Academic lesson (part 2): Umbrella brand for cities?

A brief by Elise Baudelet, junior expert in territorial marketing at CAAC

Following the overview of the dont’s in city branding, this post will focus on umbrella design.
As cities are parts of wider territories (eg: regions, states, countries) there is a major concern regarding how the stakeholders perceive a place and how to define its identity.

The differences between a place like a city and the country where it belongs have to be clearly underlined to avoid a confusion that could damage a place branding strategy by mixing messages.

In marketing, umbrella brands (or family brands) are used to empower brands through the awareness of the parent or corporate brand. Therefore, a consumer has a clue to value a brand that he may not know, since it shares characteristics with a well-known one. Yet, an umbrella strategy has to demonstrate consistency to be efficient. For marketing science, products have to be related to create a family brand. The risks posed by one or more products should be detected before they can affect the whole family.

Even if cities are not products, a parallel with family brands could be helpful in the articulation of integrated city branding as they drive to target different segments. They also increase awareness of small cities as part of a strongest brand.

Indeed, as the cultures of cities inside a region are quite similar, umbrella branding is then consistent. Cities could develop their own brand and manage their uniqueness while being part of a larger community. In a way, this strategy gathers each actor by their similarities and, at the same time, holds the differences clear. Actually, as cities compete even in the same country or region, this point is vital.

Baray, J. (1) states that the measurement of cities’ awareness shows that it is correlated with their country dynamism. Thus, managers have to integrate local as well as national elements to define place identity.

A city network like the Conference of Atlantic Arc Cities or regions’ associations like the Atlantic Arc Commission, may create a parent brand for cities. In this sense, CAAC has been working in the Atlantic Arc Brand for cities in projects like SPAA, TONETA or, lately, ATBRAND. This project offers an opportunity for small and medium-sized cities in Western Europe to reinforce their brand by beneficiating from the Atlantic awareness that highlights their culture, the great history and heritage shared in this area. For a stakeholder (eg: company, tourist…) that is not familiar with the city it will be the assurance of its value, quality and identity.

(1) Baray, J. (2008) Marketing territorial : Appréciation du rayonnement international des villes et des régions du monde par le nombre de leurs références sur les moteurs de recherche web. La Revue des Sciences de Gestion n° 234