More and more cities today are aspiring to develop and effectively market a community brand identity, hoping to emulate the success of popular consumer brands like Coke, Apple or Ford.

Some cities have managed to build solid brand identities. We all know that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or which city is the Big Apple. These great brands are mostly centered on tourism, so what do you do if you’re not a major tourism hub? In some cases, a well-known community brand evolves naturally, such as Austin’s “Keep Austin Weird.” But most cities aren’t that lucky.

Most cities have to do extra work to discover and market a compelling brand, especially when they’re just one community in a vast sea of municipalities, each with its own pluses and minuses.

So what defines a successful municipal brand? The key elements are:

  • Attributes: Captures something of a city’s essential brand character, affinity, style and/or personality
  • Message: Tells the story in a clever, fun and/or memorable way
  • Differentiation: Spotlights what is unique or original
  • Effectiveness: Inspires a desired action, making audiences want to visit, live there, do business there or at least learn more

If some of these elements are lacking in your city’s current brand, then it may be time to rebrand. But first, a prerequisite to rebranding is determining what your city aims to achieve. Unless you have a clear, narrowly defined set of objectives and target audiences for your brand marketing efforts, then a rebrand is unlikely to be effective.

If you’ve addressed that issue, then what factors suggest a municipal rebrand is appropriate?

Your city may need to rebrand if any one of the following statements is true:

  • Your customers’ needs or behaviors have evolved
  • Major changes have taken place in your city, including new infrastructure, special events, offerings or experiences that create new opportunities (or challenges)
  • Perceptions among key audiences have significantly deteriorated
  • New, formidable competitors have become more active in your market
  • Your city’s visual identity has become dated and requires a refresh

Further, if things have really changed or deteriorated, you might need more than the “fresh paint” of a rebrand. You might need a complete repositioning in order to showcase something completely different about your community, or to reach an entirely different audience.

The bottom line is that many cities want to tell their “unique” story. In order to be effective, the brand conveyed must truly be a differentiated one, and then it can be bundled and marketed effectively. Even then, it’s a must that you know whom you’re targeting, and exactly what actions you seek to inspire.

Colby Walton

Executive Vice President & Partner