In recent years, city branding has become a global trend.

Cities all over the world are promoting themselves as desirable destinations to investors, tourists, and prospective residents. In their efforts to do so, many of them commission logo designs and captivating slogans that feature in welcoming websites and advertising campaigns in national and international media.

While this concept aligns with the basic branding philosophy that is usually found in corporate branding, most of these cities fail to develop their brand to its full capacity. After all, cities are not products and a distinct form of branding is needed—one that is driven by socio-cultural ideology rather than marketing.

If we take into account cities such as New York, Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona, and Athens, we can see that the success of these cities is not a product of conscious modern-day marketing. Instead, these cities are clearly identifiable by their socio-cultural and physical character. Even the imagery that is evoked by the mere mention of these cities’ names adds intangible value to their brand equity.

In fact, cities rarely need new ‘corporate identities’ in order to become visible and remain competitive, because they already have them. Every city has a name, a visual identity (most often a coat-of-arms or a similar sign), symbols (landmarks and monuments), brand image (a perception about the place embedded in people’s minds), and so on. Marketing can initiate a design of a logo and even a new name, an advertising campaign, new livery and an expensive media promotion to launch the ‘new’ brand, but this in itself cannot make a city a successful brand.

The most important differentiating elements for a city are likely to be of socio-cultural character and its built environments. The uniqueness of these elements is the crucial to providing sustainable competitive advantage over other cities and in creating brand equity. Therefore, city branding should involve changes to the ‘physical fabric of places’, informing how places can be experienced and used.

Therefore, it can be argued that cities in order to be successful as brands they first need to establish both practical and an emotional link with its inhabitants, visitors, and investors. This link should create a close fit between the people’s physical needs and psychological desires and the city’s functional attributes and symbolic values.

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