A Second Act for Tokyo: Building the Tokyo Brand

Weber Shandwick's City Soft Power Attributes
Weber Shandwick’s City Soft Power Attributes

Cities matter. They are flag carriers for nations, centers for universities and cultural influences, attractors for investment and tourists, as well as experiences for people living and visiting them. In other words, cities are brands. Thus explained Ian Rumsby, Chief Strategy Officer of Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific in a panel discussion entitled “The Growing Strength of Tokyo as a Global Brand”, on September 11, 2015.

At this talk for the American Chamber of Commerce Japan, Rumsby went on to explain that cities have assets, which contribute to their reputation over time. These assets sub-divide into two attributes: hard and soft power. Hard power is the military complex, the political stability and strength and the economic horsepower that support a city. Soft power is made up of attributes that encourage an environment of openness, diversity, livability, growth, sustainability, and creativity.

If Tokyo in 1964 was a successful opening act for Japan on the world stage, will Tokyo in 2020 be a thrilling revival?

As is cited in Weber Shandwick’s report, Engaging Cities – The Growing Relevance of Soft Power to Cities’ Reputations in Asia Pacific – the Tokyo Olympics will be the pinnacle of all the great investments Japan is making to build its brand.

In anticipation of the 2020 Olympics, “Tokyo is delivering on a number of smart investments that will enhance the sense of occasion for those visiting the city as much as the 13 million people who currently live there. Innovative sustainability initiatives are high on the agenda with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government laying out a clear 10-year plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the city by 25% (when compared to 2000 numbers). The strategic push is focused on an increase and conservation of green areas in the city, advanced resource recycling programs and a tougher regulatory environment in regard to fuel types and construction.”

Rumsby said in his talk that Tokyo emerged as #1 in 10 of the 16 soft power attributes in a survey of 8 Asian cities, but people living locally in Tokyo are not the verbal ambassadors they could be. Japanese are modest, and the effect that could have is less drive and motivation to impress on the rest of the world to look at and appreciate the assets in Japan. As a result, so much of Japan and so much of Japanese culture is inaccessible to the non-Japanese.

So Rumsby offered a playbook for Tokyo as it drives towards 2020.

  1. Ensure you are aware of your of your city’s identity. Singapore is business-friendly. Paris is the City of Lights. NY is the city that doesn’t sleep. What is Tokyo?
  2. Continue to Note and Promote the Great Neighborhoods. People are proud to live in friendly, convenient, charming environments. Visitors love them too.
  3. Don’t Drive Out the Creative Classes. Keeping the artists, musicians, designers, poets, engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists in the city is key.
  4. Exploit People Power. the charm of a city is reflected in the experience one has with everyone in it, from the shopkeeper, to the bank teller, to the policeman, to the neighbor.
  5. Advocate. Don’t be so modest. Sign the praises of your home. Or rather give people to sing your praises.