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What Should Ottawa’s Brand Be?

What Should Ottawa’s Brand Be?


By Brian Clarke

Earlier this week, Mark Brownlee of the Ottawa Business Journal wrote a great piece entitled “Does the city need a brand?“.  The article gives a history of branding the City of Ottawa and contemplates what the city’s brand should be in order to change outsiders perception and encourage investment in Ottawa.

To answer Mark’s question shortly: yes, Ottawa does need a brand.  And I think it needs to cover more than the business and economic benefits of Ottawa, but get to the heart, soul and personality of our city.  By this I do not mean the personality of City Hall, but that in branding Ottawa we should focus on the personality on the ‘ground-level’ – the people and small businesses in our city.

But let me back up and explain my reasoning.  I believe Ottawa has a few of these ground-level, informal brand images focusing on our negative side.

Of course there is the infamous “City that fun forgot.”   While we don’t believe this is accurate and have argued several times in the past that the people who say this are simply negative people who are trying to categorize “fun” by comparing Ottawa to larger and vastly different cities.

Then there is what Andrew Cohen of the Ottawa Citizen dubbed Ottawa: “The city that says no“.  While I think this is a more accurate representation of our city, it focuses more on attitude and perception of City Hall.  If you talk to regular people and businesses in Ottawa, many are not content saying no to every good idea that pops up.

Additionally, I have argued (perhaps a bit optimistically) that this attitude may be fading and City Hall may be starting to show more initiative.

We have just recently argued that the negative side of Ottawa is perhaps best categorized by the word “complacency”, and challenged locals to get hungrier in 2013.

And this leads to the two reasons I think Ottawa needs a new brand–firstly, to change these negative perceptions of Ottawa not only as a place to invest, but as a city to live in or visit.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I think we need a brand to help guide ourselves from within.  If we want to get hungrier for change and not being complacent, a strong brand that portrays Ottawa’s strong points and what we want to strive to be will help give us direction.  And whatever this brand is, if it focuses on the ground-level, everyday, regular people and small businesses, it gives us guidance that each one of us can follow and contribute to improving Ottawa’s image.

So, I think Mark Brownlee’s question is a good one, but one with an easy answer in my mind.  The question should not be whether we need a brand, but rather, what should Ottawa’s brand be?

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.