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How cities get branded

Taxi on Times Square by frederic prochasson on

I have been thinking a lot about city branding lately. It’s a topic I’m interested in to begin with, and all of the Blue Jays mania going on in Toronto right now has got thinking about our own brand.

Because at the end of the day, yes, it’s baseball. But it’s also something much larger. It’s about civic and national pride, and it’s about who we are as a city. That’s why city branding has become a global industry and why it’s so closely connected to tourism, media, sports, and entertainment.

Still, great city branding is incredibly difficult to do. Lots of cities have tried and lots of cities – from Adelaide to Toronto – have failed. Anyone remember the “Toronto Unlimited” brand of the mid-2000′s? It had absolutely zero stickiness.

But in reality, cities are brand building all the time whether they realize it or not. Here in Toronto, our biggest brand builder right now is probably Drake. That might sound silly to some, but I believe it to be true. And next to that, you have people like Jose Bautista with his bat flips and his support of local brands like Peace Collective. In addition to their day jobs, these people are helping to shape the identity of the city.

What, then, is professional city branding supposed to do?

Well, in my opinion, it is their job to mine a city for the things that already exist. A city brand, no matter how great it may be, cannot be expected to create something from nothing. There has to be something there to begin with.

But once you identify that something, a great city brand can tie it all together; create a cohesive and collective identity; and serve as a guide for future decision making. And when that’s done effectively, you actually begin to enhance the things that you initially started out with. The associations become even more powerful.

So today I thought we could have a discussion in the comments about city brands. How would you describe the brand of your city in one sentence?

For me, I would describe Toronto along the lines of being the most livable and multicultural 24/7 global city. And when you think of it this way, you can probably see why I think a 2AM last call at the bar is laughable.

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