Are cities being successful at re-branding? How do we get companies to stay, corporations to sustain, and people to feel secure in their community?

By: Steph Stoppenhagen, CH2M HILL Global Sustainability Strategist

A brand image generates a unique set of ideas, feelings and attitudes in people. To remain competitive, large companies and cities can alter how they are perceived and relaunch themselves as a fresh new brand. Equally, competition between urban locations to attract new investment, tourists and residents has led many areas to establish completely new brand identities.

CH2M HILL realizes that whether our clients are large corporations or cities, there is a need for re-branding to sustain not only the status-quo but also to evolve, survive, and propel into the future – this means succeeding at doing more than just keeping pace with others.

About 5 years ago, cities became overzealous; almost impractical in creating unachievable goals, such as, “Our city will be 100% renewable in the next 3 years”, or “we will be a Zero Carbon City in 5 years time”.

We have all seen these campaigns promising extraordinary outcomes; however, we have not seen many of these promises come to fruition. I love that cities aspire to lofty goals but now it is time to hunker down and get busy with more than aspirational rhetoric. Cities are losing momentum as they fail to achieve what they say they will, within the timeframe they allocated. Cities cannot do this alone. Rather, cities must encourage a transformation in their citizens’ behavior by embracing creativity in their marketing campaigns. Re-branding efforts can be utilized to change people’s perception about living and working in a particular city or perhaps even convince a large corporation to move its headquarters to a new location.

People are tired of false promises and are eager instead for real programs that will engage the community and its stakeholders—and lead to positive development and growth for their communities.

“I amsterdiamsterdamam”, a great example of a re-branding effort led by the City of Amsterdam, is now a globally recognized trademark for the city and is connected to anything-amsterdam, including: city travel cards, bike routes, cultural and entertainment events, etc. This is a successful re-branding initiative that has propelled tourism, attracted new businesses and in the last month, “I amsterdam” launched a Climate & Energy Fund worth €45 million to invest in large-scale projects that demonstrate the savings of energy, the use of renewables, and energy efficiency. The campaign has created a green revenue stream for the city and its citizens.

The City of Charlotte has implemented a similar campaign, “Envision Charlotte”, using basic marketing tactics to brand the city as the most sustainable urban core in the nation. A consortium of partners, public and private, had a singular vision—to create a city that engages its community members to make smarter, more sustainable choices when it comes to conserving energy use in buildings, choosing water conservation plans and more. The campaign has four specific areas of interest: energy, water, waste and air. Using this effective, achievable campaign, the city is focused on driving economic growth with these goals as the foundation.

Understanding its selling features and defining its brand has allowed the City of Charlotte to successfully recruit the local community members, who are serving as brand champions, or people who have the passion to take action.“Envision Charlotte”  relies heavily on icharlottendividuals ( its champions) to help the community achieve its commitment to reduce energy, save water, eliminate waste and improve air quality, The city created the Champion Program to train people on how they can make a difference in their workplace, and connect them with likeminded champions. While re-branding doesn’t require champions, brand ambassadors and supporters are certainly a plus when trying to make an impact on a large community of people. Even with the recent government shut-down, who ended up opening the Veterans Memorial? The community stepped up, came together and made it happen…and that is what we need now if we want to create cities where people want to live and work, and at the same time helping to make a better world. This might sound cheesy but this is reality.

The successes mentioned above are only a small glimpse into the work being done to brand cities as booming, vibrant communities. But, we want to see more, and in order to get there, I want to re-visit my original statement of what we can do now to be successful in the future:

  • Cities need to create achievable goals with practical timelines
  • Outline re-branding needs
  • Create and inspire behavior change – this creates civic pride
  • Embrace technology as positive momentum

I think Daan Roosegaarde has it right, “The city is the new stage for thinking. Cities will be innovations – they create lapsed settings that make creativity possible and allow us to be excited about landscapes again…when we work with road manufacturers, we are taking non-usual suspects who are not from giant corporations, and connecting them with wider scale innovation. This is a great way to make a statement on a public scale…”

As I close, I’ll leave you with another example, this one a smart highway project. This video asks basic questions about how we could transform the way we think about designing and building roads in the future; it stirs you a bit and has you thinking in a more innovative way. Check it out:

Steph Stoppenhagen is a Sustainability Strategist Lead and a Client Service Manager for CH2M HILL’s Water Business Group in Portland, Oregon. Steph helps lead the sustainability ‘think tank initiatives’ at CH2M HILL Global Sustainability. Steph was responsible for the development of the technical team of solar experts that have defined a patented methodology called SAFE ™ Method (Solar Automated Feature Extraction) which automates the process of examining the Photovoltaic (PV) potential of rooftops and reduces the time to analyze this potential by 75 percent. Steph now integrates SAFE™ with various City and utilities globally, to link with climate change requirements. Steph is focused on eco-innovation with the creation of urban services systems that connect communities with their carbon goals. She is also a new special advisor to the Smart Grid Oregon (SGO) Board 2013.