• Matteo Rinaldi

Here Is Why Istanbul Needs City Marketing!

Most of the time we hear about marketing strategies that are related to products, services or even people (personal branding), but what happens when the objective is to brand a city or a country? What are the main differences, and more importantly, how can we create successful marketing campaigns?

With City Marketing (also known as Destination Marketing) experts use to define the promotion of a city, or a district within it, with the aim of encouraging certain activities to take place there. It is used to alter the external perceptions of a city in order to encourage tourism, attract inward migration of residents, or encourage business relocation.

Surprisingly enough, a City Marketing strategy is not that much different from a go to market strategy in the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) business. Indeed, in both cases, the objective is the same: grow the business. As in any marketing strategy, the key steps are three: Targeting, Positioning, and Execution.

Targeting: Portraying a Lifestyle.

We start the marketing process as we do all marketing strategies by defining the business objectives and identifying our target customer we need to reach to achieve these objectives. With this in mind, it’s clear that the targeting phase is very important. It’s important to determine from the start what kind of lifestyle we want our city to represent and then target customers (visitors) that reflect that lifestyle. Indeed, successful brands (or cities) are the ones that are able to portray a certain lifestyle. Just like Harley Davidson represents the “Bad Guy” lifestyle, Amsterdam represents the city of freedom, or Paris the city of Love & Beauty. The following personality depicts these different city personalities.

Brand Positioning: Crucial Emotional Experience

Once we have a clear target group in mind and a lifestyle that we want to portray, the next step is to understand what we want to stand for with our ‘brand’ identity. There is one learning from FMCGs which we can apply also in the city marketing: people buy for emotional reasons and then justify their purchases with rational reasons to support the emotional decision. Cities that want to be on the top of the wish list of travelers, need to provide an emotional experience to their customers.

In order to create such experience, we have to understand which ones are the key functional and emotional benefits that are linked with our city. Like the example below.

While creating a city marketing strategy it is important to always do a “reality check” by asking ourselves three key questions:

Is it Meaningful?

The functional and emotional benefits and the crucial emotional experience must be meaningful (relevant) for our target group. In other words, we need to make sure that the lifestyle that we want our city to portray is in line with the brand values. If the target group of Vegas was “House Wife”, they would probably not being attracted by the experience that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”.

Is it Deliverable?

Can our city really deliver on what we want to stand for? We need to meet the expectation of our target as well as deliver on what we are promising to them. If New York claims to be the “city that never sleeps”, people would then be highly disappointed if they don’t find a place to dance on a Monday night.

Is it Defendable?  

It is important that the territory where we want to play is “ownable” and there are no cities that can deliver better than us on our experience. Mikonos will always be second to Ibiza when it comes to pure partying, just like Atlantic City will always be second to Las Vegas when it comes to gambling.

Engaging Marketing Campaigns.

The last step is to a create city marketing campaigns that enables potential visitors to engage on an emotional level. This last part is fundamental and in many cases was also able to change the “destiny” of a city. This was the case of New York when the US sociologist and urbanist Lewis Mumford expressed the opinion that the city would be killed by its own expansion. Indeed, in the 1970s, New York was in what seemed to be an unstoppable decline. In May 1975 NYC Mayor Beame was forced to announce that the city was near bankruptcy and probably would not be able to even pay its employees' salaries. Crime was running rampant with tourists routinely mugged on the cities subways and in the iconic Central Park and Times Square.

After 2 years of financial crises and a ramped up crack down on drugs and street crime, the city begins to grow up again and work on its image by launching the "I❤NY" campaign, which immediately became successful. The goal was to free the huge metropolis from the weight of a past, marked by uncertainty and fear to reposition as a smiling upbeat experience by leveraging the proudness of being a resident or visitor to such an incredible city of diversity and excitement.

Since then, New York has come back to shine, demonstrating improvement in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), with decreased crime, increased employment and a massive restoration of Times Square and important landmark hotels

The campaign was so successful that many other cities start adopting it from all around the world from Barcelona to Paris, and from Sao Paulo to Sydney.

In 1989 Chicago also made a city rebranding with a slogan of immediate impact: "Chicago wants to remind you that the first four letters of his name are Chic". It was broadcasted on the country's largest spot television networks with pictures of skyscrapers overlooking the city, elegant restaurants, and jazz clubs.

Charles Landry in his book The Art of City Making comparing the city marketing with the marketing of any other product, such as cars or computers. There are almost the same rules and principles which we can observe from the New York advertising campaign, which was implemented to attract businesses and industries to the city.

There are also many other great examples, such as Berlin, London, and Amsterdam. But what do these cases have in common? Each of these cities has their own story to tell and each one has been able to tell it by linking their brand name to a tangible lifestyle.

City marketing can be a great tool for raising the growth prospects of a city, especially for poorer socio-economic realities where it can be difficult to attract new private investment, stimulating the involvement of the population and all the other participants that could be involved in a project that invests in the city. However, it is necessary to use a language understandable by the various participants involved, especially from potential private investors, whose participation is fundamental.

Effective City Marketing means understanding the target audience, and consequently create an experience that can engage with them emotionally to the point of making citizens and tourists real brand ambassadors and city evangelists who promote the city’s values and lifestyle.

What about Istanbul?

I consider myself a very lucky person that was able to live in this beautiful and vibrant city for more than a year. In my opinion, Istanbul is a city that has not been able to fully express its potential. Companies like Turkish Airlines have tried to “market Istanbul” and have made a significant contribution to increasing Istanbul’s awareness, but it is not enough. Comparing to other successful cities, even if objectively less beautiful, they were able to stand for a specific experience. Marketers and City Marketing experts are still trying to answer to the question: What is Istanbul REALLY about?

In my opinion, a possible path can be that Istanbul stands for: Inspiring People. Such powerful experience can be supported by the fact that is full of paradoxes and contradictions: I am always amazed when I see very old and traditional places next to very new buildings, an old market next to a big mall; or when I see a mosque, and then 100 yards away there is a Christian church. I believe this is what makes Turkey unique and beautiful: there is magic in every corner.

It can also be support by the functional benefit of a cultural and historical place and by the fact that in the past Istanbul, at that time called Constantinople, was considered the center of the world and the meeting of different culture (East & West). We can also talk about people hospitality and friendliness, or the fact that is relatively affordable and a better deal to other alternatives.

The opportunity is that Istanbul has the potential to stand for many things, but first its planners and marketers need to understand who the target group is and what kind of lifestyle do we want Istanbul to portray to them. Secondly, we need to decide what kind of emotional experience will be able to engage these potential visitors and then create an impactful campaign that will be able to put Istanbul high on the wish list of tourists and visitors. 

#HumanCentricMarketing #Istanbul #Branding


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