How do you brand a city like Southampton?

Ed Gould - 11th December 2017

The other week, I took a call from a journalist. They had heard on the grapevine that the City of Southampton (UK) was looking at a project to work on its brand. I was asked, “Should Southampton be the ‘Ocean City’… ‘Shopping City’… what is ‘Brand Southampton’?”

The search for a clear identity is something that seems to have been at the front of many peoples minds for some time. Over the years people have suggested many ideas on the subject. I’ve been told that cruise liners define the global brand, that we need a building like Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower and even that ‘containers are Southampton’.

It’s not that these suggestions are necessarily incorrect but it seems they often come from a very singular point of view. Creating a brand for the city should start from a broader place.

I believe creating a brand for the city has to start from a broader place. The city is a sum of its parts. Southampton is hugely diverse, full of amazing people, organisations, businesses and brilliant moments. ‘Brand Southampton’ should celebrate all.

So, the real question is not what the logo or tagline should be but how to capture the city’s spirit.

So, that’s why when I was asked ‘Should Southampton be the next Ocean City or shopping capital?…’ I emailed the journalist the following response…

To do it well I suggest we need to engage people who:

  • Recognise where the city came from (industrial, grafting, sea bound, trade heritage)
  • Are honest about where we are now (a modernising city with a unique position, a great education, huge breadth of businesses. A city that is improving all the time)
  • Have the vision to see beyond to where we will be in the future. (A city of innovation and new opportunities packed with a world-class experience).
  • It’s less about leaflets and websites and more about movements, collaboration and pride. It’s about understanding and celebrating what we have been and what we are becoming. It’s about being able to present this to the world in a natural, real and honest way.

The brand is not a single logo or campaign but a reflection of the city and its people.

We are a city that connects well with the rest of the world. We have many ingredients of a top 10 UK city but to claim our place we must inhabit the minds and hearts of people locally, nationally and internationally. Does the city deserve this mind space? Yes.

There are plenty of reasons it resonates globally already – trade, travel, education, sport, cultural offer.

Now we have more reasons to be cheerful, recently being recognised as one of the fastest growing tech clusters.

It’s a place full of innovation, ideas and support for new tech businesses. We are creating new brilliant businesses all the time in and around the city.

So, when you ask is Southampton the ‘ocean city’,’ shopping city’ (and I know you want a ‘tagline’ answer) my view is Southampton is a city of connections.

We connect to the world through our trade and port, our high innovation businesses, our amazing universities, culture, port, cruise ships, airport, sports clubs, our artists and musicians. The more we work together and connect, the stronger (brighter) the city’s brand will burn.

The work to coordinate a strong voice in the city has got traction with the likes of GO!Southampton. It has set out specific objectives that will deliver stronger marketing, a better city centre experience, and an improved business community.

So, how do we start to make it happen?

  • Understand where we are / research and audit
  • Collaborate (genuinely) and get involved with the vast array of things that are already happening. Review what’s gone before.
  • Create a shared, flexible vision of where we want to be in the future
  • Support ambition and new ideas
  • Develop a brand story and create a messaging framework
  • Deliver change, activity, and communications that support the story
  • Stop talking down the city. Take pride in what it is and speak up for it at every opportunity.

If you have ideas on the subject or views on the best way to build a city brand I would love to hear them – just get in touch.

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