The Politics (and Other Challenges) of Branding a City

The Politics (and Other Challenges) of Branding a City

The hardest part of our branding and web project for the city of O’Fallon, IL was, admittedly, the first.

During a City Council meeting last year, the Assistant City Administrator introduced us, and explained the project: we had been hired to revamp the city’s economic development brand, and build a website to support it.

Some members of the Council and the public were initially skeptical, to say the least. How would people who don’t live in O’Fallon (or even in Illinois) be able to discover the essence of the city? How could they understand how O’Fallon is different? Valid questions, all.

Our belief right from the beginning was that our outside perspective actually gave us an edge. The same is true when we build brands for companies. Being external, objective advisors lets us see opportunities and differences in new light. And that was certainly true here.

We were able to overcome council members’ and residents’ skepticism with one deceptively simple task: we listened. We openly engaged with both our critics and supporters. We let everyone’s voices be heard. We followed their advice. And we let everyone’s input fuel our recommendations.

We also conducted our own independent research, touring the city and talking to friends who call O’Fallon home. 

By showing we were willing to take the time to learn, we won our critics over – and in the process, we discovered what could be called a not-so-hidden gem just 20 minutes from our own doorstep.

City of O'Fallon logo badge colorways

Longtime readers of our blog will also know that we’re big believers in and supporters of the St. Louis area. That, of course, includes O’Fallon, Illinois. We believe the key to progress in the area is to stop seeing islands here and there, and to see ourselves as one, cohesive region. 

Put another way, we know that what’s good for one city is good for everyone – so we’re proud of what we were able to do for O’Fallon.

Language sets the tone

As we looked at how other cities and towns across the region and around the country market their economic development efforts, we saw similar stories everywhere. Cities tout highway access and average income – but few, particularly in our area, take it to the next level. 

That is to say, we asked: What do these statistics mean to developers looking come to O’Fallon? What makes one city truly different from the next?

We created a brand narrative to answer that question.

City of O'Fallon Narrative

O'Fallon branding: Build it here.

This leads us to our tagline, a bold call to action designed to speak to different audiences: potential developers, prospective residents and current residents.

We envisioned the tagline being flexible, to speak to families (Build a life here), business owners (Build a business here), or residents (Build a future here).

Visuals take it a step further

We knew O’Fallon already had a well-known logo, and this wasn’t going to change. But we wanted to use elements of the existing brand in bold new ways. For one brand expression, we took the script O from the logo, blew it up and screened it back – giving the brand instant new energy. 

That, of course, was just the first step.

We asked ourselves: how do we make something that’s ownable and memorably expresses the key idea behind O’Fallon’s economic development efforts? Our answer was a set of elements that can be used on all pieces, no matter what audience we’re trying to reach.

City of O'Fallon construction sign branding

City of O'Fallon branding - pole banners

City of O'Fallon Illinois Testimony Banner

City of O'Fallon branding pole banner

With this “badge,” the O’Fallon brand becomes a hopeful promise – a promise that the City of O’Fallon will be there to support people and businesses as they build their dreams. This badge can become a standalone representation of the brand – but it’s also a critical element in a larger story.

This helpful tone, driven by a pride in the community that’s evident in everything they do, became central to everything we built for O’Fallon, including the new website.

O'Fallon economic development website on laptop

O'Fallon economic development website

Here in the header, we let the city itself tell its story, with a dynamic video header that our team shot in key locations around the city. Further down the page, we bring several key statistics to life, giving new meaning to what the numbers behind spending power, the local talent pool, community pride and annual income mean – and, more importantly, inviting people to dig deeper into the site depending on their interests.

Speaking of people: we also give business owners of O’Fallon the chance to tell their stories. O’Fallon already had a bank of excellent testimonial videos, so we’ve put those to work here on the site, further driving home the message that O’Fallon is a city that supports its businesses and its residents.

The real benefit to O’Fallon’s web overhaul goes way beyond updated messaging or visuals. It’s designed to be a lot easier for the city’s staff to change statistics or build landing pages in response to specific development opportunities. It’s also built to capture search engine rankings – particularly as the site matures.

Building a brand that works

With the elements in place, we wanted to create pieces that O’Fallon’s development team could use every day as they reach out to retailers and companies looking to bring new locations to town.

We also put together several easily customized sales sheet templates, designed to highlight O’Fallon’s growth and opportunity in key areas like retail, light industrial, hospitality and healthcare. These sheets features the same statistics we talked about earlier, made meaningful for individual target audiences.

City of O'Fallon branding sales sheet

Putting it into action

As we prepared to launch the new site, our client called with an important assignment: they were talking to a major national retailer (the details are confidential, of course), and they wanted to use our new brand messaging to do so.

We worked with our client to develop a set of custom pieces, including a video with a message from O’Fallon’s mayor. The deal is still ongoing, but the city already received feedback that their presentation showed a level of professionalism above and beyond the norm.

That’s the best news we could possibly have heard. It’s one thing to know we’ve won over a client, but it’s even more meaningful to know we’ve helped them reach their goals.

City of O'Fallon Illinois Website Design

Up next: downtown

Most recently, we’ve been using the elements and tone we created to help bring new excitement to their growing downtown district, encouraging local residents and developers to, “Meet us here.”

 Watch this space to see what develops.


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Rich Heend

Rich Heend

Rich Heend is a senior copywriter for Atomicdust, helping us develop engaging websites, print materials and, as you can see, the occasional blog post. Basically, he reads and rights writes for us. (Oh, and he edits too.)

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