First of all, let’s define some terms. A brand is an over all image or set of perceptions and associations that resides in people’s heads.
When we speak of ‘the brand’ of a place, we mean the average or common perceptions and associations people have with that place; it is always an approximation, and it is always subjective.
Reasonable people can thus disagree about ‘the brand’ of a particular place, but it is still meaningful.
A place’s brand, although hard to pin down exactly, derives from factors which can be usefully, if subjectively, measured and evaluated.
Certain assets, such as a vibrant cultural scene or renowned architecture, tend automatically to confer strength on a city brand.Such attributes give certain cities, like London and Rome, a ‘head start’ in the branding race, while others, such as Warsaw or Bradford, begin at a natural disadvantage. Other cities, like Dublin or Glasgow, are somewhere in the middle in terms of their attributes but have succeeded in forging strong brands.
Branding means the deliberate actions taken to alter or improve an image. This includes promotion but mostly, in our experience, it means improvement and coordination. It entails a place gathering its leaders together, actually or figuratively, and in effect deciding,
“We’ve got these assets to work with and these liabilities to correct. Let’s get to it.”
Brands matter to places because they’re what people base their decisions on:decisions about where to live, where to go on holiday, where to set up a business, even where to invest.
Brand = substance + feeling. Brand = reality + story. Brand = truth + imagination. Brand = fact + impression.
Indeed, sometimes it seems we’ll forgive a place anything provided it’s sexy and going there gives us something to talk about when we get home. And at the other end of the spectrum, if we don’t know about a place, if there’s no story there for us, then we make assumptions about how interesting or prominent or attractive it is.