Increasingly, reputation, quality of place and the perceived brand of a city is determining where talent, capital and tourism flow. But what specific factors shape the perception of a city today? Read on.

Places are powerful.

Cities, their neighborhoods, and the public places within them connect us to one another in ways that online worlds simply cannot. They also shape our perception of a city’s character, and today, the idea of place and its relative quality play growing roles in our prosperity as well.

The prosperity of a place was historically defined by location-based factors: proximity to resources, ports, markets or other location-based advantages. But as economies in developed countries have shifted from manufacturing to services, geography and location-based factors have become less important in determining the prosperity of places. Increasingly, reputation, quality of place and the perceived brand of a city is determining where talent, capital and tourism flow. But what factors shape our perception of a city today?

To find out, Resonance Consultancy partnered with global research leader Ipsos earlier this year to conduct a study of both the general U.S. population and business leaders and decision-makers to identify the factors that shape our perception of cities as places to do business, to live and to visit.

The diagram below reflects the factors respondents told us were most important in choosing a city to do business, to live or visit. As you can see, some factors such as safety, weather and cost are important in choosing a city for all three. Others such as availability and affordability of housing are important both in choosing a city to do business and in choosing a city to live.

The factors that respondents told us were most important in choosing a city to do business, to live or visit.
The factors that respondents told us were most important in choosing a city to do business, to live or visit.

Interestingly, while some factors are much more important than others in choosing a city to live or visit, when it comes to choosing a city to do business, business leaders considered all of these factors to be of almost equal importance. And while most of the factors like tax rates, quality of workforce and infrastructure are exactly what you would expect to see, one particular factor stood out that overlaps with attracting people to a city to visit—having “an exciting city environment.”

Furthermore, our research at Resonance indicates that the more quality nightlife, arts, culture and culinary experiences a city has, the more foreign visitors and foreign direct investment it attracts.

However, business attraction and investment promotion has typically been centered on touting the functional features of a place in terms of tax rates, infrastructure and such. But if an exciting city environment is just as important to businesses, shouldn’t economic development organizations also be communicating this as part of their story?

I believe they should and that as the factors that drive businesses, talent and visitors to choose a city become increasingly aligned, so too should the marketing and branding of it.

Our research revealed that having “an exciting city environment” attracts visitors and investment to cities.

This, we believe, means that cities should be more closely aligning their economic development and tourism branding and promotion. But there’s scant evidence of that happening in the U.S. and Canada.

However, there are other cities such as London, Amsterdam and Tel Aviv that are leveraging their exciting city environments that we can look to for insights on what the future of city branding and marketing might look like.

Amsterdam Marketing describes itself as “the city marketing organization of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, presenting the region as a dynamic place to live and work, an attractive travel destination and an innovative business location.” Under a single brand and through a single website, information on visiting, living, studying or doing business in Amsterdam is available.

Earlier this year I sat down with Frans van der Avert, the CEO of Amsterdam Marketing who shared his views on the marketing and promotion of cities today. While Amsterdam Marketing has a strong tourism focus, van der Avert says they are not a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO).

I don’t think anyone should call themselves a DMO anymore.
Frans van der Avert, the CEO of Amsterdam Marketing

“I don’t think anyone should call themselves a DMO anymore. I think this is really yesterday. We are a city marketing organization,” he says. “We don’t do any consumer marketing anymore. We were the first ‘DMO’ to stop doing active consumer marketing in 2014. Everybody was looking at me like ‘what you don’t do anything active anymore?’ The only thing we do is try to inform people about how big the city is and lead them to quality offerings.”

The organizations mandate now is to strike a balance between residents, visitors and businesses for the entire Amsterdam metropolitan area, which isn’t an easy task. But it points to what city marketing might look like in the future.

Here in the U.S., a much cited example of a city that has created a positioning and brand that resonates with both residents, visitors and businesses is Nashville with its “Music City” brand. While it’s owned and promoted by the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, the brand clearly positions the city and the experience it offers – not only for tourism but as a differentiator when it comes to attracting talent and investment as well.

European cities like London are ahead of North America in streamlining their DMO and EDO positioning.

Another U.S. city known for its exciting city environment is New Orleans. At the International Economic Development Council’s Future Forum this summer, I spoke with Quentin Messer Jr., the president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance, and we discussed the pros and cons of aligning a city’s branding for both tourism and economic development. In the case of a city like New Orleans, he says they need to be separate but work closely together.

“As I like to say New Orleans is a place that is sexy smart. You can have fun and do all of those things and be cool, but you can wake up Monday morning and do world class legal work, software design, medical research or health care provision in the same city. That’s a unique quality of place,” he says.

Despite New Orleans' reputation as a party town, tourism and economic development groups are collaborating like never before.

But it also makes for an interesting branding challenge. “I think the brands have to be separate because no other city has a reputation as being “The Big Easy.” That does not rationally align with ‘oh you go to do business there’. But what we’ve done is economic development and destination marketing organizations in New Orleans are working more closely together than we ever have,” explains Messer who shared an example of a “Why NOLA?” campaign created by the Business Alliance in partnership with the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation that used the voices of business people who selected New Orleans as a place to do their business to promote the city.

Clearly there is no one size fits all solution for the branding and marketing of cities. But there is a trend. As the factors that shape our perception and influence our choice of cities to live, do business or visit become increasingly aligned, so too will the alignment between tourism and investment promotion. How that alignment is structured both organizationally and in terms of branding will vary from one city to the next.

To learn more about Building Your Community’s Brand, please join our Learning Lab at IEDC in Atlanta on Tuesday October 2 at 7:30 a.m.

To learn more about Building Your Community’s Brand, please join our Learning Lab at IEDC in Atlanta on Tuesday October 2 at 7:30 a.m. where we’ll be sharing our latest research on the factors that shape a city’s competitive identity as a place to do business, live and visit.

We’ll also share new research on which of these perception shaping factors are most highly correlated with attracting foreign direct investment and examples of how economic development organizations can use this information to create authentic data driven positioning and marketing strategies to engage the audiences they are seeking to attract.

If you are not able to attend and would like to learn more about Resonance’s approach to city branding, please send me an email.