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March 04, 2008

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Simon Anholt has released his third annual global City Brands Index based on a survey of 10,000 people world-wide. I like it because it's less a study of branding strategies, and more of the how various cities are perceived by people around the world.

Overall the list jibes with my intuitive assessments. Sydney takes the No. 1 spot, followed by London, Paris, NYC and Rome.  Canadian cities do well: Toronto is 11th, but Vancouver is 8th and Montreal is 10th. Melbourne, Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Milan, Berlin, Geneva, Brussels, Auckland and Tokyo all make the cut.

NYC is the only US city to place among the top 20.  Three Canadian cities, two Australian cities, two from Spain and two from Italy. I know the Bush years have run down the US brand overall, but I thought its major cities were still doing OK. Not a good sign for America at all.

My own sense is that city branding is now a completely viral affair, and has moved far, far away from the old top-down, brochureware approach of yesteryear.

Question: Does "city branding," in today's environment, really reflect creativity or the perception that a city has it?

UPDATE:  I just looked at the 2006 Inde, where more US cities were considered. NYC is 5th, DC 6th, San Fran 7th, LA 15th, Boston 23rd,  Las Vegas, 24th, Seattle 25th. More here.


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I'm not particularly familiar with Mr. Anholt or his previous studies, but I found a particular design feature that surprised me. Perhaps, others were aware of this beforehand due to earlier exposure to his work. First, he only ranks 40 cities and provides no reasoning or methodology has to why these 40 are pre selected. I tried to guess that he simply used the top 40 cities by population, but given the prevalence of cities in developing countires in the top 40 of population (and their complete absence in his top 20) this hunch was disqualified.

It would have been helpful if he would have included the ranking for all 40 countries. Perhaps, he was trying to be opaque on this matter. Another possible giveway that this preselection process weakened the analysis is his inclusion of Beijing (pg 7). His analysis gives Beijing low marks for 5 of the 6 scoring metrics. This begs the question as to why Beijing was included.

Did he want high variation in the brands of the set of choices? If so, why restrict it to 40 cities?

Or, did he try to pick the best of the best, and then let the surveyees sort out the ranking order? If so, his understanding of the best of the best was flawed. Beijing's scores for his six metrics are .3 / .5 / .7 / 1.5 / 1.5 / 5 (these estimates taken from the spiderweb diagram). Each of these scores is out of a possible 6.

Clearly, his conclusions do not say much for US cities. But, what US cities were in the running? If Beijing was included, was Houston included but not Chicago or San Francisco?

Maybe I am missing something. Thoughts?

Simon Anholt

Richard - thanks for linking to the new Anholt City Brands Index Report.

I just wanted to explain that the reason why there are fewer U.S. cities in this year's rankings is not because they have dropped out of the list, but simply because we didn't measure as many of them as last year (we did a special feature on U.S. cities in the 2006 study).

The City Brands Index, like the Nation Brands Index, can't measure the global 'brand image' of every significant city in the world or we'd be asking respondents about literally hundreds of cities, and the study would become impossibly large. So, like most ranking surveys, we create a limited 'universe' of cities and poll people about them.

In fact, something that both studies have conclusively proved over the last three years is how little the 'brand images' of cities and countries change over the months and years (the Nation Brands Index tells me that even 'Brand America' is only declining very, very gradually from year to year - and, surprisingly for some people, it's still by a long way the most admired country for the vast majority of Muslim respondents).

Since the 2006 study, the biggest improvement in any city's image is for Singapore (up 1.7%) and the biggest drop is for Brussels (down by 1.8%). Place brands are much more of a fixed asset than a liquid currency, and these small adjustments in popular perceptions are the biggest changes you're likely to see.

One more 'health warning' about these results: these are the aggregated results from 20 countries, and they mask quite wide variations in viewpoint from one country to another, and from one population segment to another. A closer look at the survey results often shows that rises and falls in city or national images can be skewed by public perceptions in one country or even one demographic group within that country, if they are sufficiently pronounced. I don't usually get into this level of detail for the General Report, or it would end up being 100 pages long and take me a year to write!

Finally, I'm very glad to hear that these rankings chime with your sense of which cities have the powerful brands. I have found your observations about what makes cities work are usually borne out by my research and the work I do with city governments.

Gradually, I think, we are starting to understand some of the mysterious processes that make places good places!


Thank you for the clarification.


Simon - Thank you. Rich

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