City branding

The term “branding” gets thrown around a lot in the marketing and communications fields, but what does it really mean?By very definition, a brand is a perception, emotion or expectation, maintained by a stakeholder describing the experience related to doing business with an organization. Branding, then, is the proactive and strategic process an organization takes on in order to command and protect this perception, emotion or expectation.

Essentially, branding helps manage reputation, build valuable relationships with stakeholders, and provide a means for constituents to immediately recognize a program, building or marketing material as one produced by a specific organization. The most common tactics people think of when they think branding are logos, taglines and colours. But especially in the case of city branding, it encompasses so much more.

“Branding a city is not just about the logo but the intricate details — as small as clean streets and as deep as getting a city’s residents to feel proud to be brand ambassadors,” said Jonathan Gabay, founder of Brand Forensics. “When citizens are proud, visitors are encouraged to find out what the fuss is all about and then tell the world.”

It is local government’s responsibility to ensure that constituents are safe and satisfied within their communities, which ultimately produces the positive image that is essential for cities to position themselves as destinations for people to live, work, play and visit.

Your city likely has an existing brand—whether it is one created by your department or administration or one that has been maintained by citizens without formal creation or oversight from your city. Regardless, there are steps you can take today to ensure city branding that is effective and positive for years to come:

  • Base your city branding on three key components: Distinction, relevancy and consistency. You should stand for something that connects to what citizens consider to be important, such as community, trust or business development to name a few. What’s more, people should come to believe in a relationship based on the consistency of behaviours they experience. There can’t be a disconnect between what a brand says it is and what it actually is in order for branding to stick.
  • Develop your city brand to address three key dimensions: Roles, standards and style. Addressing a city’s relationship to its citizens, explaining through missions and visions how this relationship is developed and in what manner are all important to creating a brand that is consistent and easily communicated internally and externally.
  • Always keep in mind that your city brand should be authentic. Your brand needs to be based on what your city truly stands for—the strongest brands reflect the values and convictions of their creators as demonstrated over time. If authenticity isn’t there, neither will the buy-in be nor support of the community necessary for brand success.
  • Along those same lines, know that without internal excitement around a brand, external adoption just isn’t going to happen. Communicate the brand to all employees and ask that they adopt it and do their part to promote it through everyday activities and tasks. Don’t just tell them about what the brand is, share with them what it can do for the community and how it will make their jobs easier. Stock them with plenty of logo’d items, like pens, clipboards or sticky notes to spur adoption. If your office doesn’t already, consider allowing casual dress one day per week with the one request that employees wear collared shirts tastefully incorporating your city’s visual identity.
  • Be aggressive—get the brand out there. Part of being consistent with your city’s brand is internally incorporating brand standards—such as policies that advise which logo to use and when or what style of writing to adopt based on an audience. With everyone on the same page, the brand can be communicated in a variety of ways with the same meaning and the same look and feel. Make sure all external documents feature your city’s logo and contact information. Promote your city’s website and other resources through the brand. Actively engage citizens with the brand by offering logo’d giveaways like Grocery Totes, Keychains, or Embroidered Caps during programs or at community events.
  • Review on a regular basis. Let’s face it, what’s important to citizens today is not always the case tomorrow. Part of remaining a relevant brand means reassessing the needs of the community and constituents from time to time and reworking the brand in small ways or big ways to fit a new focus or priority.

Branding is a key component to the success of a city’s infrastructure and tourism. Get on board with proactive branding today to improve your city’s reputation and viability well into the future.

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