Brands & Cities: What architecture could teach advertising

What do brands and cities have in common? This may seem like an abstract question, but I was reading a book recently that got me thinking (The Endless City). The book presents data and thinking compiled by the The Urban Age Project, an investigation into the future of cities organized by the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society.
Some parallels between brands and cities:

Firstly, brands and cities are both human constructs, reflective of human motivations and desires. Their purpose and use is exclusively human, and they reflect the broad spectrum of human conditions. Ego, fun, love, safety – all are inherently part of brands, cities, and the human experience.

Secondly, brands and cities both represent an amalgamation of design and function. A brand, just like a building, is useless on paper alone and must prove its relevance in practice. Stairs need to be walked up, doors need to be opened and brands need to be experienced. So, given these parallels, perhaps brand planners could learn a thing or two from urban planners?

Applying urban planning principles to brand planning:

One of the best sections of the book was written by Deyan Sudjic, Director of the London Design Museum. Referring to successful cities around the world, Sudjic makes the following conclusion:

"Change is a fundamental part of the human condition. As urban planners, we need to avoid the creation of conditions that serve to freeze a city and cancel out the possibility of further change - cities need to easily contract or expand to reflect change."

In the world of branding, we struggle with this same issue. Many of the mainstream theories and branding models we use actively freeze brands, and limit their ability to reflect change (brand pyramids for example). This is a major issue, since change is such a fundamental part of the human condition. 

As such, it may be worth re-interpreting Sudjic’s words into a sentence on branding:

'Change is a fundamental part of the human condition. As brand planners, we need to avoid the creation of conditions that serve to freeze a brand and cancel out the possibility of further change – brands need to easily contract or expand to reflect change'

Applying this urban planning principle to brand planning, a new theory of branding may emerge. Successful brands, just like successful cities, would work like human lungs. Expanding or contracting easily, based on human motivation:
Instead of just reacting to change, a brand would embrace it. Boom or bust, war or peace, you’d have one incredibly resilient brand.

4 comments:

Adrilles Carvalho said...

Like the idea of a changing brand but what about consistency in this new approach? How often can we change our positioning?

Nick Black said...

Hi Adrilles,

Not sure that I’d advocate changing a brand’s positioning, but I would suggest that brands need to be build differently.

Using Morphological Psychology & Research, we’ve found that human motivations always work in tensions (or opposites). For example, people will attempt to take control of their finances (to show that they’re the boss), but then often end up losing control because there is too much information to absorb.

These tensions also exist with brands, for example, brands need to have a strong foundation or history (just like a building), but they also need to be innovating and transforming to stay relevant. Both of these components are equally important to the brand.

By building brands that work with these tensions, you create more effective and flexible brands. This is similar to building cities that can easily adapt and change.

Hope this makes sense.

Nick.

Wessel said...

Nick,

Location branding deals with many variables - some less controlled. Often the brand positioning is a direct result of the significant stakeholders collaborating on key messages.

The "history" and "tension" you refer to is central to this process. To "hold" a process like this together requires more than finding and accentuating the USP, competitive advantage etc. It needs leadership (among all of the stakeholders) driven by the desire to build the reputation of the location over time.

As with product brands, the proof is in the authenticity of the location brand as judged by its consumers (tourists, investors, residents).

Nick Black said...

Wessel,

RE: Authenticity of the location brand as judged by its consumers (tourists, investors, residents).

You may like to check out a previous post - somewhat related to this topic:
http://nickblackonblack.blogspot.com/2008/12/environmental-bench-marketing.html