Irina Shafranskaya on City Happiness and Place Branding in Russia

City branding practice in Russia is one of the topics which we discuss in this interview with Irina Shafranskaya. Learn about current trends, priorities and how place branding links to city happiness and sustainable urban development.

Learn about:

  • How strategic city branding can support happy cities;
  • How place branding is practiced in Russia;
  • City branding trends and challenges in Russia;
  • How city branding relates to sustainable urban development;
  • How to measure city branding success: good practice examples.

Irina, do you remember what first attracted your interest in place branding?

It all started with my interest in place marketing – in 2008 my native city launched the first communication campaign trying to change its image. There was a wide range of various events and initiatives, which promoted it as a new cultural capital. And I was wondering if it could be effective.

As an academic, I began to read on the topic, and step-by-step, together with my colleagues we started the first research. At that moment we tried to understand whether Cultural Capital branding was applicable to our city.

As a scholar with strong background in metropolitan branding, what role do you think resident happiness plays with regard to locals’ and visitors’ perceptions of a city?

Let’s be frank – happiness is a broad concept. We cannot focus only on the issues of city branding, when thinking of residents’ happiness. In my view, citizen happiness is the key aspect of city management. But to implement this idea, to make it the foundation of city policies and practices, residents’ happiness should be at the core of the city brand strategy. Then the perception of the city will change.

There is difference between just putting “city happiness” in city branding slogans and on promotional posters, and implementing it as the core principle in everyday city management practices. Only the second route gives the chance to actually improve a city.

The trouble is that the first is much easier – but simply promoting happiness without integrating it as criteria into city management decisions will never make the city as a whole better.

In your view, what is place branding all about? And how does place branding practice in your native Russia perhaps differ from its application in other regions, such as Western Europe?

I would say that there are two levels:

1) place branding as a promotional measure, which is quite helpful in increasing awareness of the place and distinguishing it from a million of other places; and

2) place branding as an ideology, core principle, which determines the idea of the place communicated through words, activities, events, managerial practices etc.

The first level is quite simple in its realization, and a lot of Russian cities have created promotional campaigns during the last 5 – 10 years.

Currently we have cases of 100 Russian cities and 30 Russian regions as the raw material of our future research on Russian place branding practices. Unfortunately we see that only 10% of them are closer to the second level, where place branding starts with the idea of how to make the city or region a better and more attractive place to live, visit and work, through its branding.

Which trends and challenges do you observe as a scholar and consultant, with regard to city branding, for instance in Russia?

Here in Russia place branding is becoming a research topic, and this is quite inspiring. More and more publications on the theory development appear, and now we are discussing not only cases but also concepts and models.

As for the global agenda, the trend of using big data for cities should be taken into account by both academics and practitioners. As researchers, we now have a new source of data for our research: residents’ behavior and attitude is “digitalized” through their social media activities, for instance. These new types of data lead to new insights and research ideas.

As a consultant I also consider this opportunity quite important. We are just starting to explore online place branding practices, and there is much to do in this field.

How can city branding support sustainable urban development? Where’s the link?

The aspects of city branding and sustainable development are intertwined. A city brand forms the foundation of a city strategy, which in turn should be built on the principles of sustainable urban development.

The question is, which is the starting point—city brand or urban development? For me, urban development goes first, as it determines the future of the city. Sometimes it might not be necessary to create a brand, but no city could neglect its future development.

3 books everyone interested in city branding should read…

I’d recommend the following books, although they are not directly about city branding:

Delirious New York: A Retrospective Manifesto for Manhattan by Rem Koolhaas

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward Glaeser

Urban Acupuncture by Jaime Lerner

How to measure the success or effectiveness of city branding programs?

First of all, you cannot measure the success of place branding programs at the very moment of their realization. People’s perceptions of places change very slowly. Continuous and consistent evaluation is the best way to measure place branding results.

I personally like two cases of this consistent approach:

1) the evaluation of the European Capital of Culture program, which I consider a type of  city co-branding; and

2) the case of Hamburg, where they measure the effectiveness of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg project from year to year, trying to catch the change in the perception of this flagship project, aimed at presenting the new city brand idea.

Additionally, I watch very attentively projects which are trying to involve residents into city development, like the Happy City Initiative in Bristol or the Wellbeing Project in Santa Monica.

It would be interesting to discuss the methodology to measure the effectiveness of these projects with colleagues.

Thank you, Irina.

Connect with Irina Shafranskaya via Facebook or LinkedIn (limited access in Russia).

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