Crafting Iconic City Brands: Geerte Udo on Shaping ‘I amsterdam’

Geerte Udo is recognized for her strategic leadership in place branding, particularly through her work with the ‘I amsterdam’ brand. Her approach combines public and private interests, focusing on adapting place branding strategies to evolving societal and environmental needs.

With over a decade at amsterdam & partners, Geerte has developed a reputation for creating meaningful partnerships and implementing strategies that effectively communicate place identity and values.

Key takeaways

  1. Public-Private Synergy: Geerte Udo emphasizes the effectiveness of public-private partnerships in enhancing place branding, ensuring adaptability and resilience.
  2. Diverse Community Focus: ‘I amsterdam’ targets a variety of groups (residents, businesses, visitors) with a strategy that acknowledges their dynamic contributions to the city’s identity.
  3. Pragmatic Leadership: Geerte champions a leadership style that blends clear vision with practical execution, focusing on simple, achievable goals and open communication.
  4. Adaptive Branding Strategies: She underscores the importance of evolving place branding strategies in response to societal changes, leveraging data and technology for informed decision-making.
  5. Anticipating Future Trends: Geerte anticipates increased urbanization and leisure demands, advising that place branding should balance living, working, and visiting while embracing authentic storytelling.

Geerte, could you describe the journey of building the ‘I amsterdam’ brand, particularly the strategies you used and the challenges you faced?

We began building the brand in 2004, agreeing upfront that it’s not a ‘sprint’ but a ‘marathon’. We initiated a public-private foundation, recognizing that both sectors benefit from improved image and guidance of all target groups. The main strategy is ensuring cooperation with our 750 partners under the ‘I amsterdam’ brand, always aiming for win-win situations.

The benefits for individual partners are viewed as long-term investments, such as a better image leading to more and more valuable visitors, rather than short-term gains like increased bed nights or attraction visits within a year.

From the start, we focused on target groups including residents, businesses, and visitors (both leisure and business), acknowledging that people can shift between groups. Ultimately, everyone who lives, works, or visits the city contributes to its atmosphere and identity.

We service diverse target groups, partnering with entities like 32 municipalities in the Amsterdam area, companies in various sectors, cultural institutions, and knowledge institutions. This diversity makes us less vulnerable to changes in political policies and financial situations.

Our strategy has always been to build your brand on core values, tell the story that reveals the real identity of your city. Our marketing is based on connecting the ambitions of our Metropolis and partners with the needs of our target groups.

As a leader known for translating vision into action, what is your approach to turning strategic ideas into effective, practical solutions?

Understanding the long-term policy goals and the ambitions of our partners is crucial. With this knowledge, we aim to create a shared vision, sometimes through co-creation, that benefits all involved.

We apply the KISS principle: “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. This means formulating main goals and translating them into clear deliverables. We promise results within our control, such as reach and interaction on campaigns, websites, and social media, along with providing data, expertise, and facilitating network and knowledge sharing.

Amsterdam partner aligns these deliverables with our goals like helping residents discover their city, attracting visitors who add value to residents’ livability, and drawing conventions and businesses that contribute to the Metropolitan Area’s future challenges and opportunities. We stick to our plan, report biannually on our results, and continually reconnect our actions with long-term goals.

Maintaining constant communication with partners to ensure alignment is key. Differentiating between goals and results is crucial, as achieving goals depends on factors beyond our control. We explain how our results contribute to set goals, delivering what we promised to create valuable partnerships.

What are the key aspects of building successful public-private partnerships, especially in the context of place branding and marketing?

Believing that we shape the future of our metropolitan area together is fundamental. Working in unison allows more control over outcomes, fostering mutual understanding of ambitions and focusing on common goals.

In discussions, especially those with conflicting interests, finding a common objective is essential. You can always start at the highest level, such as the shared aim of creating a better destination for future generations. This aligns with government aspirations and long-term business profitability.

However, it’s also important to acknowledge that not all partners will agree. Businesses solely focused on short-term profit without regard for the city and its residents are not ideal partners.

For any change, invest in the 20% of frontrunners and the 60% who are open to change, rather than the resistant 20%.

How do you adapt branding and marketing strategies to constantly changing environments and societal challenges?

Our primary goal remains contributing to a sustainable and inclusive metropolitan area where people can live, work, and visit. Sub-goals evolve as cities, economies, and visitor dynamics change, along with the growing importance of ecological, social, and economic sustainability.

Our strategy remains consistent: telling the right story, to the right person, at the right time, through the right channel, based on insights, to achieve our goals. Collecting accurate data and creating valuable insights into the behavior of our various target groups, such as residents, meeting planners, CEOs, and visitors, is crucial.

We continuously enhance our expertise in technological changes, like social media algorithms, and new technologies like chatGPT.

What trends do you foresee in place branding and marketing, particularly in relation to public challenges?

The UN predicts that by 2050, two-thirds of the world population will live in Metropolitan City Areas. This increase necessitates substantial housing development. Combined with rising general income and more leisure time, the demand in the leisure economy will grow for both residents and visitors.

The need for innovation and creativity will also surge, often flourishing in cities. Therefore, the demand for companies, talent, and knowledge institutions will increase.

Maintaining a healthy balance between living, working, and visiting is vital. Place branding and marketing should facilitate this balance and continuously develop in line with placemaking.

The visitor economy itself must add value to the livability of cities rather than detract from it. We are moving past the era of ‘picture-perfect branding and marketing’ into a time of authentic storytelling. Remember, only sunshine makes a desert!

Can you share insights on your leadership style and how it has contributed to the success of the projects you’ve led?

Your most valuable asset is your employees, crucial for branding, marketing, data, insights, and relationship management. Select the best, compensate them well, invest heavily in their development, and provide a flexible, creative workspace. Assign clear tasks, delegate as much responsibility as possible, and provide feedback on the quality of their results and processes.

Respect all partners and their visions. Ask questions to find common goals, and seduce rather than convince. If partners don’t see added value, either the approach wasn’t effective, or they’re not the right fit.

Respect and embrace the complexity of politics, as they represent the residents’ voice.

Always think one step ahead of others, including city hall, partners, your supervisory board, your works council, and your employees.

Thank you, Geerte!

Enjoyed our interview with Geerte Udo? Discover more expert insights and inspiring stories on place branding here. Connect with Geerte Udo on LinkedIn


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