City Branding is Driven by Citizens

Posted on December 09, 2019
City Branding is Driven by Citizens

When someone thinks of branding a city, it’s tourism that is likely to come to mind. Attracting tourists is just a small part of the equation, however.

As large cities became more and more congested and expensive over the program of the 20th Century, competition between them to attract visitors and businesses intensified. Large metropolises began to think about defining and redefining themselves in the eyes of the public. As a result, over the years, city branding has become more sophisticated and nuanced.

A city’s brand identity is aimed broadly at its current citizens and anyone considering living, working, visiting or investing there. It distills and defines the essence of the city’s values, mission and residents’ shared vision of the future.

The first step in any branding exercise is to identify the stakeholder groups, and form a committee that will consult the project. This will be a cross-section of local residents and representatives from different levels of the public and private sectors.

The brand leaders will need to clarify the project’s goals. It is easy to confuse branding with promotion and marketing, and stakeholders may want to jump right to a catchy slogan and a logo. An ad campaign with these elements may be one of the final outcomes of a branding initiative, but they are not the main focus.

In fact, the focus is not on a specific audience or consumer group. Branding a place is about people’s genuine needs such as work, safety and housing as well as amenities like transit, parks and cultural venues.

Branding encompasses an honest expression of what a city is and strives to be. For example, if a branding initiative seeks to capitalize on a city’s abundant green spaces it is not just an ad gimmick; it includes a promise to maintain and nurture that quality into the future. That is why it is crucial for citizens to be as involved in the negotiation of the brand image as possible.


The topic of this article is inspired by the curriculum for the Schulich ExecEd program Masters Certificate in Public Sector Leadership (Starts Feb. 3, 2020). This Masters Certificate program is designed to equip today’s government and public-sector leaders with the skills critical to establishing frameworks of governance that will encourage innovation and ensure best practices throughout their organizations.