Here are some tips on how to use place brand rankings:
1. Understand the purpose of place brand rankings
Many different rankings are published and updated every year. They continually assess and measure places, regions and countries using hundreds of parameters and indicators, from quality of living to gender empowerment, to identifying the winners in specific categories and to establish the standards of excellence.
Rankings are widely used by government bodies, corporations and organisations to track performance, trends and opportunities for further analysis and strategic moves.
The logic and choice of measurement parameters in place brand rankings reflect the particular interests of the “customers”, for whom the ranking results will be beneficial, including large corporations, entrepreneurs, investors and political decision makers.
For example, if the purpose of the ranking is to advise on economic development opportunities and attracting new businesses, then the ranking will focus on questions such as how innovative the place is, what are the benefits for opening new businesses, quality of infrastructure and factors relevant for attracting talent.
2. Focus on rankings that are relevant for your specific needs
What can be beneficial for one group of “customers” may not be necessarily important for other groups. What is attractive for investors might not be attractive to tourists or residents, and vice versa. What is attractive for policy makers or large corporations might not be attractive for the general public.
Communicating the right offerings to the right target market and audience is a key challenge in place branding, which is reflected in rankings.
3. Keep in mind that rankings are never entirely objective
With rankings, it is obvious that full objectivity is not accomplishable and often is not even meant to be.
Many rankings created by consulting companies are purely a means of making money for whoever is sponsoring the ranking list.
The selection of indicators and weighting always introduce elements of bias, which should be kept in mind by place management and branding experts when reading through the rankings.
For example, in the context of place livability, compare the Mercer list with the EIU Livability Ranking, Forbes or even Places Rated Almanac and you’ll find that the top cities vary in each ranking despite use of the same or very similar performance indicators. The reason may be that the importance – weight – given to each indicator differs across rankings.
Always keep a critical stance when working with various rankings.
On a positive note, the variety of measurement indicators and rankings allows us to gain a more objective picture by focusing on those indicators that are most relevant for our specific place or project, and then compare those across different rankings.
4. City livability rankings have limitations
Emotional factors play an important role regarding residents’ perceptions of their city and to what extent they consider it “livable”. Many ranking results do not take into account human perceptions and emotions, as they can hardly be measured by numbers.
It is not easy to numerically describe the intangible factors which make a city attractive, and to determine its real value and brand equity. Livability rankings often fail to show the “soul” and uniqueness of the city, which plays an important role in people’s decisions to move, study or invest there.
That said, there are certain universal lifestyle factors which will always have an impact on human lives and “livability”: infrastructure, safety, healthcare, education, culture and entertainment. Focusing livability measurements on these common factors is probably the best way for determining which cities are the most attractive to live, study or work. The fewer challenges in those areas a city has to cope with, the more livable it is.
When using livability rankings as a tool to assess city performance, remember that the attractiveness of a place is influenced by a mix of tangible and intangible factors.
Keeping in mind that the main purpose of the city is to take care of its citizens and to make their life convenient by offering and communicating the best conditions for human habitat will help to leverage the bias of city rankings.