The government's current review of Brand Hong Kong is, for some, about slaying the hapless 'flying dragon' which has been the city's logo since 2001. For others, it is about revisiting whether the slogan 'Asia's world city' rings sufficiently true for Hong Kong. For Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who is leading the HK$3 million review, neither is the point of the exercise. 'Whatever we have at the end, I think it's important, but not as important as the process itself,' he said in an interview. 'If we have gone through the process and got a lot of people to understand or at least think about what we stand for and what we aspire to be, that is a very good outcome of this branding exercise.' The task of revitalising the city's brand, which was announced in the chief executive's 2007 policy address, fell to the financial secretary, a decision that puzzled some, given the breadth of the subject. 'I don't think it matters who's doing it. We run a joined-up government,' Mr Tsang said. 'The chief secretary, the financial secretary, we are sort of those co-ordinating ministers ... This is something that can fall in anybody's portfolio.' While critics of Brand Hong Kong question the need to spend money on a review, others wonder what can be achieved with such a relatively small budget, given that serious branding can be costly. 'I know it's not a whole lot of money to spend to do such a big job. But we also are mindful that this is taxpayers' money,' Mr Tsang said. 'We need to do this in an efficient way because we will be accountable to the legislature in terms of the money we spend on this. We have gathered very dedicated people who are really willing to do this for peanuts.' In recent months, the Information Services Department, assisted by a consultant and a survey firm, has organised focus groups, one-on-one discussions, opinion surveys and an online questionnaire involving around 400 participants and 830 respondents in total. A website inviting people to share their 'ideal vision' of the city in 2020 netted about 30,000 hits and 300 responses over two months. Some 1,000 entries were received in 'my Hong Kong 2020' competitions, with prizes to be awarded tomorrow. Mr Tsang considered the level of participation during the review's now-concluded public engagement phase 'quite good'. 'We could do more but it's impossible to do 7 million people, so we need to start somewhere,' he said. The next step, the government says, is to analyse the input and decide how to revamp the brand in time for next year's World Expo in Shanghai. A youth forum is planned. External perceptions played a big part in the original HK$9 million branding exercise, conducted after the handover and during the Asian financial crisis. Some criticised the brand for being imposed from without. 'What we are doing now is enhancing the buy-in among the people in Hong Kong. It's sort of like an education process as well,' Mr Tsang said. 'The Hong Kong brand has been with us for some time. What we're doing is sort of an assessment and evaluation of the brand. Do we need a new one? Can we reinforce the first one? 'But, before we even go to that external level, we need to have a much higher level of buy-in because, I think in the earlier stage, that internal process was somewhat lacking.' A problem with the old brand, said Mr Tsang, was that Hong Kong came across as 'a cold commercial city'. This was clear from a perception analysis prepared for the government last year by the British-based Anholt City Brands Index. 'Nobody doubts the wealth and power of the place, or questions its global importance, but as a brand it lacks warmth and personality,' it concluded about Hong Kong. The findings were drawn from some 10,000 responses in 20 countries to a survey comparing Hong Kong with about 40 cities around the world. Hong Kong was perceived as having 'a strong footprint' on the world, as well as being a culturally interesting and dynamic place with great business potential. 'However, seen from outside its 'neighbourhood' of China and Korea, it is not seen as an attractive place to live, work or study,' the Anholt report said. Hong Kong's imposing geography was offset by its congested environment and a lack of visual icons people could identify. 'It is pretty clear that the areas needing attention are perceptions of its people, its physical attractiveness, and the general sense that it has something to offer people for the improvement of their lives, whether this is through education, culture or social opportunities,' the report said. Despite this assessment, Mr Tsang said he believed people still saw Hong Kong as Asia's world city. He said the term not only described where Hong Kong was, but where it aspired to be. 'To be a world city, you need to have the hard and the soft infrastructure blended in a harmonious way.' Soft power was reflected in the cultural aspects of Hong Kong, 'such as the music that we make here, the cuisine, the literature, the newspapers. These are cultures of a different sort that help to define Hong Kong.' Added to that, Mr Tsang said, was Hong Kong's appreciation of mainland Chinese and international culture. 'A lot of the cultural programmes that we see in the museums, the concert halls, reflect that and it's quite a powerful statement about what we are.' Ian Holliday, dean of social sciences at the University of Hong Kong, said that a small industry of academics had been studying world cities for about 30 years, resulting in many competing perspectives and no single definition. In October, HKU launched a four-year research project on world cities with King's College London and New York University. International scholars at the inaugural conference held in Hong Kong associated the term 'world city' with an ability to capture the spirit of the times; a concentration of economic activity; cosmopolitanism and charisma, as well as a capacity to lead on policy solutions and reinvent themselves. Professor Holliday said Hong Kong and Tokyo were contesting the world city leadership role in Asia. However, it was important for any such designation 'to have purchase' in academic literature where people had done research and produced criteria. 'It's not a slam dunk [for Hong Kong] in the way that it is for London and New York,' he said. Michael Enright, one of the founders of modern competitiveness analysis at the Harvard Business School, was among the first to use the term 'Asia's world city' in connection with Hong Kong a decade ago. 'The initial idea was to use 'world city' as an aspiration that would help drive Hong Kong's future competitiveness by benchmarking against the best and showing where we need to improve,' said Professor Enright, who has a consulting firm here and teaches at HKU. But, he said, the idea was 'moribund' now - a slogan rather than a strategy. 'Hong Kong is a recognisable brand, but the slogans fail at a basic level. A brand is a promise that only succeeds if it's based on reality. We are not New York or London and we have a long way to go to get there. Too often in Hong Kong, the focus has been on names and claims rather than improving the product so that it coincides with the slogans.' Professor Enright saw this as a philosophy of trying to convince the world that something was true, rather than making it true first. 'It's the notion that everything is right in Hong Kong, that the rest of the world doesn't understand us, and if we package appropriately people will overlook our shortcomings. That, to me, is why much of the Brand Hong Kong effort is misplaced.' There was no one city in Asia, he said, that performed the same function New York performed for the Americas or London for Europe in terms of consolidating high-end financial, management, communication, media, information headquarters and professional services. Hong Kong should benchmark against New York, London and Tokyo, find out what the gaps are and use that to inspire people. 'Being a world city can bring enormous wealth. Per capita income in Tokyo, for example, is about 2.5 times that in Hong Kong, and New York City's is about two times. Because becoming a world city at that level means more wealth, the idea can become a lever against special interests that could stand in the way.' Once Hong Kong knew where it wanted to go and had a strategy to get there, said Professor Enright, a brand campaign could be used to marshal the city's forces and portray a real vision to the rest of the world. Mr Tsang did not expect a detailed long-term strategy or blueprint to emerge from the Brand Hong Kong review. 'That's almost impossible to do. What is important is that we have a clear idea what our brand is, that we try to identify a big strategy, but in a rough form, and then try to fine tune it as we move along,' he said. The global financial meltdown had made the exercise even more relevant, he said. 'We need to have this clear branding just to prepare ourselves for when this financial crisis is over so that we will be able to hit the ground running.'