Exploration Of City Branding Cultural Studies Essay

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The definition of branding is always different in every branding book. With no single definition, academic and industrial people, however, agree on that a brand is much more than a logo or advertising theme. The difference is mainly in the boundary of branding, some consider the whole commercial activity from marketing research, designing the product to last evaluation: all the departments are working under one brand department; some consider branding is under marketing department just for the reputation and promotion of the product identity. Among these boundaries, Bill Baker asserts that brand contains several of the following elements:

A name, sign or symbol, the source of a promise, distinctive or added value, personality and character and the sum of the customer's thoughts and perceptions (2007: 22)

The basic branding process can be divided into building and communicating the brand. The brand perception, which contains brand experience and information, is the final step of the branding. Place branding is fundamentally similar to other product branding. The differences emerge for the special city for a place. For place branding, it is more difficult for a place to redevelop and reproduce in a lab as a common product. Even just re-package the city is not an easy cake and has high risk. A brand identity is what the brand stands for , how it is described in most fundamental terms, to which all other characteristics and actions can be traced back. But brand image is mostly easily described as the customer's perception of brand identity. The difference between brand image and brand identity is due to effectiveness of brand communication.

'A brand adds value, meaning and an invisible aura or spirit to a product or entity' (Baker, 2007: 23). The brand and the branding process offer various benefits to stakeholders.

A city brand can raise civic pride and enhance identity for the city residents. The inner vigor of a city is first connected to self esteem and pride of citizen to the city. This can be link simply to people's use and perception of urban place no matter what their occupations are. In the Chinese ancient novel The Scholars, two waste promise to each other to climb up to Rain Flower Terrace (an attraction in Nanjing, the ancient capital for many dynasties) for sunset after dumping all the waste on that day. This indicates the civic pride and identity existed in citizens in lowest social status and this manifested by their image and use of public space. The Rain Flower Terrace and sunset represents the image of Nanjing: cultured, beautiful and once prosperous.

A city brand provides a strategic focus for city's marketer for facilitating to form unified and cooperative approach for the branding campaign. It acts as an umbrella, enabling all campaigns under the brand consistent and compelling (Baker, 2007: 40). The brand can also "unites the public, private and voluntary sectors of the city region into a partnership for the purpose of city region promotion" which "delivers synergies, strength and focus to the city region's marketing communications, leading to critical mass and economies of scale"(DEMA).

A city brand helps decision making for target audience. For people never come to the city, it can communicate the message, create and inhance image and perception for their decision of come to the city. For people have already been to the city, the city brand can evoke their memory, increase their trust or correct their false image to the city for their decisions of revisits and stays in the city.

B. City analysis and the possibility of branding as creative city

Different from branding other products, city has more complicated assets to be branded including its space, people and culture. In addition, branding a city emphasize more on capitalizing its existing resources rather than creating something from nothing. Every city should find out its unique niche market after examine their 1) strengths & weakness and 2) real specialty & false specialty which lack of competiveness.

1. History:

Mentioned Foshan it is hard to get rid of it honour in history with is first recorded in history documents in 4th century AD and was named one of the 'four ancient towns in China' for its advanced craftsmanship and commerce in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). However, China is a country with long history and proud of its history. Comparing to other historical capitals for dynasties, Foshan owns fewer unique historical assets and lack enough maintenance for ancient buildings.

Colchester as the oldest city in UK seems facing the same embarrassment for its few remains of its the past. Their solution is using the slogan "Colchester, not only the oldest city in UK' to promote its new main attraction a fine zoo and an advanced cultural centre and landmark building: the new Firstsite. Like Colchester, something new base on the history such as the 1506 Creative City introduced in the third section of the essay should be built but not only keep reminding people we have splendid history which means our present is not as good as the past.

2. Culture

Culture is 'a powerful means of controlling cities as a source of images and memories' because it 'symbolizes who belongs in specific places' (Zukin, 1995:1). Foshan is historically famous for Kongfu, lion dance, pottery & porcelain and Cantonese Opera. Why it is said to be 'historically famous'? In all of these fields, Foshan is either the initiator or was the best, but it fails to capture this advantage for the identity and development power. For instance, Foshan is the hometown of Bruce Lee, Wong Fei-hung and Yip Man, three most prominent Kongfu masters in history and film history in Chinese society and the world, but currently they just provide fame and box office income for Hong Kong movie. Because pottery & porcelain is currently still important industry for Foshan, its situation is a little better. The industry is more distinctive and can extend to both fine art and industrial product. The factory plant could be turned into creative quarter for regeneration of part of the city because portray & ceramics are easier to be transformed into industry and used as design material itself. Another use of culture, especially traditional culture is stated by Anholt that culture don't sell a lot itself, but can be use to enrich a country's reputation, help to form and change people's perception about a place and its value, such as "Japanese art, poetry, cuisine and philosophy, however shallow it might be, functions as an important counterpoint to the commercial image of Japan: productivity, miniaturization and technology" (2007:97).

For a vibrant modern city, the new city culture such as street culture, sub-culture should not be ignored. 'Cosplay' and creative market are the newest trend. 'Cosplay' is costume play according to ACG(animation, comic, game) characters from Japan. Creative craft market is a little different from those in western country: bestsellers are those writing essays and drawing comics with inspiration of ACG in installments on Internet. Company is surrounded products on their works.

3. Life

Foshan has a number of modern and advanced commercial centres and owns as many international brands shop as those in Guangzhou. We have a metro (preference of naming 'metro' because the first metro line in Guangzhou is designed by French company) which is rare to be found in secondary cities and it is connected to Guangzhou metro. At the same time of addressing Foshan is almost as excellent as Guangzhou in life convenience, the priority of Foshan is having more relaxing lifestyle that people want to go back to these days should be stressed.

With many elements to be shown and developed for the brand, Foshan is like Anholt's observation of Jamaica today as 'a collection of stars in the sky that haven't been joined up: violence in Kingston, holidays in Negril, Blue Mountain coffee and reggae, but there is no constellation' (2007: 117). To form such a correct 'constellation', find out the correct target audience is the next step.

C. Targeting audience: creative people

In the process of branding, the limited financial and staff resource make it is impossible to promote the city to everyone. Segmentation and targeting are needed for choosing people most likely to respond to promoting message. Segmentation groups audience 'into segments based on similar characteristics' and targeting 'chooses from among theses segments the one or more that are most likely to respond positively to a promotional message on the city's features and benefits.' (Kolb, 2006: 103)


Firstly, According to city analysis, Foshan is steep in history, culture and quality & relaxing life which are especially attractive to a specific group of people. Secondly, the problem mentioned in introduction part of changing industry structure also needs this group of people. Thirdly, this group of people can have the ability to utilize these cultural assets more effetely. The group of people satisfies three conditions would be creative people.

Creative people is defined as 'Creative Class' by Florida (2002) to 'include people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and /or new creative content'. They share 'a common creative ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference and merit. For them, 'every aspect and every manifestation of creativity - technological, cultural and economic -- is interlinked and inseparable.'(Florida, 2002:8) They prefer experiential lifestyle with individuality, self-statement, acceptance of difference and the desire for rich multidimensional experiences. (Florida, 2002) Florida dedicates on the creative class and city topic and publishes books base on interviewing own focus groups and relevant index for city creativeness.

Here is my summary of preference for 'creative class' to a city base on The Rise of the Creative Class (2002) by Florida:

Creative people are not moving to places for traditional reasons like urban malls and tourism-and-entertainment districts are 'irrelevant or insufficient'.

They are looking for 'abundant high-quality amenities and experiences, an openness to diversity of all kinds, and above all else the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people.'

They expect more form the place they live than before: they change the past perception of working in one place and having fun somewhere else. For their inflexible schedule, 'just in time' recreation in their own city is current trend. This also leads to demand of nightlife

They favour 'street level' activity: comparing to enter a museum and concert hall, an 'art-show opening or a spot you can mingle with artist and aficionado will stimulate creativity'. In addition, the schedule for such events is more fluid and ongoing than high-art events.

In China, such group of people is growing and the trend of ''escape from Bei-Shang-Guang' which means moving away from the top three metropolitan Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou for high pressure and living cost gives the chance for secondary cities like Foshan. In addition, the main attendee of the newest street culture 'cosplay' and creative market has a quite large percentage of creative people because creative people are more rely on internet and easier to be attracted by this subculture - Otaku subculture. They are not really freak people portrayed as media who only want to stay in home and in front of PC. If the city provides public space for their activity, they are more than happy to attend. At the same time, the show of subculture in street shows the tolerance of the city, which is also attractive to creative people.

Branding strategy

Formulating brand strategy starts with positioning analyzing for Foshan. I try to use four pairs of indicators help finding the new position of Foshan after comparing cities in the same scale in UK and China. This is base on my own visit and research to the city and their image from media. The positioning process represents the brand personality of Foshan: historical city combines culture and modern life in inspiring physical beauty and relaxing lifestyle as a creative city for cultural visit and pleasant home.

The positioning also helps to develop brand values. These values reflect distinctiveness, benefit and experience of Foshan. Therefore they are guides for further analysis and design of visual communication.

Striving and encouraging creativeness

Cherish culture and history

Pursuing quality and tasteful life

Sincere warmth

The brand story can be summarized in a brand pyramid which can help to bring all brand elements together in a single system.

Brand pyramid of Foshan

The objective of Foshan brand is enhancing, correcting and revitalizing the city as a creative, cultured, inspiring and relaxing city for creative people to 1) come for an inspiring and cultural visit or 2) come to work and live in the city. This solution is a virtuous circle: showing the creative character of the city for attracting more creative people; creative people bring and build more creativeness for the city.

A feasible and cost-effective strategy - visual communication is recommended. Visual communication includes two core concepts:

1. Analyze the physical-visual dimension of the city according to needs of its citizens and target audience to find out its attractiveness and improvement. The attractiveness should be visually legible and with identity for showing local sprit, culture and life. The improvement sought also base on visual and culture that addressing regeneration and augmentation.

2. Convey the physical-visual message of the city using visual communication method such as graphic, photography and design.

This strategy is formulated according to attributes of the city, target audience and marketer (or effectiveness of communication)

Effective for the city

Kotler has proposed four ways of promoting places: image, attractions, infrastructure and people. Image marketing is the least expensive strategy, since the place "is not investing money in adding attractions or improving its infrastructure, but only 'communicating' something about its present features to others (Kotler, 1993). This less budget of this strategy is more suitable for Foshan as smaller city. In the branding process, the city also raises the taste and temperament of its citizens and for its own image. Since good design adds value and sometimes cost no more than bad design.

Effective for the target audience

For creative people, they have higher comprehension for visual message. They have better taste for the appreciating high quality of photos, as a lot of them have hobbies on photography and graphic design. It also response to some critics aroused such as visual communication is too shallow and less practical for actual needs for citizens such as welfare, income etc. For the creative people, their most direct demand is a creative, interesting and pleasant city to live in.

This group of people will choose to share the image to reflect their lifestyle and taste in Internet if the image is well designed and in good quality. This is also part of the reason for the booming backpack travel which provides a good chance for creative people to experience the city for inspiration.

From the effective of communication (for the marketer)

Visual identity and photos can be used in a lot of media includes: advertising, websites, postcards, newspaper features, exhibitions, signage and way findings. The consistent image can be used by other organization especially those with many customers like shopping departments and terminals as well as individuals. Attractive and impressive photos and designs, either for the object itself or expression method, will be shared or spread in community website. This community websites are quite new and powerful way of word-of-mouth communication. At the same time, there are a lot of lifestyle magazine and websites writing features for cities with unique and yearning lifestyle. These magazines and websites are popular among people enjoying life. Using good quality and impressive photos and designs in these magazine will raise the image of the city as creative city.

Using graphic design and photos make people pay attention to things in new way and new angle. 'Artist and designer as cultural producers can help us to see places and the way they are represented in new and different ways using imagery and descriptive text' (Murray, 2001). Visual communication can tell a story with emotional that enable the message to be sent more trustful and elegantly. Photos can communicate the atmosphere and spirit of a place using techniques of light and color. It is also potent in reporting detail and capturing a moment since occasions make spaces meaningful places. Visual communication can reproduce such event and human activity lively and touching. Good design of visual communication is always interesting and eye catching. People get tired of hard sell or overwhelmed by information clutter. They need interesting and effective message responding to their needs.

The misunderstanding caused by visual communication is less than verbal communication. In China, the accent and expression of different province and area is very different from each other. Recent years, new puns and words created and spread in Internet every day. There was a slogan called "Yichun, a city called 'spring'" provoke a big joke of that city and have damage to that city's image because 'call spring' has very nasty meaning among young people. Visual message will be more universal.