The most effective city brand has a single-minded purpose that develops organically. The world’s perception of Paris is romance. New York’s brand is an eclectic mixture of people, all of whom, regardless of sex, age or creed, can realize their dream if they work at it. The brand is an attitude that manifests itself in everything from customer service to towering skyscrapers. This combination is so admired that it seamlessly gets branded on anything from a bumper sticker to a baseball cap.
Branding a city is not just about a logo or tagline, but the intricate details of a City’s culture. This is a coordinated effort that is as small as clean streets and as big as getting a city’s residents to feel proud to be ambassadors of the brand. When citizens are proud, they want to share it with potential visitors. This creates the world’s most meaningful and effective form of advertising, word-of-mouth.
For governments, branding a city is a continuous process that can’t be fixed with a short-term campaign. In a digital age where conversations go on forever, brands need to commit to the long-term and mind the ever-changing audience. This means committing to real improvements that support the new image they’re trying to portray. To create buy-in, they need to be transparent throughout the process.
Earlier this year, the City of Philadelphia launched a unified branding message with just three letters: P-H-L. Both public and private organizations worked together on one defined position. Their goal was to identify themselves as an international city. Their airport and Amtrak call letters became the crux of PHL: A Modern Renaissance City. It’s simply brilliant. What do you think?
In the end, the most important thing for cities to remember is consumers control brands. Any branding campaign should start with the citizens themselves, because they’re the ones who will tell your story every day…for better or worse.