Changing Your City’s Logo

The average person can recall and correctly identify logos for global, long-established companies (think McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Nike, etc.), a handful of local businesses they frequent, and their city’s logo. Whether the smallest town or the largest cities, municipal branding ranks high on recognition regardless of the logo.

The challenge for cities isn’t whether or not their logo is memorable to their citizens because no matter how bad, it will be… water bills, public works trucks, the water tower, employee uniforms, city hall signage, etc. The challenge is what story does it tell outsiders – potential new residents, businesses, developers and so on. Businesses know that a logo is a visual part of the brand… the promise. A logo represents not just who you are, but what you’re offering. Too many city logos focus on where they’ve been… on the past. Take a look at your city (or your business) logo.

If it showcases what people remember about your past, or what made you into the city you are now, it’s time to rethink your brand.

Every time I share those thoughts with a municipal committee (and city logos are almost always a committee-based process), someone – or several ones –  says, “What?! We can’t ignore our history like that! XYZ is what made us famous/great/different!” I’m not advocating that cities ignore their history, just asserting that the logo is not the place to focus on it. Add a page or two to your website that tells the story of where you’ve been and what made you great. Invest some dollars into your local museum, or better yet, into promoting it to your citizens.

Again… everyone who lives in your city will know your logo. The people or businesses you want to attract aren’t going to investigate what you’re all about (and whether they belong in your city) based on your history. They’ll base the decision to dig deeper based on the future possibilities you promise. Your logo should focus on the future possibilities.

Once we hurdle the past v. future debate, it’s time to start the real work.

Good brands usually have both a strong visual icon or image and a tagline that sings. Again, think about Nike or McDonald’s…. the brand promise isn’t just the swoosh or the arches, it’s the icon plus “Just do it” or “I’m loving it.” Because city logo design is typically a committee-driven process, we don’t start with the logo. We start with the tagline. Removing the visual element lets us concentrate with the group first on the story we’re trying to tell… on what one thing we want people to think, know, feel about this community if they see the brand.

In the next post, I’ll detail the process we go through with the group to develop a tagline for a community. It usually takes between 90 and 120 minutes, and I’ve used it successfully with multiple cities. It’s a process I enjoy, and one the members always tell me afterward was way more fun than they thought it would be 🙂


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