We’re wrapping up a city rebrand this week, and having conversations as to whether the signage should use upper case or title case typography. Regardless of where we land, it’s a great conversation to be having. It means our client is thinking through all of the manifestations of their brand.
It also led me to a realization. Signage is a great example of one simple fact: When it comes to branding, cities exist in one of two states.
What does your physical space say about your brand?
The distinction between organization or chaos can easily be observed by the physical materials in your city.
A commitment to good municipal branding equates to organization, cohesion, consistency, and comfort in every aspect of your physical space. When residents and visitors know what to expect, they are calmer. When things look familiar, they feel more comfortable and ready to explore.
On the other hand, if your signage is missing, confusing, inconsistent, dilapidated — does that help your residents and visitors feel secure, confident, and calm? Not really. If you see a new color palette or font every other block, your city is, well, chaotic. (Or worse, unkempt or neglected.)
This is an easy trap to fall into. You might think you need different signage for parking, wayfinding, and parks because they’re distinct departments with different needs. And with each department making their own decisions in silos, the results from one to another could be night and day.
But don’t forget, they’re all a part of the same city. Too much variety and you’re suddenly a mess — giving people whiplash as they try to absorb a new design and tagline every other block.
Chaos happens on the digital sides of things, too. Your digital branding includes, at minimum, all your departments' websites and social media.
When city departments list their contact information in different places, and every web page uses a different layout, the users (your residents) feel pain. The unique pain and frustration that, let’s be honest, is sometimes felt when dealing with municipal government.
And when you have a handful of content creators peppered throughout departments doing their own thing, the result is social media that’s just as chaotic and whiplash-inducing as messy signage. You’re dealing with a lack of consistency in language, aesthetic, and communication style. Again, this causes frustration for your residents.
Let’s get organized
Chaotic cities are the result of decentralized creative marketing or communications staff. Parking does their own signage. Public Safety does their own social. Parks and Rec has their own distinct branding. There is little to no collaboration when it comes to what is being communicated to residents across each department. Everyone is in their own little bubble.
Organized cities, on the other hand, are the result of intentional brand alignment. When you plan with your goals in mind, all the crucial — and many times overlooked — questions will be articulated and answered. This intentional strategic decision making will ultimately result in a unified system that can work across all of your departments. It’s clearer, it’s more comfortable, and it creates a feeling of connection throughout your city. So wherever your residents roam, they’ll know they’re home (digitally or physically).
This takes three things:
- An understanding that items you do not traditionally think of as brand materials have a tremendous effect on your brand and brand perceptions.
- An acknowledgment that the ultimate control for many of these elements has to go beyond individual departments.
- A commitment to brand consistency and someone who is empowered to nurture it in all its manifestations, throughout all departments.
(Ok, maybe there’s a fourth thing you need. A great brand to start with. But we could be biased.)
When you strengthen your brand commitment, you pave the way for residents — potential and existing — to do cool things. You create the foundation upon which they can help you build an even stronger city.
There’s so much heart and talent in the Midwest. Let’s capture it.