Every time in one of my classes at the university I start to talk to my students about the “city-brand”, they automatically focus on how cities like New York, Amsterdam or Porto are positioned to attract tourism. And it is not that they are foolish, but it is that they lack a broader vision of the matter.

The attraction of tourism and business assets, investments or capital to the city is only one of the consequences of a well-built city-brand; but, in the first instance, brands are built by themselves to create identity, a sense of belonging and cohesion. In short, brands are not built for the sole purpose of selling, it being essential that this conception be abandoned, both at an academic, business and social level; both in corporate brands (Coca-Cola, Nike, etc.).

This is especially true for brands associated with places and generally built and orchestrated by municipalities and states. With the main purpose of generating identity, a sense of belonging and cohesion, the city-brand has to be built by and for citizens. In this sense, citizens should feel proud of the brand set up around their city in order to subsequently become its best ambassador, helping to disseminate and publicize its spaces. It is, in other words, the same thing that happens in any business or corporate brand, in which not only external audiences (consumers) have to be taken care of, but also internal ones, such as employees.

In the 21st century, it is essential that city councils and other institutions in charge of the corresponding urban spaces begin to work with their users —their inhabitants— in order to generate a brand that is born from within and is successfully projected abroad; a brand built around the values ​​and ideas that the inhabitants and users of these spaces associate with them, and not a brand built thinking only of potential passing users, such as tourists. After all, when the latter occurs, they end up creating brands with which citizens do not feel identified, brands that “dehumanize” spaces and transform them into mass-produced spaces, all equal to each other. Spaces that do not differ in any way from other spaces that have also produced their brands with tourism in mind and that,

It is essential that city councils and other institutions in charge of the corresponding urban spaces begin to work with their users —their inhabitants— in order to generate a brand that is born from within and is successfully projected abroad.

For this reason, it is all of us who build the spaces that we inhabit and that, at the same time, we consume. It is the citizens who should be prioritized in the branding agenda of any institution in charge of building the brand image of a place. In order to produce a sustainable brand in the long term, and contrary to the management that has traditionally been done, its weight must fall on the citizen rather than on the tourist. Let’s not forget that the second is ephemeral, while the citizen remains.

The most relevant corporate brands worldwide, such as Starbucks or Apple, understood many years ago that the loyal customer, in love with them, must be their main target audience when it comes to segmenting markets. Now it’s up to the city-brand and the brands built for spaces to make their citizens fall in love. It may seem obvious, but, meanwhile, I keep running into disoriented communication and advertising students because the sector and part of the academy continue to bet on linking the city-brand exclusively with tourism.

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