How municipal governments build associations with their city? Branding strategies of small and medium-sized cities in Poland

Ewa Glinska


Purpose. Cities increasingly compete for attracting investors, companies, tourists and new citizens. To attract target audiences, and to differentiate one city from another, place marketers focus on establishing the city as a brand (Zenker, Eggers, Farsky, 2013). In the context of territorial unit management, branding, as defined by Gnoth (2002), is a process of compiling a strategic plan of brand identity building based on competitive and unique attributes of a given place. According to Brencis and Ikkala (2013), the goal of city branding is to affect the emotional part of decision making, which is expected to result in added attraction to the place. Many towns/cities in Poland, in particular small and medium-sized ones, are at the early stage of the professional local brand building process. The question has thus been considered whether city managers responsible for promotion activities and taking part in the process of designing the desired public perception of their cities (as one of the stakeholder groups) are aware of the necessity to base brand identity on such city offer’s attributes which, according to the theory of place branding, increase the chance for creating stronger ties with the city among the city product’s current and potential users? In this context, the goal of this paper was to capture the sets of city attributes used in the process of building the brand image of the small or medium-sized cities. An additional aim was also to identify the differences between branding strategies used by local authorities of cities with different number of inhabitants and different amount of revenue in the budget.

Methodology. The empirical base used to achieve the adopted goals is formed by the research material constituting the results of a questionnaire survey carried out on a sample of 219 small and medium-sized towns and cities in Poland. The respondents were municipal office managers involved in the promotion / marketing of the analysed towns/cities. In order to identify a set of attributes of city used by local authorities in the process of its branding used Likert scale consisting of 37 items, rated by respondents on a 7-point scale. These items have been identified through the analysis of the literature, as well as research carried out by the author through the implementation of Focus Group Interviews among leaders of nine cities.

The data received from questionnaire survey were analyzed by exploratory factor analysis, statistical method used to uncover the structure of a relatively large set of variables (identify relationship among numerous correlated, but seemingly unrelated variables in terms of relatively few underlying factors).  Factors were extracted by Principal Axes factors procedure with oblique Promax rotation.

Results. As a results of factor analysis the eight factors (sets of city attributes) were extracted, namely:  1. Infrastructure and public services (accessibility and quality), 2. Nature and tourist value, 3. Peace and safety, 4. Local business, 5. Intangible culture, 6. Investment attractiveness, 7. Spirit of the city (atmosphere and people) and 8. Niche attractions of the city. Noted differences between the use of the given sets of cities attributes in the process of branding and the number of city inhabitants and the height of the city budget.

The theoretical contribution. In view of the fact that a majority of research projects in the field of city brand management focuses on large cities, and only few projects relate to small towns/cities and their methods of  building, development and maintenance of the desired image (Herstein, Jaffe, 2008), the present paper constitutes an attempt to fill the existing gap.

Practical implications. Conclusions from the studies may be helpful in the development of the strategy of building brand for small and medium-sized cities, as well as provide a basis for urban managers to diagnose branding strategies used by the competitive cities.


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