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Things that are quintessential

One of the things I think is important for cities to have are things that are quintessential. I’m talking about a quintessential behaviour, a quintessential experience, a quintessential accent, a quintessential architectural style, or whatever. I’m talking about the things that make people say: “Oh, that’s so New York.”

What I’m essentially talking about is brand equity for cities. For better or for worse, when somebody associates something with a particular city, you could argue that that city effectively owns a trademark. (Definition of trademark: “…a recognizable sign, design or expression which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others.”) In this case, the source is a simply a city.

Sometimes these trademarks are an informal understanding amongst people in the know, but in other cases they can become quite legitimate. Take for example Chicago’s distinct architectural style known simply–at least within architectural circles–as the “Chicago School.” This is a style that Chicago clearly owns. And if another city were to adopt it, people might say: “Hey, that building reminds me of Chicago.”

All of this is important because, just like companies, cities are increasingly in the position of having to compete for “customers” in a mobile and interconnected world. And if you ask some marketers, they’ll tell you (perhaps self-servingly) that brand is the most valuable asset a company has. But if you believe this to be at least somewhat true, then statements like, “Oh, that’s so (insert city name here)”, are actually pretty powerful.

Is there anything about your city that you could say is unequivocally yours?

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