The Top 6 Ways City Brands Inspire Local Action

When we consider all the divisiveness and gridlock at the federal and national levels, it’s easy to feel a sense of hopelessness. “Could they ever possibly get along? How will we ever get anywhere?” Our Towns, a chronicle of in-depth visits to dozens of small-to-mid sized cities by James Fallows and Deborah Fallows, shares the sentiment. We enjoyed meeting the Fallows recently in Jacksonville when they spoke at the University of North Florida. James and Deborah found that towns experiencing civic success show a focus “not on insoluble national divisions but on practical problems a community could address.” In their travels, the Fallows found that “the more often national politics came into local discussions, the worse shape the town was likely to be in.”

What a powerful reality. Local action is how our country can move forward, one town at a time.

But how can an entire community take part in that action? There are councilmen, aldermen and commissioners to whom we can voice concerns and hopes. There are committees and commissions on which we can serve. There are town halls and referendum votes, too.

A wider and long-lasting impetus for inspiring local action is a community or city brand. So much more than a logo and tagline, a community brand is an expression of a community’s unique essence – its authentic, distinct and ownable qualities boiled down to simple language and symbols that become part of its fabric. Yes, the brand lives on websites, city entry signs, brochures and videos, but it’s more important home is in the heart of your residents. With an inclusive, research-backed brand development process and careful rollout, the community brand can inspire so much local action and forward motion. Here are North Star’s Top 6 Ways City Brands Inspire Local Action:

1. Sparking Self Love – until a community believes in itself, nothing happens. The first great benefit of a community brand is that it awakens citizens and leaders to what they love about their town, in a freshly articulated way. The best advice was always, “love thyself first.” The same goes for communities. The National League of Cities reminded of this recently with its well played “Love My City” campaign.

2. Unifying & Galvanizing – a close cousin to wavering community self-esteem is a community that is just “there” rather than being unified around a common vision and character. A well-shaped community brand provides the emotional glue citizens need to see and feel the spirit and direction of the city.

3. Shaping Your Place Experience – ideally, community brands take on a three dimensional nature. This is the fun part. A beer at the local brewery crafted and named with the brand idea in mind. A coffee blend at the local roaster. Public art that reflects the brand story. Public space, adventure attractions and natural environment improvements that personify the brand. Powerful brands live throughout the community, not just promoting, but improving the quality of life and reinforcing a sense of community self.

4. Igniting Energy Around Economic Development & Tourism – with its story in a concise and compelling form, a city is so much better equipped to sell to the site selection and tourism marketplaces. Employees in city ED & CVB offices will feel empowered and more efficient. And, customers in these markets (site selectors, meeting planners, etc.) love to see a community that knows its story and tells is consistently – from city hall, to the EDC, to the CVB and across partner organizations like downtowns and arts and cultural alliances. Speaking of that…

5. Encouraging Community-wide Alignment with Your Vision & Character – in addition to core partners and stakeholders, the brand can and should influence major local employers, non-profits and community groups to live the brand, which means they are embracing your city’s vision, values and goals together.

6. Shaping Policy – at its best, a community brand states your community’s guiding ethos. When widely shared, that ethos should influence how policy is shaped. The Human Rights Ordinance. Funding for the much need downtown hotel. Master planning a new public space. Affordable housing. A smart community brand can shape and influence all of these examples and more. Now that’s driving local action.

In a divided nation and safe from the national media’s eyes, towns and cities hold the power to make progress happen in America. Well developed city brands play a central role in fueling that power.