The City of Toronto has been quietly running a campaign to re-brand Toronto.ca. The city is asking for thoughts and suggestions from Torontonians, but from what I can see, this effort has been minimal and fruitless. This ain’t the way to run a city or a Web site – or a brand.
Our quibbles with Toronto’s new site:
The “re:Brand” comments section of Toronto.ca is difficult to find and has recorded a total of 72 comments in the four months it has been open – each of which is limited to 300 characters. The one change that has occurred in those four months is the addition of a refreshed homepage: a fancy new shell placed over the same links that immediately divide users instead of including them.
But those are just mechanical problems. The real problems are at the brand level. So without pretending to be web designers, here are a few comments from a brand strategy perspective when branding a city – or any place with a government – on the web.
The three rules of city branding:
1. Thou Shalt Truly Engage people.
Make your city as colourful, lively, current, and even (gasp!) as much fun as possible. Draw users into your city. Show it off with engaging photos, highlight current news, and make it real with links to local people and events. While I admit they have a heck of a one-time pull, Vancouver.ca is an excellent example of a web presence that engages users with a uniquely interesting pull: the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. While the site focuses on the main event, it also serves as a hub and a showcase of current information and events.
2. Thou Shalt Actually Communicate.
Marshall McLuhan would consider the web a hot medium – one with the ability to engage people with various forms of information (videos, photos, text, audio) in two directions. Use the website to its full potential by engaging users in a dialogue. Connect through vehicles that users are comfortable with (email, phone, live chat, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). The City of Edmonton has created a portal where people from Edmonton, Canada, and around the world can share their stories of the city. EdmontonStories.ca is a good start, but remains relatively unidirectional. The City of Winnipeg has taken this concept a step further, and is looking to engage users in an open dialogue, both with the city representatives, and amongst each other.
3. DIFFER or Thou Wilt Be Completely Irrelevant!
Hold a unique position in the minds of consumers – tell me why Toronto is not Montreal or Ottawa or Calgary. Decide what makes your citybrand interesting and different from all others, and focus your brand promise around that core. Stratford is a city with one of the best differentiators in the country – a theatrical festival and culture that is known from coast to coast. And what phrase is displayed across the top of their homepage? “Stratford – Community excellence with worldwide impact!” A phrase that has absolutely nothing to do with the city’s top attraction and major differentiator. As if to apologize for the error, a much smaller logo appears way down the page in the bottom left-hand corner (left), and at least alludes to the theatre which gives the town its character.
Some examples from other Canadian cities
Best city branding:
Useful tag lines:
Not useful tag lines (at all):
Worst tag line:
Most apologetically Canadian descriptions: