Yep! Places can be branded in the same way that you can brand yourself. Branding is creating an image for yourself, your products and services as well as places. That’s why celebrities such as JLo and Wanda Sykes have image consultants.
Image consultants help to shape your image both in social circles and professionally. Just Google Tiffany Gifford and see! The same applies to products. Put two phones that are the same on the table, attach a Samsung label to one and a Hisense label on the other one. Little doubt many of us will arguably opt for the Samsung phone. Why? You guessed right, mate. It is called image or reputation.
Places (countries and cities) are branding themselves as well. Countries and cities. Paris is romance, Milan is style, New York is energy, Washington is power, Tokyo is modernity, Barcelona is culture, and Rio is fun. A city needs a brand purpose. These cities do have images that spring to a person’s mind when their names are mentioned. They worked hard to shape their images and consistently communicate what they stand for.
Unfortunately, some cities, especially in low-income places in developing countries, seem not to have joined the ‘bandwagon’. For example, Gaborone. When people think Gaborone many images come to mind, and this is plain wrong. Gaborone should take place branding seriously. It needs a strategic document that guides its development.
Melbourne has Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 strategic plan. It is a detailed document about the Australian city’s future. It talks about innovation, housing closer jobs and services, an integrated transport system that connects people to jobs and services, urban planning, inclusivity, sustainability, economic investment and leadership in shaping its development.
Gaborone falls short here. City branding is a shared responsibility of all the city’s main stakeholders. The involvement of stakeholders should lead to creativity, formulation of a brand strategy, and a new form of leadership. Residents are the critical stakeholders in the creation of a city brand. They know the city, live in it, and have ideas about exactly how it should be developed. Residents are the anchor stakeholders. They do have a ‘veto’ power to exercise if they don’t like your ideas of branding their city. Just ask Cape Verde.
City branding gained traction during the time of liberalisation under the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the late US president Ronald Reagan in the 1980s when European and North American cities became entrepreneurial.
City branding is creating an image and competitive identity that sells the city and is about intelligent differentiation. Simple logic: similarity/ordinary does not sell but differentiation sells. Brands need to have an element of surprise in a uniquely emotional way. My friend, it is like ladies. Ladies like beautiful and bespoke surprises. If you are like the main door, opening and closing, you are just becoming the usual chief.
Think like Art Blakey, the legendary American jazz musician. “If you’re not appearing, you’re disappearing,” he once said. So be in the consumer’s mind. Cities must pervade a sense of exoticism. A city has to stand out from its rivals amid the competition through a unique value proposition. A city brand simplifies choices for customers, promises a certain quality level about the city destination, reduces risk and builds trust for customers about what it has to offer. City or place branding is packaging the city’s elements competitively and bringing the city’s DNA to life.
But for cities to successfully brand themselves, there has to be a reason for embarking on the branding process. Don’t just do it, you must have good reasons (brand promise), a brand strategy and a brand vision. Any branding initiatives without these is a waste of public funds. Cities brand themselves to attract visitors, to keep key skills or talent, and to look for investors for their industries.
There are usually two aspects that differentiate ultra-competitive cities from their rivals. Saffron Brand Consultants names these as ‘buzz’ and ‘assets.’ ‘Buzz’ refers to a combination of social media and media mentions of the city brand, and ‘assets’ refers to attractions, climate, infrastructure, safety and economic prosperity. In other words, a city must have a strong brand ecosystem, good infrastructure and a good economy.
For instance, Moody’s Investors Service report of 2016 gave the city of Cape Town an A1.za, which demonstrates the city’s good budgetary performance and strong liquidity position. Additionally, Cape Town had moderate debt levels compared to its peers in South Africa. It has a large and diversified economic base, prudent financial management and robust liquidity. Infact, in the Telegraph Travel April 2016 report, Cape Town was voted the world’s best city for four years in succession.
But when it comes to Gaborone, the less said, the better. Gaborone needs to brand itself to a modern city brand. It has to be associated with a particular competency and urban culture and to bring that cosmopolitan aura to the fore. For instance, around 2013 Eindhoven was, according to Forbes, the most inventive city in the world due to holding highest number of patents in the world (22.6 patents for every 10,000 residents). Gaborone should work hard as well to be known for that particular “thing” or what we call brand essence.
In city branding, size does not matter. It is an idea that matters as well as the vision, positioning and personality. Does Gaborone have an idea of shaping its image going forward? Your guess is good as mine. It is vital therefore that cities brand themselves because a better and well-crafted image is a competitive advantage. Cities need to be innovative and not only rely on natural attractions. Man-made landmarks have helped cities known the world over. Here the Eiffel Tower in Paris instantly springs to mind, as does the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Cities should also have a well-researched brand communication strategy that takes into account their diverse audiences. Brand communication, which refers to infrastructure, architecture, museums, and urban design, can be primary. Secondary communication would refer to intended communication such as advertising, public relations and graphic design whereas tertiary communication entails word of mouth. Brand communication can further be offline or online (digital marketing). And as a rule, you should have reasons why you opt for offline or online. Offline tends to be less interactive, can be expensive, attracts less feedback, and has unreliable tracking and limited reach. On the other hand, online can give you evidence about the reaction to your campaign, has better reach, is affordable, has better traffic and has a relatively better conversion rate.
Just one big downside about digital marketing these days is an EU animal called GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). And the California Consumer Privacy Act. You have to seek a customer’s permission before communicating to her or flooding her inbox; otherwise it is an invasion of privacy!
In conclusion, cities like Gaborone should seriously consider branding themselves so that they can have images that are known globally. Of course, the benefits of branding are immense. Other surrounding areas will piggyback and Gaborone may see its brand equity enhanced. This requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders and not a centralised governance system which is basically an encumbrance to branding initiatives for a city. Gaborone should have proper roads (no potholes), working street lights, internationally recognised institutions of learning, and of course a conducive environment for an investor. Institutions of higher learning should lead in innovation and patent registration supported by R&D funding. The universities should have innovation centres and should seriously look at university endowments. Service quality has to be improved. An efficient transport system is needed and the city needs semi-autonomy to run its affairs.
Change of attitude is needed so Gaborone can get to work. Although maybe a bit small, the erection of cameras all over the intersections in Gaborone is a good step towards a safer city. Safe cities tend to resonate with customers or visitors. A lot of cities in China have few police officers because they have cameras and citizens in the database. Gaborone is the capital city of Botswana and should embrace city branding as a developmental tool. And as Gregory Ashworth always says, “get your place fixed first”.
Any damn fool can put on a deal, but it takes a genius, faith and perseverance to create a brand – David Ogilvy