The ties between Asia and Seattle are clear, with the recent Boao Forum just one example of how the two regions are partnering together. As a worldwide communications agency with 18 offices in Asia Pacific and many of our own clients conducting business in the region, we are keenly interested in trends that shape the continued development of the Asia Pacific region.

So-called hard power has become a fundamental reality in the region, as it has anywhere in the world. The size, population, wealth, trade muscle and military strength of a country remain as important today as they ever have. But we believe attention is now shifting to another kind of power: soft power.

Soft power reflects the ability of a country to gain competitive advantage by projecting influence at home and abroad. Central to that influence are a country’s major cities: they are the windows on a nation and, often, the reference point for our perception of a place.

That’s why our latest research focuses on the growing relevance of soft power to city reputation in the Asia Pacific. The Engaging Cities report examines the reputation of eight cities in Asia Pacific, the steps civic leaders and brands can take to enhance those reputations at home and abroad, and the reasons why it is increasingly important to do so. 

Across the diversity and geographical spread of cities in our report, our research highlighted five key factors that contributed to a city’s soft power benchmark strength. 

Identity: Understanding the aggregated value of a city’s soft power attributes is an essential step in building influence and reputation. But so too is knowing how to market those attributes selectively, and to whom. That makes identity a central part of city influence. Only when the identity of a place is clear can it become a reference point for future influence-based initiatives, as well as for the development of public spaces that nurture city life.

Neighborhoods: Neighborhoods are culture clusters that make the fabric of cities more accessible. They breed sector competitiveness and development in areas of retail, creative design and manufacturing, and these qualities make the people and personalities who work there more visible to those outside. Cities with a strong and well-understood neighborhood network deliver a more authentic experience to visitors, as well as residents, on account of the fact that this is where many of its soft power attributes reside.

Citizen Advocacy: In our research we saw positive confidence increase when citizens were asked about their own city. Consistently, they showed an intuitive willingness to amplify the attributes of the place they called home and to advocate on behalf of their own city; particularly when ‘competing’ with others. With millions of citizens in Asia Pacific increasingly moving between cities every year, we think this is a missed opportunity. With the right tools and a clear narrative behind them, citizen advocacy could be one of the most powerful forces behind a city’s soft power attributes.

The Creative Classes: Through our research, we saw evidence that the regeneration of city districts often accommodates and incentivizes the establishment of creative quarters. The relative ease of movement between markets in Asia Pacific means that those cities that amplify their creative spirit are more able to attract talent from other markets. As innovation hubs wilt in one market, so they erupt in another. That means that the ability of a city to retain their talent hangs on its willingness to foster a more diverse, affordable and inclusive environment in which ideas can be challenged and different perspectives embraced.

People Power: Big investments in infrastructure can be undermined by a failure to deliver an engaging experience. Engaging experiences are invariably delivered by people. People are often the overlooked attribute of any city; and because it will always be challenging to invent a service-oriented culture, a focus on establishing more structured gestures of service could well be the move that is needed to shift perceptions and external influence quickly.

To read the full report, click here, or view our highlights video below.

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Photo credit: Rob Faulkner

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