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Navigating City Appeal: Insights from the Brand Finance US City Index

Brand Finance
15 May 2024
Katrina Rogala
Analytics Manager,
Brand Finance

In the sphere of city branding and urban policy, understanding what draws people to consider cities to visit or relocate to is crucial. The comprehensive research underlying the Brand Finance US City Index maps out key indicators for 50 of the largest US cities and can be analyzed to shed light on the main factors influencing city brands’ attractiveness.

To understand the mindset of potential residents and visitors, we surveyed over 10,000 respondents across the country who were tasked to rate a selection of large US cities on their overall reputation and on consideration to live, work (locally and remotely), study, retire, invest in, and visit. The respondents were then prompted to evaluate the city brands against 40 attributes spanning seven pillars, each integral to city life.

Running relative importance analysis on this data, we can now begin to understand how these attributes drive consideration across the seven dimensions and how the resulting drivers vary across different demographic segments. By dissecting the data, we aim to uncover insights crucial for city marketeers and policymakers to enhance their city’s appeal relevant to their specific objectives.

Consideration Drivers for Studying, Working, Retirement, and Tourism

Whether you are aiming to boost tourism, or to attract potential residents looking to study, work or retire, certain key themes resonate consistently. For example, People & Values is the most important pillar for those considering a city to study in, work locally in, or work remotely from, emphasizing the communal aspects of city life. However, among those considering a city to retire in, while People & Values is still important, Liveability takes precedence, highlighting the desire for comfort and ease of living.

For those considering a city to study or work in, the focus is on career opportunities and advancements, and so Business & Investment also comes into critical consideration. However, those considering a city to work remotely from appear less dependent on the local environment for financial stability, with Liveability taking higher priority.

Preferences shift when it comes to tourism consideration, with Culture & Heritage taking the top spot, and – along with People & Values – accounting for over 50% of consideration. This not only highlights the appeal of diverse cultural experiences but also underscores the importance of shared values and strong communities in attracting visitors. Unpacking the pillars, we can see what specific attributes are most important for driving consideration within each dimension.

Attributes such as trustworthiness and good governance, characterized by respect for law, high ethical standards, and low corruption, resonate strongly among those considering long-term residency to work, study or retire. This indicates a desire for security and stability within the community.

Meanwhile, although they also value trustworthiness and governance, individuals seeking a base for remote working prioritize appealing lifestyle and fun, reflecting reduced dependence on effective city stewardship, and rather, a quest for an enriching life experience. Tourists are also drawn to cities that can offer fun and an appealing lifestyle, followed by great shopping and dining options, vibrant nightlife scenes, friendliness, and nice weather.

Beyond trustworthiness and good governance, potential students and professional residents each prioritize practical attributes tailored to their specific objectives. Students seek out excellent colleges and universities, while professionals value a strong and stable economy.

Other drivers making the top 5 include low crime and violence among those considering a city to study or retire in, and a city that is clean and cares for the environment among those considering a city to work in (locally or remotely) or retire in.

Consideration Drivers for Relocating: Generational Perspectives

Examining consideration to live in a city through a generational lens clearly reflects varying life stages and priorities. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers prioritize Liveability, seeking comfort and functionality while, Millennials and Gen Zers place a higher priority on People & Values, reflecting a desire for social cohesion and inclusivity. Of the four generations, Gen Zers place the lowest importance on the comforts of Liveability, while Business & Investment becomes more key as many chase ambitions and career opportunities to establish themselves and build financial security. As Liveability increases in importance with age, Business & Investment decreases.

Sustainability & Transport ranking higher in importance for Baby Boomers than for any other generation may initially appear counterintuitive. However, unpacking the specific drivers within this pillar reveals the attributes that facilitate a comfortable standard of living. Attributes such as a clean city that cares for the environment and green spaces and recreation seamlessly align with Baby Boomers’ post-career life stage and shifting priorities towards personal comfort. Comparing importance of transportation, Gen Zers place a higher importance on a walkable city than any other generation and Baby Boomers place the highest importance on ease of getting around by car.

Attracting Investors: Understanding Variances in Investment Considerations

When asked about consideration to invest in various cities, our analysis shows that, in general, people look at opportunities to invest through the lens of personal preferences similar to how they would consider a place to live in. Appealing lifestyle and good governance (respects law, high ethical standards, low corruption) come up as attributes with the highest importance.

However, if we narrow down the analysis to a more targeted audience, looking specifically at people who frequently invest in property, we see interesting variations. Trustworthiness emerges as the predominant factor influencing consideration. Meanwhile, the importance of low crime and violence grows, and the prominence of good governance diminishes. Fun barely makes the top 10 and appealing lifestyle the top 15 while the “Business & Investment” attributes around taxation shoot up in significance.

While the general public prioritizes factors around lifestyle, ethics and personal preferences when considering where to invest, frequent property investors place a far higher importance on minimizing investment risk. This audience focuses on attributes relating to reliability, safety, and security as well as taxation policies, indicating a pragmatic focus on financial returns.

These findings underscore the nuanced nature of investment considerations, shaped by both individual preferences and the specific nature of the investment. Understanding these variations is essential for tailoring strategies that attract diverse investor groups and for fostering sustainable economic growth in cities. While this study is based on a general public sample, we can utilize respondent profiling to gain deeper insights into our audience in order to guide city brand strategies in a more effective manner.

Crafting City Appeal

By understanding the factors influencing consideration across various dimensions and demographic segments, this research equips city marketeers and policymakers with the tools to enhance city appeal effectively. Aligning branding strategies with the preferences of target demographics, cities can position themselves as desirable destinations and ensure sustained relevance and competitiveness in the dynamic landscape of urban development.

About the Author

Brand Finance is the world’s leading independent brand valuation and strategy consultancy. Headquartered in the City of London, we are present in over 20 countries.

For almost 30 years we have helped companies and organisations of all types to connect their brands to the bottom line.