City branding: mapping the media images of the SEE capitals
The nature of the modern knowledge economy has changed the way we perceive physical spaces. Contemporary cities are increasingly viewed not only as geographic and economic entities, but also as brands, shaped and popularized by the experience they offer to both locals and visitors. The added value, provided by a city's brand image can help it increase its economic potential, to attract labour force and tourist interest and reap many other advantages. In other words: city landscapes are now turning into brandscapes.
While larger cities around the world have already made significant steps toward building a sustainable and highly recognizable brand identity, the capitals of Southeast Europe face many challenges and opportunities on their way to discovering the importance of city branding. This article aimis to take a closer look at ten SEE capitals (Tirana, Sarajevo, Sofia, Zagreb, Skopje, Chisinau, Podgorica, Bucharest, Belgrade, Ljubljana) and the way they are represented in conventional and social media. Identifying the key focal points of the media discourse on a given city is a good starting point to grasp a city's perceived image and work towards building a more sustainable and recognizable identity.
We chose six key categories for analysis and comparison and we based them on Simon Anholt's City Branding Index – a methodology developed to measure the image and reputation of world cities, and to track how their profiles evolve. Simon Anholt is an independent policy advisor who has worked with the governments of over 40 countries worldwide and helped them develop and implement strategies for managing and improving country and city reputation. We approached these six categories* through our own analytical methods in two types of media context: conventional news articles and social media sources (blogs, Twitter and forum discussions). The analyzed period was three months (15 April – 15 July 2013) and our focus was only on English-language content, as it is currently the leading global language with a high potential for reaching large international audiences.
With the accumulation of the analyzed conventional and social media content, certain patterns started to emerge and shape the image of individual countries and the region as a whole.
One of the key conclusions from the comparison of the 10 capitals was that only a few of them had a highly recognizable and explicitly distinct city image. The best example in this regard would be Slovenia's capital Ljubljana, which was often described as a very special and unique mixture of Slavic soulfulness, German industriousness and Italian dolce vita. On the other hand, most of the remaining capitals were frequently discussed en bloc, often mentioning three or four cities in
Konstantina Vasileva, Perceptica
Perceptica is a team of professionals specialised in creating innovative in-depth reports based on online media analytics. Mapping brand perceptions among customers provides valuable insights for helping brands, individuals and organisations thrive.
www.perceptica.com the context of a large Balkan trip. This reveals an important factor for branding these cities: the challenge to create their own distinct identities, as opposed to remaining a part from the collective space – the Balkans. Alternative forms of tourism were a recurring subject in social media channels. Backpacking, hiking and cycling tours seemed to dominate blog posts and forum conversations – a sign that the SEE region is more popular among adventurers and people interested in exotic, unusual and unexplored destinations as opposed to the standard 4 or 5-star tourist experience. Many travellers from countries such as the UK and even Australia came on a cycling tour and mapped out long itineraries across the Balkan Peninsula, trying to visit as many destinations (countries and cities) as possible. This supported the above-mentioned conclusion that people were generally