How to help a city find its place

by Susan Hawkins

Published on
September 2, 2016

Just like products, people and companies, places hold a position in our minds — whether that position is managed or not.

Rowland has been applying its brand positioning expertise to a number of our cities to help them find their place in an increasingly competitive and crowded world.

Here’s what clever cities should consider when developing their brands.


1. What do you want to be famous for?

Smart cities identify early what they want to be known for and establish strategies to bring that positioning to life. Rather than take on Melbourne and Sydney as large corporate centres, Brisbane is finding its place as a New World City. It is carving out eight industry sectors to help it compete nationally and globally. These include creative and digital, higher and international education, and advanced manufacturing.


2. Engage those who will have the greatest influence over the city’s success

Listen to those who already live, work, learn and play there and those who will in the future. It’s also important cities understand any gaps between current and future place, and what it will take to bridge them.


3. Keep it real

Place positioning should be aspirational and spark imagination for the future. It also needs to resonate with residents and other key audiences. Cities that reposition themselves well draw on their strengths – and often their heritage — to reposition themselves for the future. Geelong tapped its rich vein of skilled workers from its expired car manufacturing industry. It then developed more advanced manufacturing opportunities and positioned itself as an education and health hub.


4. Walk the talk

Ensure there are sufficient proof points to support the story. Even if programs and projects are not underway, cities need to ensure they talk confidently about what they will be doing. City marketers should also communicate milestones as they come to life.


5. Be consistent

A city will have numerous audiences interacting with its branding across many levels. A smart city will ensure that these interactions, be it with tourists, residents, businesses, workers and infrastructure, are as consistent as possible. Tailoring interactions to specific touchpoints will also enhance communication.


6. Align agendas

It takes a considered approach to build a city, with many factors and stakeholders at play — such as promotion, investment, tourism and culture. To effectively position a city, these elements need to come together and work together to not only align with and bring life to the vision, but tell a common story that builds momentum and goodwill over time.


7. Buy-in from all levels of government

It’s important to secure the support from council level to state level, and even federal. Individual members of government can become key advocates to promote the positive aspects of a smart city, and importantly, their buy-in and support can enable cities to grow and prosper, through funding and approvals.


8. A consolidated commitment over a long period

Repositioning a place doesn’t happen overnight. A long-term approach will ensure that a city secures a real place in the hearts and minds of those that belong to it.