Creating a Lasting City Identity

In this article, we explore the key strategies and considerations that can help cities establish a strong brand identity, ensuring their lasting presence in the ever-evolving landscape of global cities.
June 21, 2023

Introduction: The Power of Effective City Branding

Branding a city is a multifaceted endeavor that requires careful attention to detail, a deep understanding of the target audience, and an ability to evoke emotion and connection. The goal is to create a visual identity that encapsulates the essence of a city while simultaneously appealing to a diverse range of individuals. The challenge lies in finding the right balance – a brand that is both timeless and adaptable, encompassing the unique character of the city while resonating with global audiences.

Purpose-Driven Branding: Setting the Foundation

When embarking on a city branding journey, it is crucial to establish a clear purpose. Understanding the goals and target audience is paramount to creating a successful brand. By clearly defining the purpose of the brand, we can craft a narrative that resonates with residents, visitors, and investors alike.

For example, in the case of the New York City rebranding campaign, the aim was to foster civic pride and encourage volunteerism. The "WE ❤ NYC" campaign served as a rallying cry, emphasizing collective action and a sense of belonging. By aligning the brand with the city's residents and their aspirations, the campaign successfully evoked emotional connections and promoted community engagement.

Unveiling the Unique Character: Identifying Key Attributes

To create a strong city brand, it is essential to identify the distinctive attributes that define its character. This process involves deep exploration, gathering insights from residents, businesses, and visitors to understand their perceptions and aspirations. By pinpointing the unique qualities that make a city stand out, we can develop a brand that effectively communicates its essence.

In the rebranding of Christchurch, New Zealand, following a devastating earthquake, the city sought to redefine itself while honoring its rich heritage as the "Garden City." Through surveys and in-depth analysis, the brand narrative "Christchurch is a playground for people" emerged, capturing the city's balance between work and leisure. This value proposition successfully differentiated Christchurch from other destinations, attracting external groups to invest and visit.

From Vision to Reality: Building a Brand for a New City

Creating a brand for a city that is still being built presents a unique challenge. In the case of Nusantara, Indonesia's planned capital city, the absence of an established culture and population requires an innovative approach. By aligning the brand with shared values and reflecting the community's reality, we can create an identity that resonates with the future residents.

The Indonesian Association of Graphic Designers (ADGI) is actively involved in the visual identity work for Nusantara. Through a collaborative process, ADGI invited designers across the country to participate in logo-making, fostering a sense of ownership and inclusion. The winning design, "Pohon Hayat Nusantara" (Nusantara's Tree of Life), reflects the rich biodiversity of Indonesia and the nation's cultural heritage.

Balancing Familiarity and Innovation: Designing a Recognizable Brand

In city branding, recognizability is crucial. The brand should feel familiar to evoke emotional connections, yet it must avoid clichés and obvious stand-ins. By infusing modernity into established symbols and drawing inspiration from the city itself, we can create a brand that balances familiarity and innovation.

When rebranding Oslo, Norway, the goal was to refresh the existing city seal while retaining its recognition. The design team, led by Marc Ligeti, opted for a modern and minimal approach, making it more usable and versatile. By drawing inspiration from the city's colors and fonts, the brand effectively communicates the essence of Oslo, representing everything from streetcars to the fjord.

Harnessing Local Insights: Engaging the Community

Engaging local communities and stakeholders throughout the branding process is vital to capturing the authentic spirit of a city. By incorporating diverse perspectives, we ensure that the brand narrative accurately reflects the shared values and aspirations of the people who call the city home.

For instance, McCarthy Studio, in collaboration with Māori design studio Ariki Creative, worked on the visual design of Christchurch, ensuring the representation of the city's bicultural heritage. By incorporating the Māori language, traditional art techniques, and symbolism, the brand reflects the cultural diversity and deep connection to the Avon River.

Embracing the Outside Perspective: Impartiality and Understanding

While having a deep understanding of a city's nuances is crucial, an outside perspective can bring impartiality and fresh insights. Branding a city requires a balance between personal connection and an objective outlook, ensuring the brand resonates with a diverse audience.

Resonance Consultancy, based in Canada, specializes in creating destination branding globally. By leveraging their expertise, they can objectively shape a city's brand identity, free from preconceived notions or personal biases. Similarly, creative directors like Jeffrey Ludlow, who lived in Madrid for a decade, bring critical distance and a nuanced understanding of the local condition.

Navigating Challenges and Embracing Engagement

Branding a city is not without its challenges. Balancing diverse stakeholder opinions, managing expectations, and trusting instincts are all critical aspects of the process. It is impossible to please everyone, but engagement, whether positive or negative, can lead to valuable insights and outcomes.

The success of a city brand lies in its ability to emotionally connect with its community. By embracing the story of the place and involving the people who live and travel there, a brand can foster a sense of ownership and pride. Positive engagement and the fulfillment of brand objectives, as demonstrated by the "WE ❤ NYC" campaign, are key indicators of success.

Conclusion: The Power of Great Design in Branding

In the ever-evolving landscape of global cities, branding plays a pivotal role in establishing a city's identity, attracting visitors, and driving economic growth. By understanding the purpose, capturing the unique attributes, engaging the community, and embracing an impartial yet nuanced perspective, a city can create a lasting brand that stands the test of time.

Effective city branding is not just about producing an iconic mark; it is about bringing the story of the place to life and connecting with the people who call it home. Great design elicits emotion, sparks conversation, and contributes to a better world. As branding experts, we are committed to helping cities navigate the branding game, creating brands that resonate and endure.

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