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Cities as Brands: Global Recognition of Local Cultures

In a global economy, where places are in tight competition for investors, companies, workforce, and tourists, creating a place brand has become a powerful tool. Cities like Paris, London, and New York have distinctive features that tell a story about their urbanity, history and lifestyle. These images are commonly created not by accident, but are pushed forward by local marketing forces.


Place branding, simply put, means applying the branding for products to places. But how can a city be treated like a product? What is the difference in analyzing, shaping, and promoting this "product" compared to more common merchandise?

Apart from the world's biggest metropolises, there are smaller places aiming to stand out in the international competition of cities. Trying to create a lasting impression within the international network of cities, more and more places are working on presenting a coherent, distinctive image that defines their uniqueness to all outsiders and strengthens local culture and pride from within. Especially for cities attempting to re-position themselves after having undergone great structural changes or recovering from a recession, place marketing becomes an important tool for rectifying a negative image. In communicating forward-looking slogans by alluding to technological or knowledge-related qualities, these cities aim to stand out. However, in doing so, they appear to be coming together in a common strategy for renewal.

When creating a brand-like image for a place, it needs to trigger certain positive emotions in the consumer (the citizen) while simultaneously relating to the learned idea of a place. It needs to tell a narrative that creates a meaningful story, that is open yet straightforward, so that many people can identify with it.


In Hamburg, this narrative is found in the harbor. Holding onto its nautical past as a trading hub not only defines the city's typical characteristics, but also tells a story about its history while relating to the present. These distinctive features, like historical architecture from the Hansa-days, a close relation to water via canals, and its central waterfront, help define this image while keeping the area open to reuse and adapting to present-day needs.

What are typical characteristics of your city? How do you think they are represented in the official place marketing?

Credits: Photograph by Luise Letzner. Image and Data linked to sources.