, have effectively co-branded themselves with all Parisian associations thereby enabling their brands to stretch into almost any French category that Paris is known for….Reputation of a place can make or break a luxury brand just as it can affect the employment chances of an individual. The “Made in China” brand is a case in point. After concerns over pet food, toothpaste, seafood and defective tires, China had to cope with exploding mobile phone batteries and poisonous baby food. Ironically in the 18th Century the French were importing the finest luxury goods from China. It takes a long time to establish a good reputation for a brand and a very short time to destroy it. “Made in China” now reads like a consumer warning. Bad news always travels faster than good.

Read the whole things for yourself.

Aesthetic Failure in Brisbane

It’s not all Europe and it’s not all good news either, as this opinion piece illustrates.

One of the great frustrations of growing up and living in Brisbane is watching the city get uglier. Granted, we have, in the past few decades, grown from parochial cow town to “Australia’s new world city”, whatever that might mean. But did we have to lose so much of what made the place unique?…..just when you think you’ve seen the nadir of ugliness, something new comes along to set a new benchmark for practical plainness…..Hale says ugly outcomes are a symptom of, among other things, poor leadership from politicians “who fail to encourage better design”. As he said, “no self-respecting European politician would be seen cutting the ribbon on an ugly pile of concrete”. For years our self-promoting politicians have been far more interested in looking good by cutting the ribbon than making sure whatever it is they are opening itself looks good.

This is just a sample of what you’ll find at Branding Info for Cities. So if civic branding is your game, check it out.

Comments Off on Featured Site: Branding for Cities
Topics: Civic Branding
Cities: Paris

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The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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