Last week, delegates from around the world gathered for the forum’s biggest event of the year, shared key learnings and celebrated successful strategies. We heard from Los Angeles and Oslo about managing their brand relationships, learned how Canada measured wellbeing with hard data, and gleaned insights into how Christchurch built its city brand. It was an international affair with plenty of top tips and success stories to be inspired by.

This year’s conference was made even more special as we helped City Nation Place launch its new brand. Our new brand takes their established map pin and reimagines it as a new visual identity, transforming it at times to an arrow, a compass and even confetti. The bold black and white is cut with bursts of bright colour — creating a confident, sophisticated and future-facing brand.

We also had the opportunity to host a roundtable about co-creating projects with communities, and shared our learnings on how we tackled downtown San Francisco’s ‘doom loop’.

1 — Co-creation that beats the convention

In our roundtable, one question came into focus: how can we inspire our communities to co-create with us? The answer is: make it fun. Nicole Trifone from the City of Williamsburg, Virginia shared her recent successes with Future Festivals, a series of events designed to gather public opinion. With free food and playful interactive games, the festivals attracted over 900 attendees who offered helpful feedback and resulted in a more diverse pool than ever before. Unconventional approaches like these create conversation and ultimately help place brands connect with wider communities.

Winners of the City Nation Place Awards 2023 were announced at the conference

2 — Repetition builds recognition

Between various tourism campaigns, city slogans and regional brands, place brands are in danger of multiplying like gremlins and spinning out of control. Marketing agencies can be part of the problem too, always eager to create the new shiny thing. But as demonstrated by New Zealand Story, whose brand value is greater than Microsoft and Starbucks combined — it pays to be consistent. David Downs from New Zealand Story said, “believe in the message and keep reinforcing it”.

The desire to pool resources and rally around one narrative was a central topic at City Nation Place. When stakeholders come together with a shared belief and value system, place brands will become so much stronger.

3 — Skip the stereotypes

In our talk about overcoming downtown San Francisco’s ‘doom loop’, we talked about the importance of being authentic but not expected. We intentionally avoided familiar tropes like the Golden Gate bridge and the colour international orange in our identity. Instead, we opted for blue and green hues and a subtle innovation angle.

This philosophy was brilliantly executed in Ōtautahi Christchurch’s film that seamlessly weaves English and Māori cultures together. This New Zealand city built its brand in the most challenging of times: the wake of the 2011 earthquake. Identifying what makes you special and embracing it is what creates deeper connections with customers, not the tired clichés found in stock image libraries.

4 — Nurture a culture of experimentation

From Helsinki’s virtual Fortnite concert to Sheffield’s street art trail powered by augmented reality — we saw brilliant examples of innovation. Experiments move us forward, and importantly, experiments relieve the pressure of having to deliver impossible results. As Mark Mobbs from Marketing Sheffield encouraged the room, “don’t be afraid to try things”. After all, it’s only through experimentation that we can be truly innovative.

5 — Facts need feelings too

In the high-octane closing speech of the evening, Per Grankvist, Chief Storyteller for Sweden’s Viable Cities programme, brought us into his challenge: how can Sweden get people excited about climate neutrality? Per preached that facts can be overrated, and to persuade irrational human beings, we need to bring the emotion. Don’t just tell people what it is, but tell them how it will feel. Per’s three pearls of wisdom for crafting a relevant future story is: “emotionally true, locally relevant and scientifically correct”.

Photo at top: DNCO’s Joy Nazzari and Luis Mendoza present an expert-led session at City Nation Place Global 2023, ‘Shifting the narrative: how to get your place brand to stick when everyone is stuck on a different story’

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