By Jennifer Bennerotte
A brand is one of the most valuable assets of any organization, including a city. But what exactly is a brand? Many people assume it is your organization’s logo and, while that is a big part of it, a brand is more than a logo.
Building your brand
Modern-day branding can be defined as the art of representing a company’s identity — who they are, what they do, the level of quality they offer, their reputation, and more.
It’s how the phone is answered, and the experience people have when they walk in the door. It’s how products are packaged and delivered. It’s how employees carry themselves and sometimes what they wear. It’s what people think when they hear an organization’s name.
Local government leaders must think carefully about their brand and what they want residents, businesspeople, and visitors to think about their city and the services they offer. According to Indeed, organizations can build a brand in four steps:
Define your organization’s identity. Know what you represent and what your purpose is. By envisioning what you want your city to be, you can start planning to make it a reality. With your city’s identity in mind, you can plan marketing strategies for your programs and services.
Highlight your target audience. A city’s target audience is often residents, but is sometimes taxpayers, businesspeople, visitors or a combination of these. Homing in on your audience is important when cultivating brand identity. Consider your audience’s age, gender, socioeconomic status, and culture. These factors will help influence the way you present your city to the public in communications and marketing materials.
Organize your city around its desired identity. Structuring your city in accordance with your brand can help ensure the promises you promote are being upheld. For example, if city officials say they have a “virtual city hall,” they need to ensure they have a reliable website with all the electronic forms and files a resident might obtain in person at city hall.
Don’t be afraid to revise. Once you commit to a certain image, don’t be afraid to revise it. A brand evolves as an organization grows. For example, if you accomplish goals set in a comprehensive plan and achieve them, your brand may change a bit when the comprehensive plan is updated. If you establish or revise your mission, vision, or value statements, your brand should adjust with them.
Branding guide is key
At the City of Edina, we have enjoyed the benefits of a strong brand and have had a registered logo or seal since 1974, but we had never produced a document outlining the city’s brand. Without documented guidelines, well-intentioned employees or consultants often misused the city seal or other logos or created graphics and documents that did not fit with the city’s brand.
Employees in different departments wore different logos on different types of apparel and used different templates for materials. Municipal buildings were designed and decorated differently, many with no reference to the city and some with different customer service standards.
Standards were set over time, of course, but it was not until 2019 that our city’s Communications Department officially developed a “Brand Book.” The Brand Book pulls together standards that have been developed by the city over the course of several decades. It includes concise information on the City of Edina brand, city seal, other city logos, colors, typography, imagery, the use of plain language, and other brand standards.
A Brand Book is an important employee resource. City employees are the ones who enhance and protect the brand. The guide helps employees apply the city’s look and voice. Through a unified image and message, they are not just enhancing the city’s reputation; they are elevating the entire experience!
Through digestible content and engaging photos, the Brand Book quickly became an essential tool for Edina staff. The book has instilled a sense of pride among our employees and is a well-used resource. We no longer see employees using misshapen logos. Uniforms are ordered in the appropriate colors and with the right markings. The Communications Department receives requests from other departments to edit their policies and documents for plain language.
Cities and the services we offer are changing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is a good time to document your own branding standards or develop a brand book for employees to reference — from home or the office.
Jennifer Bennerotte is communications director with the City of Edina (EdinaMN.gov).