Some entities have more of an uphill climb than others (the US city of Baltimore has informally been called among other things: "the city that breeds," "mobtown" and the "heroin/murder capital") but all are seeking social, political and economic relevance. From Singapore to Spain, Estonia to Saudi Arabia, it seems the unbranded state is no longer worth living in.
Branding your city or state is not just coming up with a snappy tagline and throwing up a logo. There’s a lot of strategic research and planning involved, including decisions about what sort of business or visitor is most desired, and what areas or features will in turn be attractive to these groups. Often times, existing perceptions either need to be enhanced or erased to launch a credible identity.
All of these points were considered by the City of Johannesburg when it set out to brand itself in late 2001. The goal was to become a world class city, and to do that, the mayoral committee recognized that protecting and enhancing its brand status on commercial and consumer fronts would play a key role.
First the city took a harsh look at what it had to work with. An extensive audit was conducted with over 500 participants to determine how the city presented itself as well as to gain insight into the perceptions associated with it. The findings were not positive.
It turns out that most people are not even sure what the city actually encompasses, believing it is just a collection of tall buildings in the Old City Centre. In fact, “The City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality” (talk about a need for a name change) comprises 11 municipal regions spanning a vast geographical area, much of which is residential. Less than 10 percent of this area would be considered “city” -- as in urban.
The city is seen as a gateway to South and Southern Africa -- not as a destination. It’s viewed more as a necessary (rather than desirable) place to visit. Virtually all residents flee the boundaries for holidays, and very few from neighboring regions arrive in return unless, of course, there is a major sporting event going on.
In the business context, it is highly regarded for its infrastructure such as facilities, roads, services and telecommunications. Residents are here because this is where the money is… and that’s it. The cultural landscape and array of world-class entertainment have clearly not been successfully marketed and exploited to counter this perception.
Crime and grime are distinct associations. Since the rapid decline of the City Centre (called the “Inner City”) in the mid to late-80s, it has become increasingly known for abandonment, violent crime, drugs and prostitution. This perception spread to the broader context for people who had never visited Johannesburg.
Despite the less than positive findings -- unclear boundaries, lack of appreciation for the city as a center for entertainment or culture, and dirt and danger -- the information was useful as a starting point for developing a plan to boost the brand.
One of the key goals was to start fresh with a new name. A wide range of possibilities were explored, including abstract and African names. However, research revealed a strong familiarity and affection with the city’s informal name, Joburg. To avoid confusion with the less urban regions that comprise Joburg, the word “city” was dropped from the informal use. (For formal and legal purposes, the city will remain the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality.)
The visual identity sought to reflect the creativity and excitement of the city with the flow of the typeface. The exclamation point, comprising the b, represents Joburg’s famous landmark, the Hillbrow tower, while the logo's golden point represents the heritage of Joburg as a gold mining town.
The new identity was introduced on the international stage at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002. The initial reaction from media and residents appears positive, however as the brand is still being implemented, it is too early to measure a shift in the city or its residents to know whether this will be the golden nugget for Joburg’s future.