Community Seals & Community Brands: How They Co-Exist

City or county seals have a long history of representing a community and serving as its ‘official’ emblem. As a result, some leaders and residents might express caution or confusion when the topic of a community ‘brand’ is presented due to their perception that a seal and brand are one in the same.

In reality, they are not. While they both represent the community, they serve separate, distinct purposes. One of the most common misconceptions in place branding and marketing is that a brand is simply a logo and tagline.

While those are certainly important foundational elements, a community brand represents so much more – it’s your reputation and what people think or say about your city or county when you’re not around. It’s the DNA and fabric of your community and the way people feel when they visit or live there.

There are many practical differences between a seal and brand that every community stakeholder – residents, municipal officials, business leaders, tourism and economic development professionals and so on – should know.

A Community Seal

The first community seal was created by and for New York City in the 1600s. The primary purpose: to establish and celebrate the city’s founding. Today, most cities and counties across the U.S. have followed the path of New York City by instituting their own seals to help visually establish its official existence.

As a result, a seal is primarily used on official municipal documents and proclamations. It’s also marked on notable government buildings and infrastructure, such as city halls and courthouses.

Like a brand, a seal typically integrates visual elements that represent the city or county, especially in a historical context. Seals are rarely updated as they honor the origin and legacy of a community (although we often update/refresh historic seals).

When considering a new, wider-appeal brand, it is a best practice to preserve your historic seal and educate the community on its uses to help residents know that history is not being diminished. Rather, an added dimension and symbol of your place is being created.

A Community Brand

While a community seal is an important and official part of a city or county’s history, it often does not tell the community’s distinct, authentic and ownable story in a contemporary, resonant context. This is especially deficient in an era when resident, business and talent attraction across the U.S. is more competitive than ever.

That’s where a community brand can serve as an effective and complementary tool to a community seal.

A brand – through elements such as a distinct and compelling idea, narrative, color palette, logo, in-market activations and much more – expresses a community’s unique differentiators in creative and compelling ways. It’s designed to help a city or county achieve its economic and quality of life goals, positioning the community as an ideal place for living, working, growing and succeeding.

A brand should be used across a variety of materials and channels, including a municipality’s website, social media, apparel, brochures, signage, murals and more. A seal is inherently less versatile. Businesses and residents can help bring the brand to life organically as well, leveraging it for events and other activations, such as integrating it into the name of a local beer or dish.

And finally, a community brand should not require refinements often or regularly.

The Importance of Education and Communication

When pursuing a community brand, it’s critical to ensure local stakeholders understand the key differences between a seal and brand from day one. These individuals rightfully have pride in their community’s origin and history and should know a brand will not replace or minimize it, or the long-standing seal.

Use every step of the branding process – from the project announcement and website, to community interviews and focus groups, to project completion and brand implementation – to engage, educate and reinforce the purposes of a brand, and how it differs from a seal. When doing so, you’ll mitigate potential criticisms of the project by not allowing misconceptions about a brand and seal to grow.

If you’re ready to uncover your community brand and put it and your seal to their best uses, we can help. We’re eager and excited to help you reach your preferred future.