Cities are like brands – they need to have a plan, market, grow, and innovate. Cities can’t just plan and grow and expect investment, residents and tourists to appear. Just getting by can work for some cities such as Paris, Rome or Venice or other world-renown tourist cities – if that is the one of the main industries and it keeps the city going it might work. But for other cities around the world, where the competition internally within the country and externally, where other global cities are growing and innovating it becomes very important for the city to understand their competition and plan, market, grow and innovate. I am purely talking from an economic and investment point of view. I understand that cities aren’t just economic centres that generate wealth. A City is where people live, where art is created, where sport is played, where people fall in love, where people visit, where trees breathe and where life ceases these are all important elements of a city but for this post I am particularly talking about a city as economic and business brand – not a tourist or lifestyle brand.
Currently, the east coast of China has been developing at a extraordinarily rate since the early 1980’s and some are reaching a stage where its time to review what has occurred what have they learned what has worked in there city and where has the competition beat them. Many cities are starting to compete for the same talent, the same investment dollars and new businesses. In particular its becoming a fight between the Pearl River Delta(PRD), Yangtze River Delta(YRD) and Bohai Economic Rim(BER). The PRD has manufacturing and some services, YRD is the transiting to services (financial, law, business development & tech) and the BER is the government, and tech. These regions and cities require management talent – something that is developing in China but is often the reason that some business sectors don’t perform as expected because the talent pool is very shallow. So the main cities in these regions – PRD – Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Guangzhou; YRD – Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou and BER – Beijing and Tianjin are often fighting for the same money and the same talent. So like brands they need to put forward the best image and remain competitive and the only way to do that is to be a brand. Branding and Marketing is often overlooked in China as it just accepted that local and overseas people know what the city is about.
In terms of previous branding exercises Beijing used the Olympics, Shanghai the Expo and Guangzhou the Asian Games as a way to reinvigorate the city and create a brand – some brands where more successful than others but now that these events are over and written in the history books the cities need to once again think like a brand. Who can plan, market, grow and innovate in the next 30 years to become the best mega-city or region. Its also the 12th 5-year plan (125) for many developed cities in China, so many new proposals and ideas have been formulated for the next 5 years.
Currently, the lines are being drawn on what cities will be in the future. It seems that Beijing is announcing that its brand will be “Beijing Service” with industrial competitiveness in ‘human capital, knowledge and technology-intensive service industries’ creating a Silicon Valley environment with “Two Cities, Two Zone”. Shanghai is going after Financial services (New York) by creating a more friendly investment environment and also creating several new CBD/CAD areas that can house commercial development(similar to Canary Wharf) – although the existing towers of Lujiazui will be always be the ‘financial hub’. Guangzhou/Shenzhen is moving forward with manufacturing but moving more towards cleaner and greener technologies. Although the Tianjin and Guangzhou/Shenzhen will be fighting for the same green/cleantech dollars and talent. All the East Coast cities are also important shipping ports, however a shipping port as the sole city brand will not work as China transitions away from manufacturing.
Each city or mega-region needs to generate a brand that saids Tech, Financial or Manufacturing and they need to be marketed correctly to the get the right talent and increase innovation so they can gain the overseas and local capital for the next 30 years. Of course, other city brands will rise as Western China develops but currently the East Coast cities are in a period of consolidating and maturing and need to create that quintessential brand that said Financial Shanghai, High Tech Beijing, Green Tech Shenzhen and Eco-tech Tianjin.