A Guide to Branding a Smart City: From Design to Content Marketing

We realize that many things around us are branded as “smart”. We wear smartwatches, use smartphones and live in, more or less, smart homes. On top of all that, there is a noticeable trend of making cities smart, as well. However, many people still don’t understand what the term actually means.

In a nutshell, we could say it’s a city which uses innovative technology to achieve urban progress, i.e. to improve the living conditions. Such technology-enabled cities are naturally attractive for businesses and global talent, as well as for travelers looking for warm and friendly experiences.

This also means that some people don’t regard the term positively, believing that it’s a mere marketing hype, or they simply think that cities which use brand values to be fashionable are actually missing an opportunity to focus on what makes them unique.

Whatever the approach is, there is no doubt that cities are becoming increasingly smart, i.e. reliant on technology and modern discoveries. So, let’s take a look at what they’re doing in their effort to boost the quality of life in them.

Branding opportunities

A place brand should be the spokesperson for the project, able to communicate the tangible and distinct benefits of the “smart” factor to the target audience and create a vision for the future that engages stakeholders. This clear vision should be linked to the specific location and local assets, instead of being generic. Basically, the place brand can be both a statement of belief and a call to action.

“Smart city” initiatives can also benefit place branding, especially because technology is able to create tools for efficient community engagement and collaboration and, if done well, being smart can enhance a city brand and narrative when combined with tangible initiatives.

The process of brand building of this kind creates an attractive message for many groups, primarily for residents, which take advantage of the smart city solutions on a daily basis. The label “smart” provides potentially great opportunities from the point of view of brand building, but only if it involves many areas of life. Cities which comprehensively use “smart city” tools, including communicating with different groups of stakeholders, stand the best chances of achieving a marketing advantage based on the smart city concept.

Challenges

It’s fair to say that long-term, community-led city branding initiatives are quite complex, not least because of the many stakeholders involved. Experts claim that a strong place brand is tasked with communicating a sense of purpose, differentiation and clarity, which is why the frequent lack of communication between stakeholders is often cited as one of the major challenges.

Finally, there is a problem related to good infrastructure, which needs to engage with residents. For example, public lighting requires a special approach to lighting due to the high frequency of vehicles and passengers on streets, intersections, airports and train stations. Since such spaces are fully operational 24/7, it only makes sense to invest in the highest quality luminaires for a longer life span. Such public lighting installations include presence control, daylight sensors and various other LED public and street lighting systems that facilitate and enhance the flow of people and vehicles.

Role of content marketing

Since the concept is relatively new, it’s no surprise that companies are still trying hard to position themselves within these cities as industry leaders. They aim to be as loud as possible, but also the most informative and interesting. In order to achieve that, they rely heavily on content marketing.

Smart city organizations use content creation to place their business firmly on the map, but there are also side benefits. Namely, if a company is perceived to be an authority on a subject, its expertise will be sought and rewarded. Consequently, the brand visibility rises and so does the company’s reputation. This all leads to increased profit, enlargement of their client bases and raised brand awareness.

Also, such businesses attract new talent. Companies with greater brand visibility and authenticity attract the best talent on the market, which saves a lot of money normally spent on headhunting and recruitment. By producing quality content, companies build the intrinsic value of their organizations, ensuring that the most skilled and committed talent will be “dying” to join them on their mission, especially if we’re talking about millennials.

How to prepare for the future

It goes without saying that smart cities will continue to develop and that content marketing will be a major part of them in the future. Companies will be using the IoT to directly target customers with content that is adapted to their mood, travel route, recent purchases and more. The companies with a solid content marketing strategy will be ready to adapt to the marketing landscape of the future cities they have been instrumental in creating. 

While smart cities will continue to grow in many aspects, they’ll need to make sure they promote their products as facilitators of communication, for example through data-sharing and citizen-led apps. All such endeavors need to be to help people, not just make a profit. Content marketing for smart city organizations can play a crucial role in this process by demonstrating the passion through carefully curated content and by actively interacting with the public.

It is through the engagement with the end-users of their technologies that smart city organizations can demonstrate their commitment to the “co-creation” of smarter cities by both leaders and citizens. Also, they’ll be able to reflect their genuine desire to improve people’s lives through their products.

Conclusion

Like every other city in the world, every smart city will face many challenges, from managing increasingly dense populations to ensuring economic development. Only those able to adapt will survive. Smart city organizations that want to make sure they are the go-to service-provider for smart city solutions simply have to invest in content marketing in order to ensure their voice is heard first. 

Brands that public quality content and build a recognizable brand voice will be the only ones to successfully demonstrate their passion for urban innovation and their commitment to creating citizen-focused, interactive smart cities. However, it should not be forgotten that the term “smart” should not be used solely because it’s fashionable, but because it really reflects that the quality of life in such places is at a much higher level.

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