How Hamburg Moved from Traditional Destination Marketing to Strategic City Branding

In this case study on the city marketing and branding of Hamburg, Thorsten Kausch shares his thoughts on the opportunities and challenges of progressing from traditional destination marketing to strategic city branding. He shares with us invaluable lessons learned during his time as the person in charge of consolidating Hamburg's brand messages and integrating the various marketing initiatives of Germany's second largest city into a new organization, Hamburg Marketing GmbH.

Strategic city branding: A “must do” for any city

And here are the reasons why: high attractiveness and a strong appeal ensure the future of towns and cities of all sizes; secure the next generation of skilled workers that are so critical to companies; attract investors and businesses; create popularity among tourists, and, ultimately, increase the number of local residents.

Hamburg was among the first cities in Germany to recognise these interdependencies and that focused on growth at an early stage. Prior to this, Hamburg’s various city marketing bodies mainly used the available budget to accommodate a broad range of stakeholders, topics and contents, while at the same time catering for as many markets and target groups as possible. For the marketers involved there was hardly any alternative, given the demands posed by the city’s various stakeholders.

As a result, much of the city was communicated across various channels, but inevitably only a little at a time, and sometimes even divergent messages. However, this approach made it impossible to develop a coherent image of the city, which meant that Hamburg’s external image remained rather vague.

From traditional destination marketing to strategic city branding

Then, in 2004, the brand development and management of Germany’s second biggest city was declared a top priority, and the more traditional destination marketing approach was replaced by strategic city branding.

Hamburg was now analysed and managed as a brand, and suitable topics were prepared and communicated. This integrated approach went beyond the concept of target groups and instead embraced the idea of “one city – one brand”, with a focus on external communications.

This approach was uncharted territory, since many cities and regions used a multi-brand strategy at the time, i.e. there would have been one sub-brand for tourists, one for businesses and/or talent, one for academia, sports, culture, and so forth.

The implementation of this new strategy required a number of structural adjustments, and thus a company in charge of coordinating and managing the Hamburg brand was founded.

Hamburg Marketing GmbH was established as a “primus inter pares” (one amongst equals), and was gradually provided with direct and indirect access rights to other entities and stakeholders involved in marketing Hamburg. Control mechanisms and processes were defined to ensure the effectiveness of city marketing and to facilitate close collaborations in the interest of the city.

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The Editorial Team

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