Community Communication 101

Brand = Story, Story = Brand

A tragedy is a fairy tale told wrong.

A brand is a story. A story is a brand. 

A community’s brand is the community’s story.

People have stories. And communities have stories.

A story is who you are and what you do. It’s what you’ve done, and how you do it. Just as importantly, it’s what people say about you behind your back.

Every individual has a story. Some are famous stories: think athletes, activists, leaders. Some are infamous stories: think criminals, despots, maniacs. All people possess stories that change over time. A hard working kid becomes a hero. A nobody becomes a somebody. A nerd becomes billionaire. An athlete falls from grace. A politician makes the headlines: one day a leader, the next a scapegoat. 
A child takes its first steps. A second job. A trip to a faraway place. People have stories, and those stories constantly change.

Communities also have stories. A community’s story is about place, but it’s also the many different stories of those who live, work and visit there. As Michael Eisner once said, “A brand is the product of a thousand small gestures.”

Famous cities elicit immediate stories. Think of traditional stories like Venice, Paris, Rome. Infamous cities can also elicit stories. Think Bogata, Beirut, and Las Vegas. Community stories change over time. Detroit, once home to some of the highest incomes per capita in the world, becomes the first major North American city to declare bankruptcy less than half a century later.

Of course, infamous cities can have good stories too. But the stories that are most commonly told ‘behind their backs’ shape a community’s value, perception, and ultimately its future.

A common misperception about community branding is that it involves creating a story. Starting from scratch and developing a tale. This is wrong. Unfortunately, this is a perception sometimes propagated by creative and communication firms. 

You can fabricate a community story, but unlike fairy tales such endeavours don’t end happily ever after. Stories that are inauthentic don’t resonate with the people of the community. They are eventually exposed to visitors and potential investors. Fake stories and hyperbolistic tales create the perfect environment for over promising and under delivering. 

Community stories and brands are not created. They already exist. Every community already has a story. Every community already has a brand. The task is to improve community communication, strengthen the story, and then help tell it best.

Here’s an example: a city of two tales. 
One story is, Detroit is bankrupt. Motor City has died. The alternate Detroit story is that the community is now an opportunity, a consideration for innovators, entrepreneurs, and those who are willing to work together, unconventionally to begin new successes. 

Same place. Same story. Told differently.

Here’s one story of Venice: it’s a beautiful city, built on water, rich with history. Another story: Venice is sinking, it’s disastrously expensive, and its streets are watery alleys filled with sewage. Same story, told differently.

When Story & Co. works with a community to tell its story, we don’t make up a fictional world filled with puppy dog whiskers, unicorns, and lollipops. We do seek out the overlooked strengths, the unobserved successes, and the attainable opportunities. And once we’ve listened to a community, we develop processes and engagements that help to tell the story best. Story is what connects today’s realities with tomorrow’s aspirations.

Is your community’s story being told best? Does it connect today’s realities with tomorrow’s aspirations? Tell us.