Article: What brands can learn from Barcelona

Author: KISS Communications
Date: KISS Communications

Anna, one of our Account Executives, was born in Barcelona and lived there for 26 years before moving to Cambridge in 2013. In this article, Anna explores how the city of Barcelona re-invented itself and gives some tips on how to build a successful city brand.

Barcelona today is an inspiring, beautiful and cultured city admired around the world, however this has not always been the case. Its magic is the result of many years of work and determination that started in 1986 when the city was announced to host the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. It was then that Barcelona started a successful journey to build its brand and become the cosmopolitan and vibrant city that it is today.

The journey to become one of the most visited cities in Europe wasn’t easy - Barcelona had to leave behind the shadow of almost 40 years of dictatorship, get rid of its industrial city label and create a new, attractive and modern identity.

So, how did the city change itself (and its brand) forever?

To the sea: Before the ‘92 Olympics, the city didn't have a beach and nobody was visiting the industrial areas of Barcelona. Through demolition of industrial buildings along the water front they created a modern marina and 3 kilometres of beachfront. Today, the beach of Barcelona and its surrounding area remains one of the most attractive areas of the city and the best way to embrace the Mediterranean way of life.

The vision of a Mayor: Pasqual Maragall was not only the Mayor of the city back in ‘92 but also the President of the Olympic committee. It was his leadership and enthusiasm that made the transformation of the Barcelona urban landscape possible and drove the development of the brand essence.

“I am from Barcelona”: Barcelona’s brand was fundamentally built by the citizens of the city, who were involved in the Olympics and who still keep the brand and its values alive today.

Unique values: This was not only a case of an urban renewal but an opportunity to leverage the greatest names of Catalan culture (such as Dali or Gaudi), the food, the climate and the traditions to create an image of culture and a high quality of life.

Human capital: The colours, shape and tone of city was driven by local artists, combining simplicity, tradition and innovation.

The branding for Barcelona is the combination of the tangible elements (such as Gaudi Sagrada Familia or La Pedrera) and the emotional components (Barcelona football team fans, Estrella Damm beer, trendy music festivals, and Mediterranean lifestyle, etc). In order to keep this identity alive, it requires a regular commitment from the city’s local government, public and private institutions and, companies to maintain the Barcelona brand.

Key learnings to build a successful city brand:

  • Make it accessible to everyone: build a brand for the city residents but also for the visitors
  • Be authentic: don’t try to copy other cities, but embrace your own assets
  • Be innovative: combine tradition and modernity with harmony
  • Use the human capital: involve the people who know the most about your city - the residents

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