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The ‘6 Ws’ of City Brand Development

By Amit Koserwal | Orcomm Advertising

Before we delve into this topic, let's get the basics out of the way. We all use the terms ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ frequently and interchangeably. But what exactly is a brand and are brand and branding really the same thing? Contrary to popular understanding, a brand is not just a name or a symbol representing a product or service or even a city. It is how people perceive an organization, a product/service or a city basis their own unique experiences with it. A brand is not developed just for easy identification, rather it is developed to create strong relationships with people. Let’s take some real life examples like Tata as a brand. People associate brand Tata with trust, honesty, transparency, quality, excellent customer service and many more. All these emotions and associations conjure up in our minds the moment we see the Tata logo. So the logo becomes a visual manifestation of all the promises, experiences and values the brand delivers. Branding on the other hand is the process of associating the symbol to drive content, conversations, perceptions, conviction and action amongst people.

With that out of the way, let’s focus on how exactly do we brand a city? Like all brands, developing a city brand is a strategic endeavour that starts with finding the purpose of doing so.

Find the ‘Why’

In most cases, city/place branding ends up becoming a means to promote the place’s tourism appeal, for example Kerala, Gujarat, MP etc. This however is just one plausible purpose. Ideally the reasons to brand a city should be derived from an assessment of the city’s current assets (cultural, historical, economical and livability) and its vision for the future. And whilst it has to be targeted at outsiders to gain competitive advantages, it has to be equally targeted at its citizens to induce affection, participation, action and solidarity. One important aspect to note is that a city has various organizations with various departmental goals. Therefore, it is imperative that all their goals are aligned in a single overarching strategy to achieve a singular brand perception.

Find the ‘What’

A city is an amalgamation of history, cultures, attitudes, behaviours and physical features. Apart from that every city has its unique goals and future objectives spanning various facets of economic and cultural growth. That’s why finding ‘what’ aspects of your city you wish to promote is a crucial and tedious task. The goal here is to find the right balance between the current reality and perceptual projection of the city. Aspects that are admirable, desirable and aspirational. With that in mind one must find the ‘core’ of the city that is unique to it and that attracts the attention of the right target audience and meets all predefined objectives of the exercise. The important thing here is to have a good mix of assets (present and promised) that ensure an allround city brand.

Design the ‘WOW’

A city brand needs an identity. A clever visual stimuli that people recognise the city with. Something that represents the very essence of the city in its entirety. It may not necessarily mean using the most prominent monument of the city. The identity has to have a blend of the city’s legacy and future image. It needs to appeal to both the visitors as well as the citizens. And it cannot be a singular design because that will be restrictive. It has to be a modular design system that gives the marketeer the ability to present all the city brand promises and values with. It should also inspire city planners to develop key touchpoints within the city. Some real neat examples of the same can be found in the epitomic NYC (and not I♡NY) identity or the Melbourne city identity or even Azerbaijan identity.

Align the ‘Worlds’

A city is a complex structure. You cannot simply do anything without a harmonic relationship between all stakeholders and numerous organizations that run the city. Hence one of the most crucial steps is to align all their interests with the strategic goals of the city branding. Cooperation amongst all stakeholders is as key to developing a successful city brand as it is to run a successful coalition government :)

Spread the ‘Words’

Every city has two clear sets of audience. The internal audience i.e. the citizens and the external audiences i.e. the prospects and the world at large. Both have distinct relationships with the city. The communications to both these distinct sets need to be worked as per these relationships both existing and desired. For example, if a city expects to promote participation amongst its citizens, it needs to tap into the aspects that conjure up feelings of pride for the city in them.if a city needs to attract business and talents, it needs to create and promote high “ease of business” and “quality of life” values.

Measure the ‘Works’

Like any brand initiative, city brand development is a perpetual ‘work in progress. With its numerous stakeholders and objectives, it has to be constantly monitored, measured and amended to ensure it never strays from the strategic objectives set in the beginning. Metricses need to be put in place to measure the impact of every action and activity on the perception the city has set out to project and achieve. A periodic perception study can help mitigate challenges and course correct the activities to build a strong city brand.


ABOUT CLAPP PROGRAM The City Love and Prosperity Promotion program is a collaborative program to help Indian cities use city branding as a means to create more loveable and liveable cities.

CLAPP aims to create awareness, curate ecosystems and catalyse actions for city branding. Orcomm Advertising is supporting this program as a communications partner under our City Branding Initiative. CLAPP program has three pillars; creating awareness, curating ecosystem, and catalysing actions. It will mainly focus on knowledge development on city branding, with collaborations and partnerships with various stakeholders.

CLAPP will be vital in restoring the perception of the city for the inhabitants, and potential visitors. By shifting the image and the attitudes of the people, it would help to attract investments, and also demonstrate the treasures of the city. It will help to explore innovative approaches in urban areas and create a sense of love and attachment to the city.


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