Community Branding

Successful branding comes from a deep awareness of reality of that which is being branded and in that respect, Sacramento is lacking in that there are too few writers writing about Sacramento in the national media, as this article from New Geography explains; a good article which should cause some serious thinking among those trying to brand Sacramento.

We have always felt the strongest Sacramento brand can be woven from the city’s history as the gateway to the Gold Rush and the centrality of her rivers to that, as well as the hugely important role the Gold Rush played in the emergence of America as a global power; which we wrote about in our 2007 research report.

An excerpt from the New Geography article.

I’ve long noted that the civic identity or culture of many places seems to be a cipher. What is our identity as a city? is a question frequently asked. And one that needs to be. Cities will succeed best when they undertake policies that are true to the place. To most successfully build or rebuild a place, it’s important to articulate that civic identity and work with it, not against it.

Of course some of that happens by the very fact that the people who live in a place are steeped in its culture. But a lack of self-awareness can be a big liability. As the Greek oracle noted, the first call is to “Know Thyself.”

But this is hard to do, both for people and places. It’s hard to give a succinct description of the culture of say Cleveland, Columbus, or Cincinnati, but visitors to those cities will be instantly struck by how starkly different they are.

To unearth and understand the culture and identity of a place requires going on an anthropological or archeological mission deep into the soil of a city, with a proper balance of affection and detachment. This takes time to do, and a lot of my own writing on various places would certainly be much better if I had time to embed in them and understand them more deeply.

One big advantage larger cities have is that they have a much larger supply of journalists and writers than smaller ones, and these are the very people who are most likely to investigate, unearth, and articulate that culture.

New York in an embarrassment of riches in this regard. Practically every day someone is writing something interesting about the city. Just today, for example, City Journal published a piece about the layers of New York history represented in Straus Park. And Urban Omnibus had one about finding New York in West Side Story.

Back when the mega-bookstore chains were still going strong, I always liked to visit one when I came to a city, and go to the “local interest” section. In too many places, the titles on offer were pathetic. A number of large cities don’t even seem to have one high quality history on offer.

The biggest cities, by contrast, had sections that were disproportionately large even relative to their larger population. There have been a massive number of great books written about Chicago, for example, and the Chicago section in the old downtown Borders was correspondingly huge.

You can learn a lot about a city just by taking a look at the local interest section in a bookstore.

Unfortunately, just when this kind of writing is greatly needed, the number of people who might be writing it have been shrinking. Nieman Lab just published an article talking about the increasing concentration of media in New York, DC, and Los Angeles, noting, “[T]he increase in concentration is unmistakable. Journalism jobs are leaving the middle of the country and heading for the coasts.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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