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The following section provides a brief outline of the importance of city branding and the need to further investigate this topic. City branding has received increased interest by both practitioners and academics over the past decades, which is enhanced through the rise of globalisation, making it necessary for places, and more specifically cities, to differentiate themselves from others in order to compete for development funds, attract and retain residents, and appeal to the tourism industry (Kotler, 1993; Kotler & Gertner, 2002; Virgo & De Chernatony, 2005; Campelo et al., 2009; Paganoni, 2012; Braun et al., 2013). Cities no longer simply compete within their own countries, but globally, thus action is taken on a governmental level to enable cities, towns, and regions to compete on a global scale. To reiterate this point further, in the European Union (EU) “city branding has been incorporated within the wider EU policy agenda” (Pagonia, 2012: 14), as policy makers recognised that “cities play a crucial role as engines of the economy, as places of connectivity, creativity and innovation, and as centres of services for their surrounding areas” (EURP, 2011: VI). This implies that city branding is not only an important area within an academic context, but also has received attention on a supranational level.
City branding itself is a relatively new phenomenon (Braun, 2011) and thus, only limited literature exists within this area of research. The research stream originated from place branding and shares close links with nation, destination, and location branding (Ashworth, 2009; Anholt, 2011; Braun, 2011). Whilst similar in nature, city and place/destination branding differ dramatically, in that city branding not only focuses its attention on the tourism industry, but also seeks to appeal to potential/new users (e.g. residents) and other stakeholders, such as businesses and job/amenities providers (Braun, 2008). Thus, a key aspect of city branding is to create a distinctive identity that not only differentiates a city from others, but also makes it easily recognisable and creates a positive image in the stakeholder’s mind (Kavaratzis & Ashworth, 2005). Interestingly, whilst city branding increased in importance, the practical application of it not only lacks research, but also is not yet part of the mainstream research body (Braun, 2011).
The American Marketing Association (2014) defines a brand as “a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers”. However, this definition is rather limited in relation to place and city branding, as it does not take into account the multifaceted identity and intangible elements that make up a place and/or city brand (Gardner & Levy, 1955; Relph, 1976; Massay, 1993;
Skinner, 2008). Other definitions offer a broader perspective on the topic: for example, Boatwright et al. (2009) specify that a brand’s requisites include being “consistent with the organisation’s capabilities and its branded products” (p. 38). This aspect of branding theory can be seen in the marketing efforts of Sheffield and Essen, whereby each city capitalises on the distinctive brand products that are relevant and interesting for their visitors. The ‘Heart of the City’ Project in Sheffield, for example, funded the creation of the Peace Gardens, which forms a vital part of the city’s urban life style, as festivals and events are centred in this area, and is part of the regeneration programme to revive the city’s centre (Sheffield, 2010). As part of the ‘European Capital of Culture’ award Essen created a ‘museums area’ around one of its most distinctive landmarks, Zeche Zollverein, not only attracting tourists, but also incorporating its history in the city’s new landscape and making it part of a holistic image that incorporates the past and present (Essen Marketing, 2010). These two examples show, how these cities manage to capitalise on distinctive brand products in order to attract visitors, residents, and other stakeholders.
While some authors (Caldwell & Freire, 2004; Kavaratzis, 2005; Kavaratzis & Ashworth, 2005; Friere, 2007; Ashworth, 2009) contend that places can be branded in the same manner as consumer goods and services, others (Anholt, 2002; Dinnie, 2003; Rainisto, 2003;
Trueman et al., 2004; Hankinson, 2006; Kavaratzis, 2007; Balakrishnan, 2009; Braun, 2011) have attempted to integrate elements of corporate branding theory in place and city branding practice. This is due to the fact that cities are transformational in nature, which implies that a city can change its appearance and tangible and intangible features over time.
A more comprehensive definition is that a brand is “a dynamic interface between an organization’s actions and customers’ interpretations” (De Chernatony, 2002: 116). This highlights the difficulty that marketers face in their attempts to create a coherent brand vision that is accepted by all stakeholders. This challenge is especially relevant in city and place branding (Virgo & De Chernatony, 2005). In this manner, various authors (Hankinson, 2001;
Dinnie, 2003; Kavaratzis & Ashworth, 2005; Baker & Cameron, 2008; Braun, 2011) highlight that there is a gap in the literature in terms of the practical implementation of city branding, as well as the branding process.
Methodology This research is based on an in-depth, cross-cultural, cross-national case study approach, focusing on Sheffield, UK and Essen, Germany, which follows in the footsteps of previous research in the filed of place and city branding (Kotler, 1993; Hankinson, 2001; Rainisto, 2003; Anholt, 2005; Virgo & De Chernatony, 2005). The two cities were purposefully chosen, as both cities have a similar heritage and population size, which enables the researchers to analyse, why one city has been more successful in terms of being awarded ‘European Cultural Capital’, while the other continues to strive for more recognition. A case study approach was suitable, as it allowed for various methods to be combined.
Overall, twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted: 12 in Sheffield and 8 in Essen.
Interviews were held in German and English and adapted accordingly. The interviews lasted between 45 to 90 minutes and were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Semi-structured interviews were a key part of this research design, which allowed for a flexible and fluid interchange of ideas (Mason, 2002). Bryman and Bell (2007) state that if more than one person conducts data collection, “in order to ensure a modicum of comparability of interviewing style, semi-structured interviewing will be preferred” (p.481). This relates well to the nature of this study, as multiple researchers carried out data collection (Eisenhardt, 1989).
The data analysis followed a partially deductive approach (template analysis), which was inspired by Anholt’s (2006b) GMI City Brand Index and thus, evaluating multiple facets of a city’s brand. The researchers carefully looked at the data and firstly focused on aspects mentioned in the city brand hexagon. Secondly, any data that remained un-coded or was marked as ‘not fitting’ was re coded. The researchers found further themes emerging that were added to and thus, amended Anholt’s (2006b) Index.
Furthermore, the researchers incorporated semiotic analysis of photographs taken within the city, as well as promotional materials and digital channels. These further supported the findings from the interviews.
1. This research brought forward a map of key stakeholders in both cities Sheffield, UK and Essen, Germany. The comparison drawn indicates the various different players within the individual cities’ brand strategy.
2. The two cities were scored according to Anholt’s (2006b) Index, which provides them with a general overview of how they are perceived by their various stakeholders.
3. Anholt’s (2006b) Index is limited in nature as it does not account for heritage, reputation, and associations with a specific place. The model presented in the paper develops the hexagon further.
Theoretical Implications This research builds on existing city branding literature and extends its reach, by incorporating city branding and stakeholder management approaches and develops a more holistic model to view the multiple facets of a city.
Practical Implications This research provides a mapping of stakeholders, as well as key learning points from current practices in each city. The new model enables these cities to re-focus their current strategies and a brand that combines their heritage with a future pathway.
Limitations Only two cities were investigated, which implies that findings cannot be generalised.
Moreover, interviews were conducted in both English and German, which indicates that questions had to be adapted. A further limitation is the fact that the researchers were unable to physically travel to Essen, Germany, thus all interviews were conducted via the phone, which does not allow for any participant observation and/or probing for further information, as the telephone calls were time precisely.
Originality Previous research has predominantly focused on either well-known post-industrial cities such as Liverpool (Hudson & Hawkins, 2006) and Glasgow (Paddison, 1993) or on capital or major cities (Anholt, 2006a). This research is a cross-cultural, cross-national comparison focusing on two cities with a similar background: Sheffield, UK and Essen, Germany. Both cities have previously applied for the title of ‘European Capital of Culture’: Sheffield, UK applied to carry the award in 2013, but lost its bid to Derry in 2010 (BBC, 2010; Wainwright & McDonald, 2010), and Essen, Germany, which won the honour as part of the Ruhr conglomerate in 2010 (RUHR.2010, n.d.). A further similarity, between these two cities is the aspect of heritage: both were significant within the steel industry and have suffered a negative reputation and connotation as being ‘dirty’ and ‘grim’, which still carries forward today.
Sheffield, UK and Essen, Germany are actively trying to change their current strategy and form a cohesive brand identity.
Keywords:City branding, steel city, case study, place branding
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