What is Manchester? An economic, cultural and creative powerhouse? A swaggering, yet self-effacing, Euro-capital of the future? A refuge for the proud and witty or just for the plain pretentious? Manchester City Council and its partners are commissioning a new brand for Manchester as part of a major review being undertaken into the way the city markets itself.
As part of that review, Hemisphere Design & Marketing Consultants is undertaking a detailed research and consultation process to help inform the development of a creative brief for the brand.
To this end Adline assembled a crack squad of creatives in the city?s CircleClub to debate the value of branding a city, the process of putting a brand together and a few of the pitfalls that could well lie ahead.
In the chair was Ben Casey of The Chase and joining him were Trevor Johnson of Via Communications, Stuart Wilson of Creative Lynx, Alistair Sim of LOVE, Grant Windridge of Hemisphere, Andrew Stokes of Marketing Manchester, Sue Vanden of Hemisphere, Liz Birkbeck of Bubble Media and Steve Connor of Creative Concern.
Here is their debate:
Ben: I?ll admit to a bit of a bit of dÃ©jÃ¢ vous: it?s happened a couple of times, marketing the city. I?ll also have to admit that I?m perplexed and intrigued by the branding of the city ? and its image. Originally, I?m not from Manchester, but I?ve worked here for 16 years and it has changed amazingly. How do we reflect that change? Should we even attempt it? Does a city like Manchester actually need to brand itself?
Alistair: There?s still a lot more room for change and development, and that?s one of the exciting things about the city ? maybe that continual process of re-invention and change is inherently Mancunian? The strength of a city is based on the people that live there and we can use that as a thought to move it forward. I would think that a typical brand positioning and building approach is right, but the difference, say with FMCG marketing, is that you find the single truth and then go out from that, but the inherent problem with marketing a city is that there are so many different boxes you need to tick, to please local businesses and politicians and, unfortunately, what you end up with is mediocrity and a solution that is not very focused.
Andrew: But can you come up with a single solution that meets everybody?s requirements? A solution that talks to all those audiences?
Ben: What is the current view of Manchester across the world? Are people aware that Manchester has changed a lot, or do they just think that it?s somewhere in the North that?s a bit gritty?
Stuart: Well, in my experience, football is the first thing that comes to people?s minds. In Chicago, a doorman at a hotel said to me, ?You?ve got a good soccer team,? and it?s the same in Tokyo, in Beijing and so on.
Sue: Doesn?t Manchester?s music history get through in places like Tokyo?
Liz: The reaction I used to get when I told people I was from Manchester was less about the football and more about the Hacienda.
Stuart: Absolutely, but that?s in the past in a way, isn?t it, like Liverpool going on about the Beatles all the time? I?d like to think that Manchester?s a bit more forward-looking than that; we do it and then move on.
Trevor: I think there is a healthy, and very positive, perception of the city as being creative and music-driven ?
Alistair: Does that make it a young person?s city? A youthful city?
Grant: It is youthful almost by default, due to the number of students. I was a student here when half of it was derelict in the 70s and I didn?t even consider the idea of moving to London. There were too many reasons to stay, from its scale and travelling time, to culture and music.
Trevor: But if you ask the question, ?Can you brand a city?? I guess I suppose it is possible to do. The answer is probably ?if necessary?, isn?t it? Is it necessary?
Alistair: And there?s a danger of drawing attention to something ? does it lose its essence?
Trevor: Exactly. There are great cities with brands that aren?t particularly branded. But then, New York has a brand, Paris has a brand. New York is branded brilliantly, but that?s not the definition of city ?
Steve: In practical terms where does that take you? You?ve talked about buildings, talked about people, but there?s an inherently negative reaction to a logo with a strapline. In practical terms, what should be created out of a brand development process for Manchester and how would it be used by all the people sat here?
Grant: It?s just a feeling and it?s not tested out in any way, shape or form, but that feels to me like a kind of British disease. As soon as somebody says ?destination branding? some Herbert pops up and says, ?Well, you need a logo and strapline, just sort it out and make everybody use it and it?ll look like you?re all ?Up and Going?. It?s the most ridiculous concept, especially in Manchester, where people will drive backwards to Liverpool rather than use something foisted upon them that?s monolithic and anodyne. It just doesn?t feel right.
Ben: Without a real purpose, what would it achieve? What are we trying to achieve and who are we trying to talk to? Does Manchester have an image problem? It?s had its nose in front of other cities like Leeds and Birmingham in terms of regeneration, but what?s the view now? New York?s brand served a purpose at the time, but does Manchester actually need a new brand to make a difference to how it?s perceived?
Trevor: But Manchester can do something as spectacular as Milton Glaser?s ?I love New York? ? I believe there is the creativity and the talent here, so it can be done.
Sue: But what?s the mechanism for getting that sort of result to happen? Is it just the standard pitch process or is there a more ?Manchester? way of doing it?
Grant: The Manchester way would not be to put a thin veneer on top of things ? there needs to be a ?robustness of debate? to make the result as sound as possible and the people directing any pitch process should be prepared to be as radical as the city we?re trying to market.
Alistair: I don?t think the traditional pitching process has worked in the past, so I?d go for a collaborative approach, and if a model can be created for that ? how it?s managed and run, etc ? then that would be great. At LOVE we do think there is a problem with the current image of Manchester and the way it?s portrayed ? we?re not saying that a ?shit design bomb? has been dropped on the city or anything of that magnitude, but we think there is a problem and it could be better. That ?can do, can make a difference? feel, that is very Manchester, should allow us to make a way without egos ? a way to achieve a common goal.
Stuart: The problem is getting the right brief, which goes back to Ben?s question of what we?re doing it for. What?s the long-term or short-term strategy for the city? We need to know that first, based on sound research and positioning, working out what sets us apart ? whether we move forward collaboratively or not. And that?s not an easy process ? we have to listen to what the people want in Miles Platting or Oldham, as well as in the city. Give us the right brief and we?ll be able to come up with the goods creatively.
Feedback: So, have you got a view? Can Manchester, or any city for that matter, be successfully branded and if so, how? Well, you can now have your say at www.whatismanchester.com from now until 20 June.