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.
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.