I made a couple discoveries this summer.

1. While eating lunch downtown with some friends, I discovered that the city’s speakers play a lot of Tom Petty.

2. While preparing Redhead’s new office space in downtown, I discovered that the music penetrates the second floor through the glass facade. Right where our staff will be working, including our account services director, Racha.

Racha hates Tom Petty. (This is a fact I have known for quite some time.)

But Racha’s future torment isn’t the subject of this blog post — it’s just a metaphor for how cities might have some cool existing resources that they’re not using effectively. In this case, what if Tom Petty on repeat was replaced with recordings from Lansing Symphony Orchestra or one of the multitude of original artists that make Lansing home? That would take the asset — music piped through downtown — from nice to customized and original.

Simple tweaks like this take your city from ubiquitous to unique. This is a solution derived from developing a strong brand and positioning. (And it’s even more critical during a pandemic while everyone is staying at home.)


City Branding — why?

A city’s brand builds a common and unique identity for the community to rally around. When people see a piece of them reflected in their city’s identity, they get fired up. Fired up to kick in and contribute, especially when things get tough.

A common flag to unite under keeps people connected despite the stress and isolation the pandemic causes. It keeps people hopeful for the city’s future beyond the pandemic, so they’re more likely to, in turn, stay connected and contribute to the greater good.

Building something that can’t be found anywhere else is what keeps you in people’s hearts. Of course every city needs the pubs and coffee shops and retailers that our culture expects. But your city’s flavor should be one-of-a-kind, the kind of thing people daydream about and crave.


Branding — how?

As a city, you have three audiences: current residents, prospective residents, and visitors. Yet, just like any other brand, you can’t be all things to all people. You can’t be a sleepy hamlet and a bustling metropolis. Mostly because, well, you aren’t.

So, city branding is all about intrinsic analysis to find your unique strengths and characteristics. Developing your quirks and inside jokes. Supporting the things that make you one-of-a-kind. This kind of thinking keeps your brand, and thus all future operations, authentic. Because prospective residents want to live in a place that is real. So lean in to what’s cool about the city and make it work for you.

Not that Tom Petty isn’t cool, per se. He’s just not Lansing.

So as a current resident and recent downtown business owner, I’m coming for that playlist next.