New York as a Brand: Great Cities are Great Brands


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Marco De Veglia perceives the Big Apple as a brand. We perceive a city in the same way we perceive a brand—a city is a brand.

When Cities are Brands, Not Places
by Marco De Veglia, Global CEM International Partner – Italy

Some places are called “The New York of [insert country]”.

Some things are done in a “New York style” or even in a “New York minute”.

New York is not just a city (at least not any more). It is an idea, a concept, a meme, a brand.

In New York, your experience is heavily influenced – at least as a first-time user (more on that later) – by your brand perception. More than living “in” New York, you “live New York”. You look for the experience, you want to savor it, you want to “be New York”.

What you want is what you get
When customer experience is so heavily influenced by brand perception, objectivity has little or no place. You expect to have a certain experience of the brand: chaos, noise, rudeness, hectic pace. As reality is perception most of the time, if you want New York you get New York.

This is the New York you experience as a tourist. The skyscraper canyons, the delis, Central Park, 5th Avenue, the Brooklyn Bridge and so on, a postcard in the mind.

When brands become products
However, this isn’t the only customer experience you can have of New York. When you pass the level of first-time user and live in the city for a while, your experience changes. This happens to all products you buy (you even stop whispering love words to your iPhone after a few weeks.) When you become a user, the brand disappears and you are left with the product.

Yes, the love story with brands doesn’t last forever. At the end of the day, it’s just a plastic box that I use to listen to music that makes me feel young or old, or a beer that I believe makes me cooler not fatter, or an expensive combination of steel, plastic, rubber and other materials that I drive from place to place.

New York, when you get past the brand, is a place to live. When you become a New Yorker, even living here for a little while, you stop walking with your eyes pointed toward the sky, you stop saying “this is like a movie”.

The “New York disappeared” customer experience
At that moment New York has disappeared. Or it has been interiorized and has become just a tool of your life, like any other place you live. There is still the occasional “New York moment” but it has a totally different feeling from the “oooh” of a tourist.

There are private moments when you experience “being New York”. You own this “New York-ness” and it is an experience worth the unavoidable downsides of living in a big, crowded place. You have your New York and this is it. Feeling normal in this very special place is the greatest New York customer experience you can have.”

A City is a Brand; Great Cities are Great Brands
If ‘Romance’ describes Paris; ‘Freedom’ describes New York. While we struggle to choose the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe as the signature architecture of Paris, the Statue of Liberty is the unanimous first choice for New York, although some think that the Wall Street Bull is a close second. The Statue of Liberty is an icon of political and religious freedom. The Charging Bull on Wall Street stands for the energy, strength, and unpredictability of the stock market, and symbolizes the economic freedom of capitalism.

When we enjoy significant ‘Branded-Pleasures’—Freedom—in New York on 5th Avenue, in Central Park, at a Broadway theater, our memories are driven by perceptions. At the same time, we suffer ‘Good-Pains’—Urban Chaos—such as the noise, rudeness, and hectic pace suggested by Marco. No one wants to be ‘Served Discriminately’ but most of us love ‘The Exclusivity’ we feel during a Louis Vuitton shopping experience; ‘DIY Service’ is a pain for many customers, but IKEA pushes their sufferings to the extreme in exchange for the ‘Good-value-for-money’ furniture. ‘Good-value-for-money’ and ‘DIY Service’ of IKEA and ‘Exclusivity’ and ‘Discriminating Service’ of Louis Vuitton are similar to the ‘Freedom’ and ‘Urban Chaos’ of New York or the ‘Romance’ and ‘Arrogance’ of Paris. Every great brand and branded city has both significant ‘Branded-Pleasures’ and significant ‘Good-Pains’. A city is a brand; great cities are great brands.

A Brand is perceived through the Total Customer Experience
As Marco said, our view of a city is heavily influenced by brand perception, yet brand perception—in particularly advertising and media before the visit—cannot replace our actual experience of a city. For example, as tourists, we experience a city not just through advertising and media, but also at every touch-point and attribute that we encounter during our journey, such as the airport, transportation, infrastructure, hotel, people, food, entertainment, architecture, and landscape. By the same token, customers experience a brand not just through advertising and media, but also through all the touch-point experiences, such as inquiry, purchase, product, and service that a customer encounters during the entire customer lifecycle. Advertising and media aren’t the total of your brand; 5th Avenue, taxis, and Woody Allen ain’t New York.

What really constitutes a brand or a city is the total customer experience (TCE). For example, as a mobile phone user, you may experience your mobile network operator at Inquiry (Experience 1), Purchase (Experience 2), and Service (Experience 3); these experiences may be delivered by different touch-points, such as Retail (Touch-point 1), Call Center (Touch-point 2), and Web (Touch-point 3). For a tourist, the experiences might be Arrival, City Tour, and Departure; the touch-points Airport, Hotel, Restaurants, etc. By matching all the experiences and the corresponding touch-points, we would have a matrix like Figure 1 – a simplified perspective of the total customer experience (TCE). TCE is how your visitors or customers perceive you as a city or as a brand.

Figure 1 – Experiences, Touch-points, and Total Customer Experience (TCE)

In the following section, “Dubai: Belly Dancing, the Arabian Desert, and the TCE Model“, Brownell O’Connor travels to Dubai experiences the city through various touch-points—a brand is perceived through the total customer experience (TCE).

This article is retrieved from a document “Total Customer Experience (TCE) for Branded Cities”. The document is composed of five sections: personal travel stories in the sections contributed by three of our international partners, Marco De Veglia from Italy, Brownell O’Connor from Ireland, Ro King from the United States, and our operations director Alice Tse from Hong Kong.

Section 1: The Good-Pain and Branded-Pleasure of Paris
Section 2: New York as a Brand: Great Cities are Great Brands
Section 3: Dubai: Belly Dancing, the Arabian Desert, and the TCE Model
Section 4: I Love Amsterdam; Mainland Chinese Love Hong Kong
Section 5: Paris 2011: The New Total Customer Experience (TCE)


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