Why a city is not your brand

It’s a special time to be in Detroit. As the post-industrial city goes through its own form of resurgence, entrepreneurs of all kinds are starting and growing business in the city. Some of these businesses are building beautiful brands, and some are branding themselves tied to their city’s resurgence.

It’s true that Detroit entrepreneurs hustle harder. There’s a sense of hard work and community in the city. It’s an ethos, and a shared culture. Often entrepreneurs want to celebrate this identity. When it comes to branding, a city and community can be a part of your brand identity. New companies should however beware to brand their company solely tied to a city. With Detroit in national media, and an interest in buying Detroit or American-made products, many entrepreneurs add the name Detroit into their company name without thinking much on it. That’s not always enough to create a strong brand.

Consider the following ways to think about your brand before you slap the name “Detroit” (or any other city) on it. Use the following to build a brand that honors a place or community, but also stands strongly on it’s own.

Tapping into location in brand storytelling

In Detroit, the watchmaking company Shinola has done a phenomenal job of fusing the place Detroit into their brand story. A story can help to show the importance of the brand mission and location. When Shinola launched they did a great job creating content that explained why the company was building watches and other luxury goods in Detroit, honouring the city’s manufacturing heritage. However, the brand stands enough on its own that it’s sold around the world. Why is that? It didn’t rely just on Detroit. It uses the city as the place of its product birth, but not sole purpose to purchase the product. 

Consider tapping into why your business is located in a city or region, or why it’s important for you to serve a certain place and people. This can spark a deeper reason to purchase a product like a watch. Founder of Shinola Tom Kartsosi said he didn’t start Shinola to build a watch company, but to create a job-creation vehicle. Ask yourself, why did you start? How can this deeper purpose be connected to place?

Beware geographic legal concerns

If you are looking to add the name of your city into your brand, especially in the United States, there may be legal concerns to consider. Any brand should be protected. It’s a form of identity for the business, and you want to make sure your name and brand are truly yours. If you use the name of your city or place, it can’t always stop someone else from doing the same. Many lawyers consider a name with the local geographic marking as a weaker strategy for trademarking your brand. This is because others are from the same city or region, and can express that in their names too. What differentiates one “Detroit Shoe Company” from another? It’s not so unique, and may not be as easily protected. Be sure to consult with your lawyer if you want to go so far as to add the city or place name into your brand.

Don’t limit your potential

As an entrepreneur myself, we do use the name “Detroit” in the brand. However, we’ve also built a brand that stands on its own. With a local focus, our co-working space Bamboo Detroit is able to support local entrepreneurs and small business owners with offices space and community development.  As we expand geographically we will add each local city to the name, to represent each local community. This strategy is important to us as we are a brand that values community, and supporting small and local busin

However, the brand Bamboo also stands on its own as a place of growth, not just a place to find your office. This is tied into the earthy look and feel of our office space, our culture of support, and our business programming and resources. The name also has a unique meaning. The Bamboo plant is the fastest growing and strongest plant, but takes a few years to sprout from a seedling. It’s a metaphor for new business growth inside a place that cultivates it. The name Detroit could be removed from our brand, but the mission and purpose still clearly communicated and shown in many ways. We’ve done this so we can build a brand to expand, and not limit ourselves to serving only one place or community. Ask yourselves the following questions to test your brand’s stance:

  • Am I selling a place, or showing why this place fits into my mission?
  • Does the brand name mean something without the city or region name?
  • How can I strengthen the values and mission through our brand?

I am passionate about building a business in Detroit, and don’t want to stop anyone from representing or honoring their city or community. I hope this helps you to incorporate a city or place strategically, so that your brand is strong enough to continue to grow on its own too. 

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.


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