The World Cities with the Most Powerful Brands


Guardian Cities global city brand barometer. Source: Saffron Brand Consultants 

To establish our list of the world’s most powerful city brands, we asked Saffron, a brand consultancy that prides itself on its expertise in urban branding, to update its 2008 study of European cities into an assessment of 57 major cities around the world. The resulting "brand barometer" is eye-opening: did anyone expect LA to beat New York or London? Or Tokyo and Venice to fall so flat?

The report measures two aspects of a city's brand: its “assets” – attractions, climate, infrastructure (particularly transport), safety and economic prosperity – and its “buzz”, a combination of social media (Facebook likes and Twitter sentiment analysis) and media mentions. Assets and buzz were each graded out of 10; the numbers were added to produce a total score. (Scroll down for an interactive bar chart of the final ranking.)

Although the research was not limited to English language results, the use of social media sites popular among western countries must be taken into account when digesting the list. In China, Renren and Weibo are used rather than Facebook and Twitter, which may go some way to explaining the poor showing of Shanghai, for example. Tokyo scores a buzz of just 2, again due partly to Japan using its own social media engines – yet Seoul does remarkably well on the same criteria.

“The western world is just not that in touch with the far east,” says Ian Stephens of Saffron. “Tokyo remains, for most people, an alien place for an alien experience. [Its brand] is underperforming relative to its assets. Whereas Seoul's and Singapore's offerings are on a more global basis: visitors are very pleasantly surprised at what they find there, it's less 'foreign' than they might have thought.

"This brand list is all about how cities use their assets, how they do the best with what they have. Singapore, for example, is a transport hub and seems to be doing quite a lot with that basic thing.”

Mumbai and Mecca are two more examples of up-and-comers in the brand stakes, while European cities – with the exception of London and Paris – struggle. Venice isn't the only loser, just the most surprising. “All the European cities do relatively poorly, perhaps because there are so many crammed up against each other,” says Stephens.

On the whole, the results do show a clear correlation between asset strength and brand reputation. Cities hoping to buy themselves a bit of buzz should take this to heart. As Saffron founder Wally Olins, who died this month, liked to say: when it comes to brands, you can't just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.

*This article is cross-posted with special permission from the Guardian Cities

Head photo: Trey Ratcliff, Flickr