Step 6: Brand building: your story of place and the visual identity

Before you go anywhere near the visuals, or creative concepts for the place, you need to get your narrative nailed down. 

Once you have your story straight, it is time to move onto the creative concepts and visuals of your brand.

Your story of place

Before you go anywhere near the visuals, or creative concepts for the place, you need to get your narrative nailed down. Your place story is fundamental to what you are trying to achieve. It needs to be a written-down, fully signed up to, shared story that encapsulates what your place is, and your aspirations for it. This will be the key document from which all else will flow. It will inform your key messages and underpin the visual expression of your brand. It should be informed by your research, your knowledge and your strategic objectives. It should pin down that elusive essence of place in a few paragraphs.

This may seem like a daunting task, especially for a place that doesn't have a clear identity or reputation, but every place is unique and special - even those with a somewhat bland ‘anytown' reputation. Think about the strengths of your place. Is it its location? Its transport links or retail offer? Space for development? Existing industry clusters? What are you, as a council, proud of? Parks and leisure facilities? An historic old town? What do your residents love about where they live? Again, keep those strategic objectives in mind when deciding where to put your focus. Think both about what your place is now and your shared aspiration for its future.

If you're doing this in-house, use the best writer you have in your team. Avoid hyperbole, and over-claiming. Always have in mind the negative aspects of your place and its reputation. You should not draw attention to these but neither should you ignore the facts and appear to be painting an unrealistic picture.

Make sure your narrative doesn't read like an estate agent or travel brochure. (that said, local estate agents are good to talk to in the research phase as they have an acute understanding of place marketing, and also of what attracts people into an area). This narrative document will probably never be read by an external audience but it should be the source document for all your future messages and collateral, so it is important to get the tone and the language right.

The visual identity

Once you have your story straight, it's time to move onto the creative concepts and visuals of your brand. Whether you deliver this phase in-house or use an agency, you need to ensure that what you end up with is a full set of brand assets, not just a logo and a strapline. There should be a coherent creative concept behind the brand that reflects and compliments the narrative. That should flow through every aspect of the visuals; colour palettes, fonts, brand hierarchy, logos, applications.

Once the creative concept and preliminary visuals have been approved by your senior stakeholders, then you will need to finalise your brand guidelines so that whoever is working with the brand, whether it is your in-house team, agencies, or partner organisations, will have a very clear rule book to follow. At this stage you should iron out any issues around co-branding – how will this work with council and/or partner brands? Will the council keep full control of the brand or will others be allowed to use it? If so, what will the approvals process be?

There are no right or wrong answers to this – you will know what will work in your area. Just make sure the rules are agreed and written up in the brand document and that they're tested out with stakeholders.