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NEW REPORT: The Inaugural Brand Finance US City Index 2024

Brand Finance
15 May 2024
Honolulu ranked as the best US city brand, three Florida cities make the top 10
  • Honolulu tops the inaugural Brand Finance US City Index
  • Florida shines, with three cities ranking in the top 10
  • Nashville excels in perceptions of Culture & Heritage and People & Values
  • Texas Triangle cities dominate in Business & Investment
  • Fame doesn’t equal fortune: US vs. Global perceptions
  • The green cities: Honolulu leads in sustainability perceptions
  • The battle of America’s most famous sports teams
  • Detroit: challenges and opportunities in revitalization for the bottom-ranked city
Konrad Jagodzinski
Place Branding Director,
Brand Finance

Based on a survey of 10,000+ respondents nationwide, the inaugural Brand Finance US City Index ranks the top 50 city brands in the United States according to how they are perceived by the public.

The Index offers vital insight for city brand leaders to develop and advance strategies to attract visitors, residents, employees, students, retirees, and investors. 

Respondents provided their perceptions of Familiarity, Reputation, and their personal Consideration of each city as a place to live, work locally, work remotely, study, retire, visit, and invest in, alongside associations with 40+ city brand Attributes grouped under 7 Pillars.

The most comprehensive dataset of its kind, the Brand Finance US City Index enables cities to understand their perceived strengths and weaknesses and to leverage the underlying data in their current planning and future strategies.

Honolulu tops the inaugural Brand Finance US City Index

Honolulu is the highest-ranked city brand in the US. Scoring 82.9 out of a possible 100, Hawaii’s capital’s brand perceptions surpassed those of every other city included in the study, driven by its iconic scenery, unique blend of cultures, and energetic urban center. Orlando came in 2nd, while Nashville rounds out the top 3.

Honolulu is ranked highest for Consideration, leading in all dimensions. Its number one ranking for both consideration to visit and consideration to retire is largely due to its stunning natural beauty and its position as the gateway to the Hawaiian Islands. Although traditionally viewed as a travel destination, Honolulu’s top rankings for consideration to investconsideration to work locally, and consideration to study are underscored by the city’s booming tourism industry, service-orientated job market, and low unemployment rates. Building on both tourist and business attraction, Honolulu is also perceived as an excellent base for workcation, scoring the highest for consideration to work remotely.

Honolulu also ranks number one in Reputation and in four out of seven attribute pillars: Governance, Livability, People & Values, and Sustainability & Transport.

Florida shines, with three cities ranking in the top 10

Three cities from America’s sunshine state - OrlandoMiami, and Tampa – have secured a spot in this year’s top 10. Orlando stands out as Florida’s highest-ranking city, coming 2nd in the Index overall with an impressive score of 82.6/100. Miami takes 5th place overall with a score of 81.1/100, while Tampa secures 7th place with a score of 78.7/100. Orlando’s top-ranking position is underscored by its strong performance in the Reputation and Familiarity metrics, for which it ranks 4th nationally.

Florida’s cities perform strongly in the Livability pillar, with Tampa securing 3rd position, followed by Orlando in 4th, and Miami in 5th. Tampa also ranks 3rd in overall Consideration, above the other two. Notably, both Tampa and Orlando are perceived as highly accessible cities, with Tampa leading the Index for the attribute accessible to the elderly and to people with disabilities, while Orlando follows in 3rd.

Florida’s cities are also perceived as appealing destinations for leisure and tourism. Orlando, globally renowned for its iconic attractions and amusement parks including Disney World and Universal Orlando, ranks 2nd overall for consideration to visit, as well as 4th for being fun. Tampa outshines Orlando for perceptions of its academic scene and education system, ranking 9th for consideration to study whilst Orlando comes 17th. Coupled with a low 42nd rank for Education & Science, this indicates a critical area of focus for Orlando to maintain positive nationwide perceptions.

Widely renowned as a glamourous tourist hotspot, it is perhaps unsurprising that Miami outperforms Orlando and Tampa in the Culture & Heritage pillar, ranking 8th overall. Looking at particular attributes, Miami ranks 4th overall for its great shopping, restaurants, and nightlife, and 3rd and 4th respectively for being fun and having an appealing lifestyle. That said, Miami’s perceptions are not all about glitz and glamour, as it ranks a low 38th for Governance, including 42nd for low crime and violence, indicating an urgent need to bolster safety and security measures to further elevate Miami’s overall attractiveness.

Nashville excels in perceptions of Culture & Heritage and People & Values

Nashville is the third highest-rated US city brand, with a score of 82.5/100. Nashville’s strong overall score is driven by a high Reputation (2nd) and strong perceptions for its Culture & Heritage and People & Values.

Nicknamed “Music City,” Nashville is renowned as a hot spot for country, bluegrass, gospel, and rock 'n' roll. This is reflected in the perceptions of Nashville's city brand – ranking 2nd for Culture & Heritage overall, as well as 2nd for great theatres and music venues and 3rd for outstanding cultural festivals. Music is also likely to have contributed to the city's 3rd place for the attribute city with a strong identity/character/civic pride.

Nashville scores 2nd highest in the People & Values pillar, as well as 2nd for being perceived as friendly. The city is associated with the concept of Southern hospitality, characterized by authentic warmth, courtesy, and generosity.

On the flip side, likely driven by Tennessee’s relatively low education spending, Nashville faces challenges in building its appeal in the Education & Science category, where it ranks 27th overall and underperforms in all attributes, especially leader in science and technology, coming 40th. While the city brand’s positioning is undoubtedly focused on its identity as the nation’s capital of music, increasing education funding and incorporating strategies to better communicate innovation into its city brand strategy could be key to further strengthen its reputation as a dynamic and forward-thinking city.

Texas Triangle cities dominate in Business & Investment

Texan cities, AustinDallas-Fort Worth, and Houston, claim the top three positions in the Business & Investment pillar, solidifying the Texas Triangle’s journey towards becoming one of the nation's foremost economic powerhouses. San Antonio follows in 9th position nationally. Thanks to their business attractiveness, all four rank in the top 15 of the overall Brand Finance US City Index ranking.

While California is home to many of the nation’s most valuable brands, according to the Brand Finance US 500 ranking of the nation’s corporate brands, a noticeable shift is occurring as brands increasingly relocate from the Golden State to the Lone Star State. Notably, tech giants like Tesla and Oracle have recently moved their headquarters to Austin, attracted by the state's favorable business climate characterized by low taxes and moderate regulation. Texan cities lead the way in many attributes within the pillar, including for attractive corporate taxation.

Dallas-Fort Worth in particular is ranked highest across the nation for strong and stable economy and easy to do business in. Aside from Business & Investment, the city also excels in having great publicly funded schools and good governance.

Fame doesn’t equal fortune: US vs. Global perceptions

Several cities in the inaugural Brand Finance US City Index also appeared in the global edition of the ranking last year. While the US City Index reflects the perceptions of US respondents only, the Global City Index assessed perceptions across 20 countries worldwide. Notably, New York CityLos Angeles, and Chicago rank much lower domestically than globally: NYC ranks 11th among domestic respondents (compared to 2nd globally), LA 21st (4th globally), and Chicago 32nd (15th globally). This gap indicates that international perceptions differ from national ones, likely because US respondents have more nuanced and localized views of their cities.

Despite high Familiarity rankings – NYC 2nd, LA 3rd, and Chicago 7th – these cities polled considerably lower domestically in terms of Reputation and Consideration, underscoring that being a well-known or famous city does not necessarily lead to positive perceptions. These comparatively lower standings stem from poor perceptions in attributes such as good governance (respects law, high ethical standards, low corruption) where NYC, LA, and Chicago rank 47th, 44th, and 49th respectively, low crime and violence (49th, 48th, and 50th) and trustworthy (50th, 48th, and 47th). While these cities do excel in other attributes, this indicates areas of focus for future resource investment to enhance domestic image.

The green cities: Honolulu leads in sustainability perceptions

The top-ranked city brand Honolulu leads the way for perceptions of Sustainability & Transport in the Brand Finance US City Index. Coming 1st for the pillar overall, it also tops the ranking for two of the underlying attributes clean city that cares for the environment and green spaces and recreation. Honolulu's commitment to environmental protection and its abundant natural beauty, from pristine beaches to lush tropical landscapes, likely contribute to its strong sustainability perceptions. The city is actively pursuing initiatives to combat climate change, striving to reduce carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy sources. Aligning with Hawaii's statewide sustainability objectives, Honolulu aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

Behind Honolulu, San Diego ranks 2nd for the pillar overall and 3rd for being a clean city that cares for the environment. San Diego prides itself on its commitment to sustainability, implementing various initiatives to reduce its environmental footprint. Key efforts include promoting renewable energy, water conservation, and waste reduction, as well as engaging in green building practices and supporting sustainable development projects. 

At the other end of the sustainability ranking, New York City is awarded the lowest rank of 50th for being perceived as a clean city that cares for the environment. NYC’s dense urban environment, extensive infrastructure, and the challenges of keeping such a vast metropolis clean have likely contributed to its low ranking in the sustainability metric. As one of the country’s most iconic and globally regarded cities, the Big Apple has the opportunity to enhance its sustainability image in the future, such as by focusing on reducing emissions, shifting to renewable energy sources, and supporting sustainable infrastructure.

The battle of America’s most famous sports teams

When looking at the US cities with the highest perceptions for famous sports teams, there are three clear leaders – BostonKansas City, and Pittsburgh.

The Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, and The New England Patriots are synonymous with US sports. Boston’s top teams have won 12 championships since the turn of the century: six by the Patriots, four by the Red Sox, and one each by the Celtics and the Bruins respectively, highlighting prowess on the pitch. However, it is also the heritage of the teams and years in building their strong brands, which are central to the cities’ sporting reputation.

The Chiefs' recent on-field triumphs, including clinching the two most recent Super Bowls, have undeniably elevated perceptions of Kansas City as a sports powerhouse. However, off-field buzz surrounding the team's tight end, Travis Kelce, and his relationship with global superstar, Taylor Swift, has dominated headlines in recent months too. The union of Swift and Kelce has brought together two influential personal brands, with the phenomenon dubbed the "Taylor Swift Effect" significantly boosting female viewership of the NFL and familiarity with the Chiefs and Kansas City in general.

Pittsburgh ranks 3rd for famous sports teams, mostly owing to its three major professional sports franchises, the Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins. Pittsburgh's major teams have seen great success, with the MLB's Pirates winning 5 World Series titles, the NHL's Penguins winning 5 Stanley Cups, and the NFL's Steelers winning a tied league record 6 Super Bowls. Boosting the city’s perceptions, the reach of the Steeler Nation – the term used to describe the passionate fan base of the Steelers – stretches far beyond Pittsburgh or even Pennsylvania.

Detroit: challenges and opportunities in revitalization for the bottom-ranked city

Detroit, the birthplace of the American motor industry, has a rich history but has endured decades of economic decline, largely due to the rise of foreign automakers. In the Index, Detroit sits at the bottom of the ranking, 50th overall with a score of 50.4 out of 100. Once flourishing as home to Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and Dodge, the Motor City faces an ongoing challenge of population loss and high crime rates, reflected in lowest scores for Reputation, Consideration, and all seven city brand attribute Pillars – from Business & Investment to People & Values.

However, Detroit stands at a relatively high 24th position for Familiarity pointing to huge potential for turning the city brand around. It already holds solid, mid-range rankings in certain attributes, such as known for supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (26th) and famous sports teams (24th), including the NFL’s Detroit Lions and NBA’s Detroit Pistons. With Detroit recently hosting the 2024 NFL draft, there is a clear signal of further opportunities for investment to improve city perceptions and promote economic development. Additionally, Detroit’s vibrant musical history, particularly in Motown, continues to resonate in the US relative to the city’s performance in other attributes, ranked 34th for having a rich history and heritage. The city’s ongoing revitalization is reflected in significant investment in its arts and cultural scene, such as the expansion of its Motown Historical Museum.

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.