What is the financial value of good city branding? A city brand can perform many functions: it can reveal hidden jewels and attributes and offer alignment to investors, institutions, and international assets. Having a clear and attractive identity and reputation enables a city to sell itself more effectively and to command loyalty from citizens and investors even when times are hard.
MIPIM is one of the great global showcases of city branding, and for the informed observer it offers unique insights on how cities seek to position themselves and how the art of city branding is evolving and changing.
European cities retain extremely attractive brand qualities, despite the heavy impact of the financial crisis and subsequent years of austerity. The leading brand index, the Anholt/GfK Roper study from 2009, finds that six of the top ten brands in the world are in Europe, led by Paris, London and Rome.
The reasons for European cities’ compelling images vary. London is recognised as a world leader for international presence as well as potential, factors based on its unsurpassed reputation for opportunity, business and jobs. However, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona are among the world’s best-rated cities for aesthetic, climate and entertainment credentials, with valuable reputations for flair and a strong public realm. Similar characteristics are also responsible for Vienna’s impressive appearance in the world top 10.
At the European level, it is clear that Paris and London vie for the most compelling brand, with a small chasing pack behind. The Saffron Consultants European City Brand Barometer finds Paris marginally ahead, based on recognition and positive association, with a gap after London to the quintessential destinations of Munich and Barcelona, and then the stylish Italian cities of Milan and Rome, whose brand strengths far outperform most of their more tangible rankings elsewhere. The top Eastern European city in this evaluation is Prague, at joint 11th, followed by Sofia in 25th. A number of British cities score particularly poorly, with Bradford ranked last, and Birmingham and Liverpool in bottom 10. This contrasts with the strong brand association of German cities, with twelve of its 14 cities ranked above average in Europe.
In terms of visitor numbers and all-round destination power, rankings suggest that it is emerging markets at the periphery of Europe that are seeing the fastest growth, while historic cities witness a comparative stagnation. Cities in Turkey, for example, where the cost of travel is less expensive than in other European coastal countries, gained considerable air travellers in 2008-2009, gaining further attractiveness as the euro has strengthened. According to visitor tracker Euromonitor, Antalya in Turkey achieved spectacular growth of 13.8% in 2008, and by the end of 2009 was the 5th most visited destination in the world, overtaking New York. South-East Europe is thought to possess a strong advantage over other Mediterranean destinations such as Spain and Italy moving forward. In the medium term, cities in Europe are set to continue to lose share of the arrivals market, as infrastructure in developing cities improves.
European cities are still among the most desired business meeting locations in the world, as indicated by figures from the International Congress and Convention Association. Outside the US, it is in Germany that the largest number of events have taken place since 2004. Yet it is Vienna that has taken the top spot worldwide for meetings every year since 2007. The Austrian capital is clear of Barcelona, which has increased its share by 30 events since 2007 and climbed ahead of established conference leader Paris. Unlike in many indexes, there is no shift eastward at the top of the rankings: Berlin recorded the most significant conference growth in the top 10 to rise to 4th place in 2009, while both Athens and Madrid have entered the top 20 since 2007.
So, cities in Europe have more than one kind of brand. Business and investor brands lead in some cities, whereas visitor and consumer brands lead in others. In some other cities, a different kind of brand positioning is also emerging: the leader/innovator brand. Cities that lead in sustainability, science and technology, creativity or cosmopolitanism offer a positioning that suggests success in the future as they lead in solving problems facing the world.
As we can also see, cities with a strong business-visitor brand such as Vienna and Barcelona are able to make the transition from being a place to visit to being a place to invest and do business. This is an important sphere of intense competition – attracting business visitors is an accelerator for longer term economic diversification and development in Europe’s cities, and can enable a tourism destination to become a business city within one or two decades. The infrastructure for this transition includes not just a good airport but also convention and exhibition centres, trade fairs, business hotels, restaurants and cultural amenities. Hosting expos, the World Cup, summits, and the Olympics can be a catalyst for acquiring these. Don’t be surprised if MIPIM 2011 showcases such events and amenities, as Europe’s cities search for the alchemy that will transition visitor destinations to economic hubs.