Ideas for a kid-friendly city with tree-lined streets and road hockey by street light
By Chris Farias
As a branding professional I constantly get the question: “How would you re-brand Hamilton?” My simple answer is: “This city doesn’t need to re-brand. It needs to live up to the best version of the brand it already has.”
Let me explain. Hamilton is many different things to many different people. Its brand has morphed, shifted, grown and changed since its birth. Although once hailed as the “Ambitious City” (labelled by a Torontonian in the late 1800s as an insult) and nicknamed the “Steel City” throughout the 20th Century, we no longer see ourselves in this light. So what and who is Hamilton in 2013?
Every brand I help create for an organization starts with a promise. For example, Google’s brand promise simply states “Do No Evil”. This is a great promise that directs the sails on the search engine’s ship. Looking around we can see the Hamilton brand embodied in many different ways, from the escarpment and nature trails, to the small business creative explosion happening downtown. We use phrases like “Waterfall Capital of Canada”, “Art is the New Steel”, and “You Can Do Anything in Hamilton”. The municipal government and other agencies like to say they are “Making Hamilton the Best Place to Raise a Child.”
Out of all the brand promises I have heard, the latter statement, “Making Hamilton the Best Place to Raise a Child,” is the one that resonates with me most. Imagine living in THE city where people want to raise their family. Visions of tree-lined streets, leash free dog parks and kids playing road hockey at night begin to stir my imagination.
I’m not going to get into whether or not this is true at the moment (that’s a longer conversation over a glass of wine) but for argument’s sake, let’s say this version of Hamilton’s brand promise is true. How can we live up to that? Simple: Every issue that we as a city have needs to be weighed against that promise.
Questions like, “Is cleaning up our Waterfront a good investment?”, “Should some streets be converted to two-ways?”, and the highly controversial, “Does a Casino in the Downtown core make sense?” can all be answered by asking ourselves, “Will that make us the best place to raise a child?” If the answer is “NO”, then we move on.
It’s easy to state that we are one thing, but once stated, a brand promise needs ambassadors to fulfill it — people in the drivers’ seat making the decisions and guaranteeing that what we’re promising is what we’re delivering.
Hamilton doesn’t need a re-brand. It’s already gone through that process naturally and it continues to evolve with every art crawl, every new business that opens in the city and every person who decides to invest his or her time into making the city better. Hamilton has built the foundation for a strong brand, now it’s time for every one of us as brand ambassadors to live up to its promise. After all, a brand is only as good as the people living it.