Why New York, L.A. and San Francisco rule the nation in promotion, experiential tourism and ‘hardware of place.’

By Chris Fair

We at Resonance Consultancy developed the 2017 World’s Best City Brands ranking to quantify and benchmark the relative quality of place, reputation and competitive identity for global cities with metropolitan populations of 2 million or more, and capital cities with metropolitan populations of 1 million or more.

Three U.S. cities finished in the Top 10: New York at #3 overall, L.A. at #7 and San Francisco at #9.

With the U.S. presidential inauguration just days away and plenty of uncertainty about the new administration among international travelers, we’re issuing a reminder that great cities are always worth experiencing—especially this trifecta of big-city American hospitality, innovation and infrastructure.

Later this year, Resonance is launching our inaugural America’s Best City Brands ranking, as part of the City Nation Place Americas Summit. Come join us on June 15 in New York City. Conveniently, you can read about the top-placing U.S. city brand in our global ranking right now…


NEW YORK (#3 overall global city brand; #1 in the U.S.)
Where the openness, density and creative heritage celebrate the potential of urbanism.

No other city elicits more visceral reactions—from giddy anticipation to fond recollection—than America’s largest. In many ways, NYC has an unfair advantage, with two centuries of thoughtful exposure in literature, film, music and art that sings its praises and reveres its charms to a global audience.

But the city that embodies the American dream more than any other hustles to reap what it has sown. Relentless stewardship of the Programming space, ranked third overall globally, driven by a first-overall Shows and Concerts ranking (thanks, Hamilton!), and second-overall Shopping and Nightlife, is outdone only by the city’s second-overall ranking in Promotion (volume of online reviews and content).

NYC & Company, the newly redesigned tourism and marketing organization, keeps things curated with a design staff much larger than that of most multinationals in town. More reminiscent of a newsroom than a DMO, the organization even boasts its own typefaces at NYCgo.com. Equally dedicated to keeping locals exploring as much as tourists, NYC & Company recently launched the #SeeYourCity campaign in which New Yorkers were encouraged to explore lesser-visited parts of the five boroughs, therefore familiarizing themselves with the Big Apple’s bounty and becoming brand ambassadors in the process.

But it’s the city—its ease of access (with its airport connectivity ranked #7 in the world), and cultural density (museum quality was ranked #8 globally)—that elicits a visceral need by visitors themselves to tell their own versions of the stories they’ve grown up with, whether it’s about a sunny stroll on the High Line or an Instagram from the top of the Empire State Building, with so many icons still and stoic, bathed in the glow of sunset.

L.A. is one of America's best city brands.

Downtown L.A. at sunset.

LOS ANGELES (#7 overall global city brand; #2 in the U.S.)
The land of fantasy, suntans and traffic is looking inward and finding its soul.

How does a city brand composed of 88 municipalities resonate as a whole? If you’re L.A., you start taking care of your heart. Long a hollowed-out afterthought for visitors preferring sunscreen to street life, Downtown Los Angeles is doing the unthinkable: creating acres of streetscape meant for pedestrians.

The City of Angels will also likely eclipse its seventh-overall ranking for Product (a metric of local universities, airport connectivity, convention center size and, most importantly, positive online reviews by locals and visitors about area museums, arts institutions and attractions), including improving on its current 20th ranking for Museums. L.A.’s downtown “hardware” and infrastructure has been prioritized over the past few years by city builders, with places like Grand Park, opened in 2012 at the foot of iconic Bunker Hill, drawing accolades from locals and visitors. The new Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed Broad Museum opened last year right onsite, making Grand Park even better.

Taste-making pioneers Standard Hotel and the Ace Hotel are being joined by no fewer than $3 billion (billion!) of new hotel and residential projects. Even the neglected Los Angeles River is being redeveloped in the next few years by none other than Frank Gehry.

San Francisco is one of America's best city brands.

San Francisco local

SAN FRANCISCO (#9 overall global city brand; #3 in the U.S.)

Beautiful, witty and influential, the city by the bay just keeps getting more sublime.

Its unofficial tagline of “Everybody’s Favorite City” may seem inflated, but only to those who’ve never been. Perhaps it’s the Golden Gate Bridge glowing against the shifting Pacific fog that hooks you, or the realization that even the geology has an algorithm, with 49 hills within the seven-by-seven mile grid.

Long the vanguard of global counterculture, San Francisco is now defining the mainstream, often with the innovation dreamt up in Silicon Valley 45 minutes south first tested on its streets. Dreamers have long sought their fortune here, and the city ranks eighth globally in our Prosperity category with the seventh-highest GDP per capita in the world and 14th-most Fortune 500 companies headquartered here.

Happily, nature still resonates, with the city ranking 16th globally in our Place category, led by Parks and Outdoor Activities (18th-best in the world) and Air Quality (19th-best). San Francisco, not surprisingly given its tech- and media-obsessed populace and business travelers, ranked 14th overall in the world in our Promotion category (#17 for online reviews and #22 for search results surfaced).


Of course not every city can rule their nation the way New York, L.A. and San Francisco do. But the key to developing and managing a successful place brand for all cities and destinations today should start with an understanding of comparative advantages, and weaknesses, versus their competitive set. With data on more than 200 cities worldwide, Resonance can help your city—large or small—analyze and understand your key strengths and the differentiating characteristics that define your destination’s brand. To learn more about our approach to place branding, download your free copy of the Resonance 2017 World’s Best City Brands Report here or send me an email.


Chris Fair,
+1 (646) 413-8887