Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Creating Positive Brand Value for your city

I’ve written before about city branding but lately I’ve began to revisit the topic with inspiration from events in my city- Ottawa. The most recent economic development strategy talked about the need to rebrand the city from being just a government town, but unfortunately it didn’t actually include a brand strategy. I think the economic development strategy was being modest; Ottawa is known as a sleepy and boring small town.

Over the next seven years our city will undergo major changes that will positively impact the image of the city, but it’s more due to random projects than to a well thought out brand strategy. There are cities that communicate well and whose identities are well-known, like New York, Paris, Toronto and Montréal, and there are cities like Ottawa that don’t communicate as well and whose identities are still being figured out.

Every action that a local government, large corporation, college and university, or other significant group does communicates something and affects the city’s brand. This means that most decisions made by these local institutions have brand value. The new LED screen that will be erected at the Ottawa Convention Centre, our new segregated bike lanes, and our fairly new purchase of double-decker buses all have brand value.

When it comes to cities there’s what I call Positive Brand Value and Negative Brand Value. I define Positive Brand Value as “an action or decision undertaken by a local government, corporation, or any significant group that reinforces their city’s brand”. I define Negative Brand Value as “an action or decision undertaken by a local government, corporation, or any other significant group that hurts their city’s brand.”

With every action that is undertaken, these local institutions should not only focus on monetary value or value-added through efficiency but brand value. Double-decker buses have monetary and efficiency value but they also have brand value; they communicate that Ottawa is an international city. Even though I don’t cycle (but I’m strongly considering it) and I often get upset with cyclists, I think bike lanes are good for our city because they have brand value which is good for the overall economic development of the city.

Looking at the private sector, the design that a condo builder chooses for their next development can either have positive or negative brand value.

Local groups, businesses, and institutions, especially local governments, need to be made aware of whether their actions or decisions are creating positive or negative brand value for their city. This kind of awareness helps these groups and institutions to unify around a collective city vision and avoid behaviours that will tarnish their city’s image. Unfortunately there are many cities out there, like Ottawa, which lack a cohesive vision to unify around in the first place.

Kevin Bourne

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