- since 2011 -

Brand of hope and glory

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

In the competitive world of destination tourism, the Liverpool City Brand is exploiting its greatest asset - us

Liverpool logo

Like the Liverpool City Brand? I do, which is why it's on my website. It's clearly evolved from the 2008 European Capital of Culture logo, and I love the fact that it's simple and recognisable with no unnecessary tagline. Message: Liverpool doesn't need a slogan - it speaks for itself.

It's a kitemark of quality (I hope) and a badge of prestige but also inclusiveness - anyone can use the brand if they abide by the T&Cs. In other words, everyone can join in, and that's got to be a winning strategy. Go to the Liverpool City Brand website (www.liverpoolcitybrand.co.uk) and, sure, there's the usual stuff about 'essence' and 'values', but most of all there's one word repeated over and over again: 'people'.

'People are the creative heart and the distinctive voice of the city', it says. 'The Liverpool Brand draws its strength from the people and organisations that embrace it'. No wonder the list of brand 'advocates' is a who's-who of familiar names from the city's business, cultural and public-sector communities - from writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce and theatre director Gemma Bodinetz to fashionista Justine Mills and city councillor Gary Millar. 'Who speaks for Liverpool?' asked its recent billboard campaign. 'We all do.'

The City of Liverpool, from the Anglican Cathedral

The City of Liverpool, from the Anglican Cathedral. Picture by Tony Nye

So, if the Liverpool brand - and its most valuable marketing resource - is its citizens, what about other cities? How do they see - and sell - themselves? There's a fascinating weblog (citybranding.typepad.com) by American author and consultant Bill Baker that identifies the success stories and car crashes as cities try to transform themselves into 'compelling destinations that can consistently present outstanding visitor experiences'.

There's uplifting news from New Orleans, which has found the resilience to bounce back from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill to attract over 8 million visitors (spending $5.3 billion) in 2010; and a cautionary tale from Mexican resort-city Cancun, which has suffered by association with the country's broader image problem of drug-related crime.

Shanghai, meanwhile, wants a Disneyland to boost its target of 240 million domestic and 10 million foreign tourists by 2015; Cairo hopes to cash in on Tahrir Square as a new tourist destination; while Cape Town wants to counter the perception that it's not 'just' a tourist destination but also a leader in IT and business.

There are daft slogans like 'Zaragoza - a Challenge, a City' and 'Only Lyon'; good ones like 'Keep Austin Weird' and 'What Happens in Vegas'; and truly great ones like 'I Love NY' - the universal benchmark that transformed New York with its heart motif and now appears on everything from baseball caps to coffee mugs (and launched in the mid-1970s at a low point in the city's history).

Salem, Massachusetts logo

More recently Salem, Massachusetts, is marketing itself with the tagline 'Still Making History' and a logo that is part-witch's hat and part-sailboat (the city is a popular maritime destination); and Santa Monica now styles itself as 'California's most celebrated beach city' (as recognised by National Geographic).

So where does Liverpool fit in to all of this? The Guardian asks a panel of branding experts how cities can become not just locations but destinations (www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/oct/01/city.urban.branding). Branding isn't a magic wand, they warned, and in some cases you simply can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

"The brand has to be based on what is already there in a city or else it is just like giving someone a nice haircut," says Marcus Mitchell from branding agency Corporate Edge. "It might look good for a while, but it doesn't give you a new personality."

Santa Monica, California logo

Jonathan Gabay of Brand Forensics adds: "It isn't just about the logo but the intricate details - as small as clean streets and as deep as getting a city's residents to feel proud to be brand ambassadors. When citizens are proud, visitors are encouraged to find out what the fuss is all about and then tell the world."

Which is where Liverpool has always had a head start. Along with civic pride, USPs like music and popular culture, football, history and the waterfront together create a strong identity and distinctive sense of place - all part of the charm offensive recently conducted in London with advertisements at train and tube stations and now the so-called Liverpool Embassy (www.liverpoolinlondon.com) in the capital. The mint on the pillow, ideally, is ambition/policy vision and an enticing business climate.

For all this, the city still punches above its weight according to research conducted by global brand consultancy, Saffron (www.citymayors.com/marketing/city-brands.html). In a study entitled The City Brand Barometer they ranked over 70 European cities based on a comparison of their assets (cultural and historical attractions, cuisine and shopping, climate and public transport) against the strength of their brands (measured in terms of pictorial recognition, positive/attractive qualities, conversational value and media recognition).

The usual suspects - Paris, London, Barcelona, Berlin and Amsterdam - emerge as the cities with the best assets and the strongest brands to match. But Liverpool has an excellent brand ranking of 28th despite a low asset ranking of 66th.

For 2008 the city's tagline was 'the world in one city', which London expropriated for its 2012 Olympics bid. Today it seems that the placename itself is enough - suggesting confidence, maturity and no tendency to tug the forelock the second someone from the capital comes calling.

"Liverpool, Edinburgh and Paris are successfully branded cities," says Michael Hamilton, founder of brand consultants The Hamiltons. "They ooze the most culture.

"Liverpool has had an incredible turnaround in terms of its politics and physical deprivation. It's such a thriving city - with clubs and bars, a financial centre and retail - so there's something for everyone. Any tourist or business visitor wants to have a sense of where a city's heartbeat is, and that's what I get from these cities, along with a sense of pride and dramatic architecture."

The Liverpool City Brand. Our unofficial tagline: 'Is right'.

'Along with civic pride, USPs like music and popular culture, football, history and the waterfront together create a strong identity and distinctive sense of place'


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The Liverpolitan
Published at Brighter Design
Unit 26A, Britannia Pavilion,
Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AD

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