The Establishment of City Brands
Sun Lei: President of Revo Branding Communications Group, Experienced Brand Expert in China
Revo Branding Communications Group was started by Mr. Sun Lei, an experienced brand expert. Phoenix PR, May Entertainment and Macro Interactive are its three subsidiary brands. It is involved in the auto, fashion, entertainment media industries, and more. Using The Brand Blueprint System and Unique Brand Language (UBL), it takes brand growth as its duty and adopts an innovative consulting service which integrates international standards. We are committed to creating excellent full-communication products and using Creativity, PR (public relations), and Experience Marketing communications products to help a brand grow to achieve a leadership status.
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Cities, just like products, have their brands as well. With the progress of globalization as well as the reform of the political and economic system, government functions are undergoing subtle changes and the concept of city brand is no longer strange to the majority of the public. City regulators have further recognized their mission. It has become the focus of planning of city leaders to establish a highly efficient management system,
build a sustainable platform for the growth of the city and form the core competencies of the city. When these objectives gradually get clear, the city regulators begin to eye on the theory of modern urban brands. If we do a survey on whether the city brand should be established ， , probably most of the mayors and party secretaries will not hesitate to say "Yes!" City regulators have begun to foster a high degree of recognition of the significance of the establishment of city brands, which can enhance the citizens' sense of pride and identity with the city, attract investors, talents, tourists as well as the concern of the central government. Thus, it plays a major role in attracting urban investment and professionals, enhancing tourism promoting the status of the city and economic restructuring. However, if we ask further: how much does city brand-building account for in a Mayor’s work? What position does city brand building dwell in he overall strategic planning of a city? What should the measures and process of city brand building be? It may not be so easy to get a clear and consistent answer. At present, the majority of the city regulators remain being short of good applicable theories to guide their practices. The purpose of this paper is to introduce a concept to describe a theoretical framework, to provide a solution, so as to promote the modern Chinese urban management and set up core competitiveness for the management of Chinese cities.
When establishing city brands, we first have to understand the true meaning of city brands. Similar to products and people, geographic location or a space can also be a brand. Under such circumstances, we call it geographic brand, which can be viewed as the whole experience of a certain geo-spatial
region and all the things it supplies to the audiences, including members of the public, tourists, business persons, senior personnel, government officials, industry associations and investment institutions. Geographic brand can be divided into four levels, including the national and regional level - such as Sichuan Province of China; urban and geographic level - such as Tai’an region of Shandong Province. The same concept underlies in different levels while there is difference in the operation framework. Our research mainly deals with the urban level. City brand can be established from two aspects: overall brands and tourism brands. Overall brands are the integration of political, economic, cultural and natural situation of a certain region. By extracting from these we form the core brand of the city and manage the experience of all audiences. Tourism brands serve for the development strategy of the regional tourism from the functional point of view. By exploring unique attractiveness of the natural scenery and local customs, we may be able to manage the overall tourist experience of tourism operators and tourists. For related concepts please see Graphic 1.
With the awareness of city brand establishment, we can compare this knowledge with those widely disseminated but ambiguous recognitions and further outline the framework of city brand building, getting a clear concept of city branding. Does publicity equal to city branding? Publicity is only one part of the brand building. According to the definition of brand, brand exists in the minds of the audiences and their overall experience of a certain geographical location could be called a brand. Publicity or dissemination achieves overall experience by influencing the recognition of target audiences. City branding is a process which aims to achieve overall experience through urban management and frequent communication with audiences under the city brand strategy, in which the uniqueness as well as coherence and uniformity of city branding must be reflected. If the implementation of city branding is not under the guidance of the branding strategy, or the content of publicity and approach are not consistent with the overall brand planning, it will then hinder the progress of city branding. More input, then, will result in fewer achievements. Famous city means city branding? A well-known city surpasses the unknown ones and do possess a certain degree of competitive advantage. But the figure of a certain city, a historic city for instance, is constituted on the basis of a time-honored history and unique advantage in a certain aspect. Its unique natural and cultural scenes and historic images are gradually and spontaneous formed as time passes by. This "name" in fact refers to the recognition of the city, but only limited to being well-known. If there is no preference or reputation for its audience, no unique brand experience is achieved. Without such experiences, neither the
understanding of real significance of the modern brand concept of the "brand" would be achieved, nor would the application of modern brand management theory be utilized to preserve and strengthen the "brand". In the fierce competition for funds, personnel, policies and tourists, no advancement leaves you falling behind; well-known does not mean being forever famous and being famous may also be forgotten. Only by emphasizing this asset and inherently devoting to strengthen and promote it, can we get the right path forward. Does city image project equal to city brand building? City image project is image-building of the city's own image. It influences within the city and is classified into one part of the city branding. Application of the latest branding theories to further define the concept of city image projects, or "city brand experience establishing projects", should be carried forward under the guidance of clear branding strategies. As to the position of this project in the entire city branding strategic planning, we will further elaborate hereinafter. Does strategic planning equal to city brand strategic planning? The aforesaid three recognition errors lie in the narrow understanding between the concept of brand and city branding. On the contrary, considering strategic planning equal to city brand strategic planning too broadly defines city branding. In fact, the development of city strategic planning is higher than city branding strategic planning at the level of planning. Strategic planning for urban development is the top priority of city regulators. In strategic planning of the city, we have to analyze the status quo, the meaning for existence, vision, the advantages and disadvantages as well as external opportunities and threats, taking into consideration the steps and means for sustainable development in economy, culture, environment and other fields.
However, strategic planning of the city brand is not comprehensive overall planning, it is in parallel with the economic, environmental, social and government strategies at the functional level, and is coordinated with urban development strategies as part of the functions. It achieves its own goals as well as promotes city development goals at the same time. Figure II shows clearly the concept and structure of such strategy.
Graphic II In short, city branding strategy is the integration of the spirit of the audience, as well as all psychological methods and means through material means on purpose. Meanwhile, social, economic, environmental, city government strategies establish environment for sustainable development of city-building and material wealth at different angles and different dimensions, forming core of city
of the city together with the branding. Thus
in turn the short, medium and long-term development goals of the city will be achieved.
Hereunder is the strategic structure of establishing city brands. Graphic III:
Graphic III When a city regulator confirms the city's mission, vision and development strategy, he has actually made the decision on whether to do the city brand building. Once the decision is made, we must make clear the answers to the following questions: What is the value of the city? What is the goal for city brand development? What is the difference between our city brand and others’, or, what is our positioning for our brand? How to clearly define our brand together with the city strategy and the spirit of the city on the basis of distinction from others? How to preserve, strengthen and improve our city brand in the long term? The essence of the city branding strategy is to define the core of the city brand, which guarantees the consistency in different media forms and times. Where does the core of city brand come from? It is not a rootless tree or water without origin. We can build a new Notre Dame, but the history around
the original Notre Dame can not be copied, and then we can not set the unique origin for brand experience. The romantic temperament of Paris derives from the national spirit, the romantic culture and historical origins. If we attempt to define the core of the brand of Paris as spectacular, perhaps there will be neither any support nor substantial effects. Core information of brands must be derived from the entire audience of the brand including the city's history, the status quo, future; city's political, economic, cultural, environmental, social conditions; regional and national level. Only through multi-level, complete and comprehensive analysis and deduction can we be able to extract the core brand of a city. After identifying the core brand of the city, it is necessary to carry out the construction of all-round, multi-layered and unique experience. The first thing to do at this stage is the development of brand identity systems. We should guide, conduct and regulate the government officials, enterprises and units and members of the public in visual recognition (Graphic IV) and sound recognition to reflect the value of the city.
At the mean time, we should proceed with the planning and construction of city brand experience, which covers of the former city image projects including environmental protection, city appearance, landscaping, public transport, roads, landmark building and symbolic landscape, landscape lighting, civilized community, cultural facilities, sports facilities and so on. At the same time, unique brand experience is also constructed by organizing festivals and activities around the core brand of the city. Dalian - A Successful Case -
The city of Dalian can be described as a model for domestic city brand experience. In the 1990s, the city regulators made an unprecedented bid to carry forward the "Famous Urban Environment Brand" strategy in accordance with its superior location, beautiful environment and pleasant weather and unique scenery along with its solid infrastructure, grand scale and highlydeveloped urbanization conditions. The strategy took the operation of the city as the breaking point and planned, constructed and optimized the urban environment under the slogan of “we don't need the biggest, but the best”, fostering the best investment environment and the city the most pleasant living environment for the citizens. The city succeeded in making a beautiful international metropolis and stood at the frontier of environmental competition. Through years of efforts, Dalian has achieved a gorgeous city image represented by a series of distinctive features including the radiance of combination of European-style building with modern architecture, plaza spreading all over the town, female police rangers, charismatic Mayor, Garden Green, standardized management of the city, Fashion Festival and football. The implementation of the "Famous Urban Environment Brand" strategy rapidly upgraded the popularity and reputation of Dalian both at home and
abroad. Meanwhile, the environment brand of Dalian attracted competing business investment from at home and abroad as well as domestic and foreign tourists who come for sight-seeing and shopping, leading the transformation of Dalian from a base of heavy industry and promoting the economic development and comprehensive competence of the city.