A strong brand should feel authentic and reflect your community’s unique qualities.

Is your downtown on the cusp of revitalization, but just needs help getting the word out? Or perhaps your community has recreational amenities, agricultural assets, or other hidden gems that have the potential to attract tourists. In the business world, companies utilize brand awareness strategies and continuously market themselves to attract and retain customers. Cities and towns can do likewise. A strong community brand and marketing strategy can help your community capitalize on its assets and reach its economic development goals.

A great brand has the power to change perceptions and evoke specific feelings and reactions. But hiring a marketing consultant to design a logo is not enough. A successful brand is built upon authenticity, informed by what locals and repeat visitors most value. Engaging your community in the branding process – through focus groups, surveys, or other outreach tools – will go a long way toward developing a brand that is authentic, embraced, and effective.

So how does community engagement lead to better branding?

1. Authenticity

A successful brand conveys WHY someone would want to live, open a business, or visit your community.

Who knows your community best? The people who live, work, and play there, of course. Engaging residents, business owners, frequent visitors, and other stakeholders will give you the best insight into what makes the community tick and what it has to offer the outside world. Not only do locals know the best places to go and things to do, they can best express the intangible qualities that make a community special. Does the community have an artsy, funky vibe? Or is it more traditional, with qualities that might appeal to families? When it comes to branding, it’s not the “what” or “where” – it’s the “why.” Capturing these intangibles will bring authenticity to the brand and successfully convey WHY your community is an attractive place to live, do business, or visit.

2. Community buy-in

Meaningful community engagement gives the community the opportunity to feel heard and understood.

People want to feel heard and understood. A robust community engagement effort will not only provide valuable information to inform the brand development but will also make it more likely for the brand to be widely embraced and applied as community stakeholders see their input heard and incorporated into the process. Community buy-in of the brand will also lead to more effective marketing, as community members have more incentive to participate in spreading the community’s message. They may, for example, be more inclined to follow and share social media posts that promote the community’s assets. A brand identity with grassroots support can also go beyond marketing – giving the community something to coalesce around and becoming a source of community pride.

3. It’s the right thing to do

Engagement is the best way to ensure that your brand identity reflects ALL voices within the community.

It’s common sense – residents and business owners want to have a say in municipal decisions that affect their lives, homes, and livelihoods. Community engagement is – or should be –a vital component to all municipal initiatives and developing a community brand is no exception. This is particularly true in communities with significant minority, low-income, or other traditionally underrepresented populations. Engaging a broad cross-section of the community will ensure that the brand identity is a true representation of your community and will make it clear that officials, leaders and decision-makers truly value ALL voices within the community.

To learn more about community branding and how community engagement has been successfully incorporated into the branding process, you can view this CMSC webinar highlighting FHI Studio’s branding work for the town of Windham, CT.

Below are several other examples of successful community branding and marketing efforts from around the United States:


About the Author

Rachel Bright is a Visual Communications Specialist with FHI Studio – an industry leader in strategic public involvement, stakeholder engagement, and community development. Rachel is a skilled designer with extensive experience developing branding and marketing strategies for communities and projects. For an in-depth look at FHI Studio’s branding and community engagement practices, please visit our website: https://www.fhistudio.com/