Since June, when Mayor Naheed Nenshi and others donned bright red T-shirts to launch a new national marketing campaign, Calgary has been showing its true colours. Called “Be Part of the Energy,” the campaign aims to make Canadians choose this oil-and-gas capital as a place to work and do business.
A partnership between Calgary Economic Development and local companies, Be Part of the Energy arose from the booming city’s chronic labour shortage. Its components include a website, advertising and social media activity.
The campaign’s slogan plays on Calgary’s identity as a young, vibrant city built on the energy sector, says Mary Moran, director of marketing and communications at Calgary Economic Development.
“We purposely made it an invitation and a call to action for people to consider Calgary if they’re considering a change either in business or in life,” Ms. Moran explains. “It was really important that we were able to tell a broad story.”
While developing the campaign with two consulting firms, Ms. Moran and her colleagues had to weigh positive and negative perceptions of their city. On the one hand, she admits, some people think the home of the Calgary Stampede is a redneck town. But on the other hand, Ms. Moran kept hearing that Calgary could do more to promote its lifestyle, cultural and business assets.
Calgary Economic Development, which wants to make their Be Part of the Energy campaign international, also studied other cities’ marketing and branding strategies. It needed a catchphrase with mass appeal, but buy-in from local residents was crucial, too. “The key is to ensure that it resonates with the people of your city,” says Ms. Moran, citing the long-running “I Love New York” campaign.
Cities need strong branding to compete with their global rivals for increasingly mobile talent, capital and businesses, says Greg Clark, a London, England-based adviser on city and corporate strategy and investment. But if city branding is more important than ever, it’s also more complex.
Thirty years ago, it was enough to develop an investor brand or a visitor brand, Mr. Clark explains. But today, people looking for a city with a good university might also be thinking about opening a business there – or about how their parents would enjoy the place as tourists.
Cities must create a brand platform that can operate across those markets, says Mr. Clark. “The idea that you can separate a distinctive brand position for investors versus visitors versus others doesn’t really work so much any more.”
Most big global cities now have branding efforts, Mr. Clark says. Even if they started with a strong inherited brand – think London or Paris – fierce competition has made them far more brand-focused.
The cities that rank highest have a distinctive identity and a clear lifestyle proposition, he says. They’ve also got a potent iconography, whether it’s buildings, an attitude or a way of life.
City marketers should avoid over-promising, warns June Cotte, associate professor of marketing at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business. “You don’t want to market the city you want to be,” Professor Cotte says. “You want to market what you can actually deliver to people.”
As Mr. Clark points out, even some top city brands suffer from weaknesses or imbalances. For example, Paris heavily favours tourism, though the city is also a major business centre.
This is the challenge in brand strategy – “not just to get the identity right or to get the iconography right, but to also get the reputation and the messaging right,” Mr. Clark says. “Or, more precisely, to try and get the experience of the city right.”
Hong Kong, London and New York may not be perfect, but they do market themselves well in several different ways. “There’s a sense in which these brands are real and authentic and true, and they do convey that these are great cities to do business in, they’re great cities to study in, they’re great cities to visit, they’re cities that are innovative,” Mr. Clark says.
Over the past decade, big Canadian cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary have emerged with strong lifestyle and livability brands, Mr. Clark says. But Canada obscures their business proposition by promoting itself abroad as a land of vast forests and snowcapped mountains, he argues.
In 2010, the Regina Regional Opportunities Commission launched a new city brand identity with the tagline “Infinite Horizons.” The commission’s president and chief executive officer, Larry Hiles, quickly realized that it takes a long time to build brand equity. The slogan needs to be backed up by meaningful improvements. “We need to keep delivering the meat behind the brand,” Mr. Hiles says.
A city brand is the experience that people have, not the story the city tells about itself, Mr. Clark says. Branding should be part of an improvement process, he urges, from repairing infrastructure to getting the cab drivers to live that brand a little more. “Otherwise people are selling a product that isn’t working.”
Cities to watch
Mr. Clark dissects three urban brands.
Success: Aarhus, Denmark
“It’s gradually establishing its identity as a centre of alternative technology on the one hand and alternative lifestyle on the other. It’s a very small city by global standards, but it has been very effective at communicating to the international community that this is a place that’s absolutely serious about being in business in the things that the world really needs.”
Failure: Melbourne, Australia
“They’ve been very good at communicating that they’re a city of sports and a city where interesting things happen. But they’ve not been so good at communicating their business proposition. And as a result, they’re finding that increasingly, business is moving from Melbourne to Sydney.”
Work-in-progress: Miami, Fla.
“It had 10 years of branding failure when it didn’t know whether it was a retirement community for elderly North Americans, a new tourist resort for young, hip people, or the future business gateway for Central America, the Caribbean and large parts of Latin America. The reality is, it’s all three of those things, and it has to communicate all three.”