Your rebrand is complete when it’s complete

By John Armstrong, Chief Creative Officer & Co-Founder, Joy Riot

Place branding begins with research, as we discussed in our previous article for City Nation Place. By interrogating your qualitative and quantitative research, you’ll inevitably find that certain phrases and sentiments appear time and again. This throughline is the heart of your brand.

However, once you wrap up the necessary research to kick off the creative portion of your rebranding effort, it’s time to develop your visual identity, tone, and placement. The identity is that most recognisable piece, the logo and visual elements, as well as all sub-brands, and secondary and tertiary palettes. The tone is captured most emphatically in the tagline, and it extends to supporting copy and naming conventions. Placement is what it sounds like — where your brand appears—yet for such an obvious part of the process, we find it is the most overlooked.

There’s a lot to cover, and it’s important to get it right to make sure you’re telling your place story in the best possible way. To help you ensure your rebrand is successful, we’ve compiled a few key questions you should be asking yourself throughout the process to bring your place brand to life in a visually compelling way.

Make sense of the senses

Once you have first identified your place DNA, ask yourself: how does your brand identity correlate with the lived experience of your place? How does your place look, sound, smell, taste?

As you know, not all places are the same. Some are inspiring, while others are welcoming, buzzing, or peaceful. Lucky for you, colours act upon the mind the same way as places: for example, warm colours such as red and orange suggest energy, while their cooler blue and green cousins are tranquil and meditative. Now, when branding a place, we must account for the colours already within it, the steel of skyscrapers or tan hues of a beach. If those pre-existing colours aren’t overused by your neighbours, and if they equal the sense your place conveys, consider implementing them. The point is to match your place’s sensory impact with a primary colour that is most congruent to it. Then choose secondaries for their ability to further the same impression and complement the primary.


Sign here

After you have chosen a colour palette, match it with a font. Fonts, also, appeal to the senses. Think of the difference between the signatures at the bottom of historical documents versus the sketchy pastels of TV show titles from the 1980s. One era was formal, the other was frivolous; we’ll trust you get the drift. The font you choose for your place is your place’s signature. Begin with common fonts and work out from there. Are you a natural serif? A bold sans serif? If your place is loud and vivacious, choose a tall x-height and widely tracked fonts. If it’s more demure, go low on the x-height and tighter on tracking.


Be a gratuitous guide

You can’t predict the future, but you can steer it. So, while you may have an idea of who will be working on your new brand initially, remember that employees and freelancers on your side and your agency’s come and go. Therefore, draw up a full playbook for your brand, so that anybody working with it stays true to your vision.

First, provide updates to all current sub-brands and guide the development of new ones. This section should be as clear to follow as a paint-by-numbers kit. A common spot of bother for brands that go astray occurs in the sometimes ungoverned world of sub-brands.

Next, write up “dos and don’ts” concerning how your logo should be used, and how it shouldn’t be altered. Do the same with the voice, describing how it should sound versus how it should not.

Provide samples of photography that reinforces your brand’s personality. Even consider appellations to photography, such as illustration styles. In these visual mediums, decide how you want your brand to appear and choose accordingly, wide shots of landscapes or close-ups of people experiencing your place.


The big day

It’s important to take the time to think about how you introduce your brand to your stakeholders, community, and target audiences. In some instances, a big launch or a press release might be unnecessary, and it’s better to simply adopt the new brand into your marketing.

However, whether you choose to host a launch to celebrate your brand or you go for a subtler approach, success requires coordination and flair. This effort includes employees as well as members of your community. Think of municipal officials, prominent businesses, and those who commonly engage with the public you’re trying to reach, be they current and prospective residents, visitors, industries, or investors. Having engaged your residents in your research process, it’s important that the launch demonstrates that their perspectives have been heard and that this brand belongs to all of them.

Whether you’re committing to a truly integrated multimedia launch event, a more precise media buy, or a gentle push on social media, we suggest using video as the linchpin. Video is the most captivating way to show off your place, and it allows for re-use in the forms of cut-downs as well as television, digital OOH, social, and online media in the future.

After you launch your awareness campaign, quickly transition to sub-campaigns driving to your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).


The small stuff is huge

As promised, we’ll now visit the most overlooked portion of any rebrand: the unexpected touchpoints for your brand. It’s all the spots in social media, online, and in the physical world where your brand needs to exist or be updated.

We created a helpful Cheat Sheet to guide this process, featuring all the places that people commonly forget their brand resides.

Take inventory of all your owned media. Update it. List your socials, and tackle those as well. And be aware of all the vehicles, outdoor signage, uniforms, garbage cans, park benches, manhole covers, and so on throughout your place. These physical items will be the most costly and time-consuming. So, arrange quotes and timelines for them. Place them into the budget long before it’s too late or has to wait until another cycle.

And if your brand isn’t currently in these spaces, ask yourself if it should be. There are countless surfaces that provide you with a blank canvas to bring your brand to life in public spaces.



Don’t forget to toast your hard work. Rebranding requires a lot of work from your entire team, so break out the champagne to celebrate. Invite others who sweated it out with you. Oh, and hire a photographer; a rebrand launch party is just another opportunity to create distributable content for your place, particularly through your corporate communications.

Read about the importance of brand research in our article from Jessica McCarthy, President of Joy Riot, here.

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.