Barcelona truly “Inspira”
A few months ago, for the needs of our graduate course on Smart Cities, our Professor Betty Tsakarestou challenged us to explore the globe and find out what makes a city sustainable, smart or simply better for its habitants to live in. Our team (Christina Charalampidou, Marieta Christopoulou and Effie Tzoumani) chose Latin America to begin with and then slowly moved to our most familiar continent, so here are some of our favorite European City Stories: Barcelona, Lisbon, Berlin, and Istanbul.
We are going to examine Barcelona city branding *case and see that Barcelona’s admired brand today is the result of many years of hard work and determination.
Over the last 20 years, Barcelona has successfully positioned itself among the top cities around the world. It is widely associated with creativity, culture, sport, gastronomy and high quality of life. The city has also become one of the main tourist destinations in Europe, with more and 7.5 million tourists in 2013, and is a popular place for corporate, scientific, cultural and sporting events and congresses.
In order to understand how really the Barcelona brand has achieved this high level of awareness, recognition and esteem, we need to go back in time. 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games were fundamental since they marked a turning point for the transformation and international projection of the city. The resources generated and the tremendous energy unleashed by a challenge of such magnitude acted as a catalyst for the process of transformation that the city had planned. The Games, allowed Barcelona to show the world a redesigned city. After the Games, Barcelona became modern and cosmopolitan. Tourists, students and professionals from around the world wanted to visit, to study and to work in what had become a very fashionable place. But the key fact is that the city continued transforming itself and also innovating and creating all kind of initiatives and events that contributed to increase the awareness and attractiveness of the city.
So it is not just communications that have made Barcelona a strong and powerful global city brand, but the continued and consistent effort from the key public and private city leaders and organizations transforming the place and communicating effectively this transformations and the identity of the city.
In November 2010, a new Strategic Metropolitan Plan of Barcelona — Vision 2020 — was presented: The vision consisted of consolidating the (Metropolitan Area of Barcelona), with its model of quality social cohesion and integration, as one of the most attractive and influential European regions for innovative global talent. With this objective in mind, different initiatives and actions have been put in place both from the public and the private sectors.
The first one was ‘Barcelona Growth’
The priority of the City Council of Barcelona at that time was to fight against the economic crisis. For this reason, the new Municipal Government focused on pressing questions such as: how to create employment, how to promote investment and funding, how to attract talent, or to help companies and entrepreneurs.
Under the ‘Barcelona Growth’ programme, 30 main economic measures were chosen to focus on. Those recommendations led to the rebranding of Barcelona from ‘Mobile World Capital’ ( since the city is host of the annual World Mobile Congress) into a ‘Smart City’ (Smart City Expo World Congress is also held in BCN), positioning Barcelona as a city of knowledge and innovation.
The second was Barcelona Global
In order to implement the strategies and actions put forward in the Strategic Metropolitan Plan — Vision 2020, ‘Barcelona Global’ was created, a private, independent and non-profit association: a citizen’s platform of ideas and action, made up by people and companies who care about Barcelona and its future. Barcelona Global develops executive projects related to the competitiveness of Barcelona. These projects look to:
Strengthen the Barcelona brand associating it to sectors and activities with higher added value and quality.
Facilitate the attraction, retention and landing process of foreign investment and talent in Barcelona.
Encourage dialogue between sectors and across different groups as a way of detecting development opportunities.
Collaborate with other institutions, organizations and public authorities on various types of projects and initiatives.
One of the main ideas and strategies under the action of Barcelona Global is how to make Barcelona a truly ‘business friendly city’, as well as how promote and position Barcelona through its main economic sectors:
The thirs step was to develop a new brand strategy
The City Council of Barcelona also decided in 2011 to start a new project whose main objective was to review and develop a new brand strategy for the city. The project included the identification and confirmation of the main brand attributes and the unique and different values of the city, the definition of the brand vision and new brand positioning and the development of a new brand story and value proposition. Available tools were identified to strengthen and build the new brand positioning and a brand building strategy devised for for those economic sectors most relevant to the city.
And the last one was a new city brand communication strategy
After the new brand positioning was defined, a communications strategy was put in place in 2013 under the idea or ‘motto’ ‘Barcelona Inspira’ (Barcelona Inspires). The objective of the communication strategy is to help visualize, communicate and value all the city assets and initiatives aimed at positioning Barcelona as a place for business, entrepreneurial talent and economic activity.
‘’Barcelona Inspira’’ expresses a proactive approach linked to creativity, which entails not so much passive reception as the creative impulse and the ability to move others to action. And the moto whishes to do that because in spite of its success, the Barcelona brand runs the risk of becoming trapped in a stereotype based more on recreation than on business; more focused on the genius of Gaudí and Picasso than on the ability to inspire and generate new enterprises. “The motto ‘Barcelona inspires’ –is not a mere celebratory slogan, but rather an expression of the need to articulate and envisage a ‘new city and brand story’ “A story that means it is recognized and appreciated not just as a tourist destination, but also as a place that generates and attracts talent and new investment.”
Let’s take a closer look at the communication strategy.
Three different Communication campaigns were created: An image campaign to raise awareness about the new story being told, with the new brand ambassadors in the leading roles, always linked to their professional activity and framed within a city environment that highlights the new tourist icons whilst modernizing its image. The second campaign focused on tourism decentralization and the third on was a Prototyping campaign that promoted Barcelona as the ideal place to create prototypes, highlighting the city’s innovative capacity.
Other communication tools were included too:
Generation of content in international publications, mainly English speaking, in relation to the different sectors of activity to be promoted as part of the city’s new position, in the major magazines, dailies and the financial press.
New website “barcelona.cat”: a virtual space for presenting the city with all its charm and character that, in addition to meeting all the needs of the visitors when planning their visit, links Barcelona to the strategic sectors that make it an ideal city for investment, training and tourism.
Social Networks: definition and communication of a new story associated with the new values and position of Barcelona. The new story is mainly based on presenting Barcelona as a creative, lively, open and vibrant city, committed to the culture of innovation and the culture of happiness.
Street marketing: design and creation of an art installation that includes the essence of the position, from an artistic perspective. It takes on the form of a cloud and contains the slogan “Barcelona Inspira”. Located in Plaza Catalunya, it is starting to become one of the city’s most photographed elements, especially by visitors to the city. The art installation fulfils a double function: the visitors take a photo and take away a souvenir of the city’s position and they also share it on social networks and therefore contribute to publicizing it. As a result, the art installation incorporates the hashtag #barcelonainspira.
Let’s take a look at the impact
Barcelona is consolidating its position as one of the leading cities in the area of ‘Smart Cities’ and ‘Mobile Technologies’ (in line with the objective of positioning itself as the Mobile World Capital).
The city was awarded with the title of ‘European Capital of Innovation’ by the European Union in 2014 and is ranked the 4th Smart City in Europe and the 10th in the world.
It has been ranked as the 4th city in Europe in Scientific publications and the 10th in the world, the 1st city in southern Europe in economic development and the 1st European city in quality of life for workers.
Also, according to a recent international survey by the City of Barcelona in 2013, Barcelona is being perceived as one of the most creative cities in the world.
It is clear that repositioning Barcelona not only as a great place to live, study and visit, but also as the ideal place for business and economic activity, will take time, effort and determination. This positioning will not be easy to achieve, especially in a context of increased competition among places around the globe. However, thanks to its clear vision, strategies, actions and tools, Barcelona is well equipped to succeed. And third, there are practical challenges, such as how to develop a more sustainable touristic model for the city, how to make the city more attractive and welcoming for investment and talented people and, in general, how to involve and engage the citizens with the brand.
*Based on the Case Study of The Place Brand Observer , Rebranding Barcelona: City for Business, Talent, Innovation
See our presentation here.