When you think of Barcelona and of the names of prestigious firms, three or four examples come immediately to mind to anyone involved in marketing.
This is the case of Natura Bissé cosmetics, the clothing brand Mango and Custo Barcelona, who began adding the city’s name to theirs in 1996, tired of being mistaken for an Italian firm abroad. These are companies with significant presence in foreign markets that have decided to associate their names to Barcelona as they are convinced that this will improve their brand image.
Interestingly, this decision has also had another related result: because they are reputable companies themselves, they are now also contributing to the positive perception of the city.
As well, the Barcelona City Council is now involved in a comprehensive management of the Barcelona brand, a project that includes the signing of agreements with companies that bear the name of the city. And what is the result? The Barcelona brand, a great umbrella that is wide spread in richness and colour.
What is the current health status of the Barcelona brand? Does it have a favourable overall diagnosis? Does it show any slight symptom of the passage of time or may it also have been affected by the crisis?
The answers to these questions have been unveiled by research studies such as the one performed in 2008 by the British consultancy firm Saffron, that found Barcelona – together with Berlin and Amsterdam – in third place for the best European city brand ranking. The first is Paris, followed by London, while Madrid ranks eleventh.
The study looked at the assets of 72 European cities with more than 450,000 inhabitants and compared them with the strength of each city’s brand name. Questionnaires were prepared to find out whether people could recognize the city shown in a postcard without reading the information, what positive qualities they associated with that city, whether it was fashionable to drop in a conversation at parties:
“Hello, I just came from …”, and the press coverage of each city comparing the times each city’s name was mentioned within a given time frame. The Barcelona brand scored 96 out of 100.
Another source to take into consideration is the eighth edition of the 2009-2010 Informe de l’Observatori Barcelona, prepared by the Barcelona City Council and the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce.This study compares Barcelona to other cities in terms of business, knowledge, tourism, sustainability, quality of life, prices and costs, labour market and training.
Its findings suggest that the city maintains a strong international position and its brand shows great strength, in spite of the recent recession. According to the report of the European Cities Monitor 2010, Barcelona ranked fifth among the best European cities for business.
In addition, it ranks first, ahead of others such as Paris, London or Zurich, in terms of quality of life for its workers. Barcelona takes second position for its promotional activities and is listed as the 4th best known city. Another point to consider is that Barcelona is the only city that is home to two of the ten best business schools in Europe.
Juan Carlos Belloso, expert in strategy and positioning of cities, confirms the excellent reputation of the Catalan capital abroad: “It is a medium-sized city, but it competes with the big cities of the world and is seen as a modern, dynamic, entrepreneurial, creative, open, cosmopolitan city with excellent quality of life.”
According to Belloso, “Barcelona has many strengths and advantages compared to other places. Many of them are derived from specific aspects of its identity, such as geographic location, its Mediterranean character, climate and culture. But what really makes it unique is a combination of all these aspects that give way to its remarkable diversity”.
The result of three decades of work
Josep Francesc Valls, professor of the Department of Marketing Management at ESADE, believes that today “Barcelona is the best valued brand name worldwide.”
“This achievement is not a fortuitous result at all, but responds to a strategy that has had four important moments and began in 1984,” says Josep Francesc Valls. It was then that 1,500 organisations participated in a joint reflection on the city that gave rise to the Strategic Plan Barcelona 2000.
With targets set in 1987, the plan intended to rebuild the city following the nomination as host for the Olympic Games. Work began and the great event of 1992 helped to put Barcelona on the map. Then, the marketing phase began. From that time on, it has just been a matter of continuous growth.
“These are the results,” continues the professor from ESADE. “For example, Barcelona is the preferred host city for international events. And this is because it has managed to develop this image.
Many cities have hosted major events, but they have not managed to do that. Just think of the 82 Spanish World Football Championships, the recent Olympic Games in Beijing or the recent Commonwealth Games in India.”
If we compare the Barcelona brand with that of other European cities, the balance is clearly positive for the Catalan capital: “Today, the Barcelona brand has the ability to be the umbrella that best protects everything that is created here.
It is undoubtedly the best in Spain and it would be placed among the top 3 European city brands following Paris and London. In some aspects, we are also at a level comparable to that of Amsterdam, Berlin and Milan.”
Both, ESADE Professor Josep Francesc Valls and marketing specialist Juan Carlos Belloso, agree on the crucial importance of goals and achievements to be set in coming years to ensure the future of the Barcelona brand. Mr Valls highlights the importance of avoiding tourist saturation.
Juan Carlos Belloso points to challenges such as “articulating collective strategies to improve aspects related to insecurity, noise and uncleanliness, which are vital both for Barcelona’s image abroad and for the actual quality of life for its citizens.”
In conclusion, Mr Belloso said that “Barcelona has to overcome many local and global challenges such as immigration. As well, there is the economic paradigm shift toward a service economy based on knowledge, where there already are very firm initiatives on course such as the 22@ Barcelona district. In short, the important thing is to define a vision for the future that includes the involvement of the citizens.”