Recently, studies on city branding extend across academicians and practitioners, and there is a considerable growing body of research and practice related to city branding. Probably, the most prevailing reason is that cities all over the world engage in marketing and branding efforts in order to stay competitive and relevant on the global market. Cities have to compete with others in all areas they can: city’s tourism capacity, competitive advantage, quality of the place, history, lifestyle, and so on. The main purpose of this study is to present the conceptual and empirical framework of İstanbul’s branding issue in terms of a tourism plan. Therefore, this study attempts to contribute researchers and project implementers by detailing branding tools of İstanbul. In order to determine branding tools, two groups of information were obtained: one is the data received through the meetings done with professionals, and the other is the data received through tourists and citizens. With this information, tourism-oriented branding tools for İstanbul are developed. The following are the basic branding strategies accepted for İstanbul: (1) tourism variability and geographic wideness, (2) originality and character, (3) interaction and communication, (4) global effect, (5) strong infrastructure and high quality of life, (6) the spirit of the city, and (7) the symbol attributed to the city.
- city branding
- city marketing
- branding tools
- brand strategy
Marketing of urban places has been practiced since the nineteenth century ; however, studies on destination image as a concept of branding theory began in the early Hunt’s (1975) influential work on the relationship between image and tourism development. The theoretical emergence of place marketing was accelerated by three developments in the marketing discipline: marketing in non-profit organizations, social marketing, and image marketing . As a subpart of the place branding, studies on city branding extend across academicians and practitioners in the last three decades , since cities all over the world engage in marketing and branding efforts in order to stay competitive and relevant on the global market . Such cities—also countries and regions—are no longer viewed just as touristic destinations. With the globalization and free and easy movement of capital, goods, and people, cities compete with each other to attract workforce, residents, and investors as well as tourists .
City branding has been defined as the “purposeful symbolic embodiment of all information connected to a city in order to create associations around it” . It can be used as a strategic tool to provide cities with a source of economic, political, and cultural value [1, 6]. It can also be seen as an instrument to communicate the city’s competitive advantage, the quality of the place, its history, lifestyle, and culture . There is a growing body of research and practice related to city branding .
In order to succeed in the globalized world without losing identity, many cities have finally acknowledged the need to brand themselves, putting those “without a brand under pressure to develop one” . Nevertheless, cities are “highly complex brands” , serving varied goals and simultaneously targeting different groups and individuals, which make them “more difficult to control than conventional product brands” . Besides, it is observed that most of the academic publications focus on what branding is not, rather than guiding to plan a city’s real needs as empirical studies .
In this context, many cities in the world are in various phases of branding process. İstanbul is one of those which are a little bit late to brand itself in the global market. This study is about providing a conceptual framework for the development of İstanbul’s city branding criteria and strategies. This chapter aims to set the readers’ sights on an in-depth view of branding strategies by means of city brands and to investigate the consistent branding actions for a specific city. Therefore, this study attempts to contribute researchers and project implementers by mentioning branding tools for İstanbul. Branding strategies development for İstanbul are realized as a part of the İstanbul Tourism Master Plan, prepared by an academic group1 for the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality. İstanbul’s governors discovered the value of branding that is why branding the İstanbul issue became a part of the İstanbul Tourism Master Plan.
2. City branding arguments
While the marketing of urban places has been practiced, at least, since the nineteenth century , cities increasingly tended to rely on marketing methods in the last three decades, when “competition for inward investment, tourism revenues and residents at various spatial scales intensified” .
Kavaratzis  mentions that early examples in the literature are only promotional activities undertaken by cities or regions in various places and times. According to Ashworth and Voogd , “there is nothing new about places being promoted by those likely to profit from their development. What is new is the conscious application of marketing approaches as a philosophy of place management.” Kavaratzis  considered city branding as “a new application of city marketing” because he identified a change of focus from the rational character of marketing interventions to creating emotional, mental, and psychological associations with a city. Nonetheless, the main argument for marketing/branding cities is the same: the competition among cities for tourists, businesses, residents, and other target groups [4, 16].
Braun  mentions that it is important to note that city branding is part of the wider “place branding family.” Braun  underlines that place branding is the family tree, with family members such as city branding, destination branding, nation branding, and location branding acting as the branches. Besides, many observers have pointed out that place marketing and place branding could involve different types of places and different spatial scales [2, 14–16, 18]. In practice, place branding could be applied to neighborhoods, districts, tourist destinations, cities, rural areas, regions, states, and countries. Pike  concluded that academia has produced a paucity of research into destination branding; a few years later, Balakrishnan  reached a similar conclusion.
In recent years, the most promising theoretical developments for city branding have been based on corporate branding theory. Hankinson’s (2007) model of places as relational brand networks moves away from product branding and develops a holistic view on place brands. It is known that, many critical issues for city branding still need to be addressed, such as the implementation of city branding. Hankinson  is one of the first authors to address the implementation of place branding empirically. This study not only indicated that branding was not always applied effectively but also identified four factors that were particularly important for the development of location brands: organizational complexity and control, the management of partnerships, product complexity, and the measurement of success. It is immediately clear that most of these factors are concerned much more with the context of the branding process than the substance of branding itself. The characteristics are not connected to the specifics of using branding, but to the context in which destination branding is applied—such as the strong dependency on macroenvironmental factors (terrorism, currency fluctuations, and politics), geographical constraints (accessibility and location), past history (inherited names, heritage, culture, and perceptions), diverse and influential stakeholders (including governments), along with feedback and control issues (no top-down decision-making structures) .
Despite these evaluations, there is limited clarity and agreement about terminology and definitions. City branding is conceptualized from different angles, and there are, evidently, different starting points and approaches in the literature. It is formed in place marketing literature, and there is not a uniform body of writing. This is mainly because of its interdisciplinary character, partly due to its derivation from marketing theories. In this field, most scholars are human geographers and city planners, and they do not pay much attention to the marketing side of the concept .
City branding is associated “primarily with economically inspired desire to position cities more positively”  and focused on “deliberately creating,” developing and demonstrating the value of city through appropriate “on brand” actions, consisting of investments, physical/economic plans, attraction programs, events, communications and the like . Consequently, when competing with others, decisions regarding further development of city and its brand must be realistic and carefully planned in accordance with numerous factors, including the city’s politics, heritage, financial resources, geographic location, cultural and social ties, and so on .
Besides all the given literature information, social media and global communication effect also have to be taken into account. Contemporary communication technologies have introduced new means for attributing meanings to places. Specifically, social media have become important platforms through which place brands can be communicated, negotiated, projected, and assessed with few spatial or temporal constraints.
In order to accomplish the objective, the spirit of media has to be fully evaluated in strategic positioning for cities’ brands and the influence of media planning on the city's branding strategy, the extent of the appearance of media and how the cities are to react to the information provided by the media.
City marketing as the umbrella concept of city branding
City marketing contains activities aiming at the promotion of a particular place. Early researches demonstrated that creating positive images for cities is a significant step to attract tourists . In the 1990s, city marketing became a common urban policy tool for the promotion of tourism. Adopting “entrepreneurial city” strategies has provided new tools of management and marketing for city officials to market their cities. For example, declining industrial cities (Liverpool, Manchester, Barcelona, Berlin, Bilbao, Turin, etc.) have marketed themselves using the “positive” images of vibrant urban life, culture, and creativity to replace “negative” associations connected to industrial cities . Because “the application of place marketing is largely dependent on the construction, communication and management of the city’s image” , cities either exploit their distinctive features or they invest in art, culture, and sports. Some cities invest in city marketing to overcome other type of negative images stemming from, for example, civil wars, ongoing conflicts and tensions or natural disasters .
According to Kavaratzis , although city marketing policies deal with the city’s image, they fail to define what is the “city product,” to affect the city’s market and understand the preferences of consumers. Caldwell and Freire  suggest that the aims of city marketing are to identify the cultural meanings and images, whereas “branding endows a product with a specific and more distinctive identity.” On the other hand, city branding provides “a base for identifying and uniting a wide range of images intended for the city and meanings attributed to the city in one marketing message, the city’s brand” . Branding provides not only a starting point for city marketing but also a framework and a practical approach to manage the city’s image .
3. Designing process of city branding strategies
In order to ensure a branding success, right strategies need to be followed. Kotler et al.  suggest applying strategic market planning approach that involves five basic steps:
Place-audit (SWOT): To estimate what the community is like and why.
Vision and goals: To determine the goals and vision of the place.
Strategy formation: To identify strategies to accomplish the goals.
Action plan: To list each action that will help to implement the strategy.
Implementation and control: To monitor and evaluate the implementation process.
Drawing upon [14, 28], Rainisto  takes the argument a step further and develops a theoretical framework for the success factors in place marketing where place marketing is analyzed from the perspective of the place marketing practices and success factors that explain success or failure of place marketing. Five elements in the inner part, or so-called self-action factors—including (a) planning group, (b) vision and strategic analysis, (c) place identity and place image, (d) public-private partnerships, and (e) leadership—represent the core building stones in place marketing practices and the organizing capacity of the place .
Rainisto  developed clearer operational plan to build a branding model for places. Again, five steps are observed in this study too. (a) Start-up and organization; (b) research stage; (c) forming brand identity; (d) making, executing and enforcing the plan; and (e) implementation and follow-up. The authors state that either of these plans “may be utilized in the context of cities, depending on their size and type” .
Planning models of place brands explained in the literature seem to have similar attributes and indicate an extremely important role played by the controlling (planning) unit and research team, which define development of vision and goals and lead toward successful formation, implementation, and evaluation of branding strategy . Strategic planning process in place marketing , theoretical framework for the success factors in place marketing , and operational plans for country and tourism destination branding  are the most comprehensive studies accomplished to date, which are directly related to the problem of the research. Following are the stages:
Stage 1. Design of planning group: The planning group has to organize, coordinate, and manage branding process of the city. Group’s responsibilities include defining and diagnosing the place’s condition, developing a vision for a place and developing a long-term action plan for investment and transformation .
Stage 2. Research step: The aim of the research stage is “to collect extensive basic information for decision-making” . This stage embodies what Kotler et al.  call place-audit, helping the planning group to understand what target audience is like and why.
Stage 3. Identification of vision and goals: Vision and goals are based on the conclusions made after the research. This is a critical stage in the city brand development process because “without a coherent vision, it is difficult to prioritize various projects” .
Stage 4. Comprehensive branding strategy formation: The purpose of this stage is to formulate a comprehensive strategic plan for the brand.
Stage 5. Development of action plan: A lack of detailed action planning poses a serious threat to successful development of a city’s brand strategies; thus, every strategy must be elaborated into the action plan. According to Ref. , action plan should list each action, plus four additional components for each action: the responsible authority, implementation strategy, cost, and completion date.
Stage 6. Implementation, control, and evaluation: Kotler et al.  observe that “visions, strategies and plans are useless until they are implemented effectively.” Therefore, this stage is a final step toward the development of city as a brand. It uncovers all strategic flaws and, at the same time, highlights the strengths.
4. Developing city branding strategies for İstanbul
In this chapter, the approach and practiced branding tools to address the city branding subject—which has been explained in terms of theoretical framework and its planning processes in the earlier chapters—in regard to Istanbul will be discussed.
The long-term urban vision of Istanbul has now evolved from industrial production to service sector and especially to tourism. It means that branding strategies for Istanbul which are planned to develop as a tourism city should also be clarified within the tourism framework. This is why Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has made the Tourism Master Plan prepared in order to manage the city’s tourism sector, envision its future, and develop the necessary strategies. The tourism sector has been thoroughly analyzed and the methods aiming “how to sell Istanbul to tourists” have also been discussed parallel with the other topics in the master plan. As known, it is not easy to develop tourism strategies for a great metropolitan like Istanbul which is quite diversified. Therefore, the branding and marketing strategies designed for this city must be based on certain assumptions and tools.
The methods for developing branding strategies recommended by many experts, including Kotler and Rainisto, have been almost completely implemented in the case of Istanbul; initially, the groups with the potential of leading and directing the city’s branding strategies have been identified. These groups were brought together in the meetings involving the public institutions, private sector, and NGOs. Additionally, people and institutions that live in this city as tourists, residents, commercial units, and are a part of the city’s economy have also been surveyed. All these researches stemming from the primary source have been quite useful in determining the strategies for Istanbul.
The second phase of the study proceeded with the evaluation and comparison with cities which successfully manage branding process in the world. After the secondary sources review, the local dynamics participating in the process—survey with local and foreign tourists, the interviews with local authorities, focus group meeting results with sector representatives—have been taken into consideration. In addition to all, the obligatory plans of Istanbul and the supporting legal procedures have been directed to the process. Thus, the necessary steps for Istanbul have been clarified and put forward.
The vision and goals are identified in the third phase. The vision designed for Istanbul is of high importance in terms of the practicality and feasibility of branding strategies. Branding strategies have been developed in regard to Istanbul’s identity and its prospective place in the market.
The fourth phase is the phase where all the specifics of this work are being addressed. To identify city branding strategies, one of the most important strategies is brand positioning. Brand positioning describes how a brand is different from its competitors and where, or how, it sits in a particular market. So, from this point of view, it is aimed to create a common message to differentiate Istanbul from other cities for target groups. The steps followed to identify Istanbul’s branding strategies are as follows: (1) tourism variability and geographic wideness, (2) originality and character, (3) interaction and communication, (4) global effect, (5) strong infrastructure and high quality of life, (6) the spirit of the city, and (7) the symbol attributed to the city.
It should be emphasized once again that Istanbul’s branding strategy focuses on tourism-based branding. The reason is that Istanbul is not being envisioned as an industrial city in its development plans, but as a city with service sector accumulation shaped by cultural tourism. Therefore, branding strategies for Istanbul have been developed in a way that they shed light on city’s touristic identity in regard to its vision.
The criteria mentioned above are quite exclusive to İstanbul itself. These criteria can represent different concepts for various cities of the world. Namely, a city does not have to meet all the abovementioned criteria in order to become a worldwide known brand. The tools taken into consideration in Istanbul’s branding process are asserted below:
1. Tourism variability and geographic wideness
Istanbul is a substantial city, offering tourists many alternative tours and experiences. To realize İstanbul in a better market position, increasing number of thematic tours and expressing the city’s tourism with its own unique stories are some of the ways. The local governments provide the tourists’ infrastructure, assets which are right and proper for this much huge city. It is important that the taken measures are corresponding to city’s physical, social, and economic carrying capacity. Another important step to make sure that foreign tourists completely perceive the city’s greatness should be strengthening the transport system. Favoring public transportation in İstanbul will increase the satisfaction of tourists and also locals’ quality of life.
The city is rapidly sprawling and its population is getting over 14 million. However, the visitors generally spend time in a limited touristic core site and leave after short overnight stay. Istanbul is undoubtedly more than a few mosques and squares. But, unfortunately, visitors leave the city with little to no awareness of its valuable assets.
2. Originality and character
Istanbul with its history of thousand years, cultural background, natural beauty, tolerance coming from its location on the crossing of roads and continents is probably the most unique and original city of the world, which has been the capital of three different civilizations. This character is the reason for the increasing number of tourists and Istanbul’s annually ascending share in the tourism market.
Originality and character are the most important strategic factors of marketing and branding activities. Istanbul’s originality and the way it differs from other cities are the main qualification of the branding strategies. The originality of a city can be basically defined as the one determining the city’s character, its identity and its place in history. However, the strategy is also supposed to draw attention to the risks in this scope. A city can only be considered unique and characteristic when it offers a special image to its visitors and residents, whereas Istanbul is left behind in this regard because of its undesirably rapid transformation process. Even the locals of the city cannot live up to this rapid transformation, while at the same time causing the city to possibly lose its special image. The constant modifications made in the city squares, public areas, buildings’ functionality, and the unsustainable transport connections seem to be the contributing causes aimed to make the city lose its history and image.
To sum it all up, it is necessary to develop a branding strategy that will protect the city’s originality and character, which are the base of its marketing and promotional strategies, pay regard to the city’s historical/cultural heritage, and focus on tourism as much as the city’s carrying capacity allows.
3. Interaction and communication
The necessary communication criteria assess the ability whether the city properly communicates with its tourists, locals, and investors. The criteria are
Consistency with the country’s image
Corresponding to the target group
The communicational instruments assessed with the abovementioned criteria have to be used in every aspect of communication in the city. Another point is that these criteria provide us with the necessary tips to determine the elements of proper communication. In addition, creating the motto and defining its communicational method as well as its usage frequency, its share in the marketing and promotional budget are the important steps to take. The leading tips for Istanbul’s branding strategies within the scope of abovementioned criteria are presented below:
The strategy developed for Istanbul’s city branding is supposed to be continuous with respect to how it is featured and presented in the digital platform but also to the promotional elements including the colors, motto, and the image. This strategy should be inclusive of all preferences, on the contrary of focusing on certain political views. Branding elements should be determined in accordance with a wide spectrum of inclusiveness.
Consistency with the country’s image
According to the statistics, one can see that the second most visited destination after Antalya is Istanbul. So it would not be wrong to use the expression “Istanbul is Turkey.” Turkey’s position in the global market directly affects Istanbul and the other touristic cities. For this reason, nationwide strategies and plans remain important. Some of those nationwide strategical documents are The 10th Turkey Development Plan (2014–2018 term), Medium Term Program (2012–2014), Tourism Strategy of Turkey 2023, Tourism Vision of Turkey, Istanbul Environmental Plan, and Regional Plan of Istanbul for 2010–2013 prepared by various public institutions.
A branding strategy can be considered successful when it is remembered by its target group. The fact that the city has a catchy image in the minds of local and tourists indicates that the communication methods and image elements have been effectively selected. A tourist who leaves the city with positive impressions remembers the city positively and conveys his/her thoughts to people. On the other hand, the fact that a city is remembered in a negative way, it reflects more negatively and it affects more people. During the master plan process, tourist surveys were conducted. Surveys proved that the first three things that spring to tourists mind are the “monuments and historical sites,” “multicultural and cosmopolitan city,” and “Bosphorus.”2 That is why it would be rational to build Istanbul’s branding strategies on these bases.
Istanbul should focus on differences and characteristics in its communication strategies. Istanbul’s unique values and its urban identity make it different from other cities. Urban identity is consisted of the city’s history, social pattern of the residents, economical elements, and natural beauty as a whole, and Istanbul must defend, protect, and provide its uniqueness for its residents and itself first.
A branding strategy should possess the most persuasive methods and factors. Very few cities in the world manage to offer different kinds of products and services. So Istanbul should also set goals matching its soul and act on these goals in the most stubborn way. The strategy should comprise positive messages and create positive connections with the human soul because otherwise it cannot be considered catchy and persuasive.
Corresponding to the target group
The target groups for Turkey’s tourism sector have been defined as “the people who have middle and upper level of education and income, favoring price and quality, young/middle aged and aged 65+ with substantial travel experience who want to have a unique travel experience” in the upper scale strategy reports. As it is seen, the target group for Turkey has been defined and therefore branding strategy should be referring to this group.
An effective motto is a powerful factor adding to all the other communication elements assessed above. It integrates all of these factors as a whole. So Istanbul can utilize an inclusive and effective motto for its diversifying promotional strategies in various markets. This means that this motto would help the city reach its target groups, be persuasive and focus on its original, memorable and continuous image. The motto must be a result of long contemplations but has to be easily comprehensible at the same time. It should express itself in short, clear, and original way. This motto should not only take place in TV ads, billboards, or exhibitions but also in the minds of the locals and daily life of the city. Due to this, the motto must be acceptable to everyone and must definitely benefit from technology. The motto should be together with its supportive products in the market.
4. Global effect
The brand positioning of cities in the branding process is relative to their global influence. Global influence of cities is based on the social and economic value that the city produces and also product and services it offers to the world. The social and economic value of a city is related with the brand of the city itself. And this social and economic value can be represented by various things in the city including its football club, its famous nightlife, its food, music, musicians, shopping centers, festivals, etc.
5. Strong infrastructure and high quality of life
Cities cannot position themselves in the branding process unless they have strong urban and tourism infrastructure. The fact that a city has physical, spatial, and intellectual infrastructure as part of its branding value strengthens the quality and recognizability of its branding value. A city must meet all the infrastructure requirements necessary for its potential branding value.
6. The spirit of city
The marketing paradigm of our age accepts systems with integrated marketing strategy and with proper communication channels instead of propaganda. The age of unidirectional communication is over. The advertising campaigns of past run by one company are now replaced by systems that are downloadable to smartphones and tablets, possible to transfer to digital platforms, easily comprehensible and integrated. The spirit of Istanbul should be productized into a computer game, a souvenir, a story, a color, or a smell.
7. The symbol attributed to the city
Istanbul is a multicultural city offering various kinds of experiences. Its history of 10,000 years, having been the capital of three civilizations, being the hot spot of tolerance are the reasons that it has thousands of cultural inventory, civil architecture sites, and monuments. That is why it is impossible to only focus on one feature of a city with so many assets. As a matter of fact, Istanbul offers many alternatives in the tourism sector—ranging from health tourism to congress tourism. It is also the actual capital of the country if not official. So creating a single symbol for Istanbul can be not so practical for such a city. In spite of all of these, a short, clear motto created after long contemplations and supported by industrial products of the city and art activities, including movies and music, will help originate a word that firstly comes to mind about Istanbul.
Cities of the world started to get attracted to the world of marketing and branding, especially after the nineteenth century. The theoretical framework of place marketing occurred by three developments in the marketing discipline: marketing in non-profit organizations, social marketing, and image marketing. This introduction is one of the results of global meaning differentiation of cities. More than half of the world population now lives in cities, and an important part of gross world product is gained from the cities. Travel and transportation of people, products, and services have become easier as well thanks to the developed transport and communication systems. These all contribute to the connection between cities while creating a competitive environment at the same time. So in this scope, it is mentioned that the brand representing Istanbul must reflect its diverse composition, its tourism form, which offers a wide spectrum of alternatives and its promising future in terms of economic and social aspects. Istanbul offers diversity with its big population, rich history, and growing economy, rather than offering a future only on a certain sector. However, this diversity can bring the risk of uncertainty and chaos if the governors of the city do not manage to steer the branding process.
Due to the success of city branding activities, there are some certain steps to be followed. These widely accepted steps are: (1) designing planning group, (2) searching the issue, (3) identification of vision and goals, (4) comprehensive branding strategy formation, and (5) development of an action plan. These leading steps can be expressed differently.
This chapter discusses the assessment of branding issue that has been addressed in scope of theoretical framework and planning processes and the results of this assessment for Istanbul in light of the conceptual approaches. The process that has been taken in developing Istanbul’s branding strategies suits the steps presented above. Istanbul’s branding development process—the work groups, research steps, the vision and goals—has been summarized in the chapter. The means and methods used to plan Istanbul’s branding strategies are thoroughly explained. Seven efficient criteria have been evaluated in order to assess the brand positioning process: These are (1) tourism variability and geographic wideness, (2) originality and character, (3) interaction and communication, (4) global influence, (5) strong infrastructure and high quality of life, (6) the spirit of the city, and (7) the symbol attributed to the city of Istanbul.
The criterion of “interaction and communication” is the one which was explained thoroughly. Subtitles have been developed in order to explain the establishment of proper interaction and communication. The subtitles show us the importance of communicational continuity, its consistency with the country’s image, its memorability and persuasiveness, its coherence with the target group and the necessity of being supported by an effective motto. Additionally, the current situation of Istanbul has been assessed based on each of these criteria. The assessment of criteria was introduced to the Metropolitan Municipality as a report resulting in even more clarification of the brand positioning strategies to be designed for the city. The approach that will be determined for Istanbul’s branding has been provided with a detailed description at the end of the branding assessments.
This study has several limitations. The main limitation is that it explored literature (published in scholarly references) and case studies in English. Analyzing studies in native languages may deepen national perspectives. This is a viewpoint for both limitation and future studies for the natives for any other languages. As a further research, including the references and case studies on other geographical entities can contribute to literature by drawing a more detailed map, and by doing so, the future directions of researches may be set.
The city branding literature is still open for development by urban planners’ perspective. Because there are gaps in the literature in terms of theories and approaches, there is a need to find common ground of planning-oriented approaches. Another point for future studies is that the knowledge should be deepened regarding branding tools based on the internet and digital platforms.
- Besides some more, the author was responsible for “branding and marketing of İstanbul” issue in “Istanbul Tourism Master Plan” project.
- A total of 7200 local and foreign tourist have been surveyed during the preparation of the Tourism Master Plan.