Every brand touchpoint expresses an organization’s values. This holds true even when the organization is the government.
I’ve had some pretty incredible interactions with the Toronto Public Library lately that have helped me see why it’s vital to think of your city as a brand. A city is a brand not just in the way Toronto currently thinks about branding—attracting tourists by putting catchy slogans on bus shelters and the like. It’s a living brand that its citizens engage in, daily.
Who you vote for will determine your brand experience. That’s why you need to be very clear about the kind of city you want to live in and use your vote to bring that brand to life.
So, back to the Toronto Public Library.
I recently went through some personal stuff that put returning library books low on my priority list. The fact that the books were overdue was on my radar, but frankly it was just one more thing stressing me out among all of the other much more pressing things I needed to deal with just to get through the day.
When visited the library to return the books I realized I was facing $47 in fines. Yikes. Yes, I deserved those fines. Those books were overdue (not that overdue, jeez!). It was totally my bad. But life got in the way.
I spoke to two nice, but rather rigid librarians (librarians don’t tend to be known as the most relaxed-types pardon the stereotyping). But, because I’m a ‘squeaky wheel’ type, I kept going up the chain until I spoke with a head librarian.
She realized I had something weighty on my mind, and so she invited me to step into a private office office. Once safely inside I explained some of the life-circumstance that resulted in me returning the books later than usual. She took the time to listen. She heard me out and demonstrated copious amounts of empathy. She not only reduced my fines, she made a point of reaching beyond her role as ‘librarian’ and showing a very human side. She said:
“Sometimes returning your library books isn’t at the top of the priority list.”
In bothering to express that, she reminded me of the fact that all city workers are the front line people who make up much of the fabric of our city.
The reason I tell you this story is to demonstrate that this librarian was acting in a manner very out of step with the Ford-nation platform that sees “service level efficiencies” as the be-all-and-end -all to running an effective government. In an efficient system like the one Ford envisions, I’d have paid my $47, eaten my humble pie and maybe learned a lesson or two about following the rules.
In my version of the story however, I was proud to be a citizen who lived in a place operated by people who actually care about other human beings. I’d even go so far to hypothesize that if more citizens felt the way I did on that day, fewer people would throw gum on the sidewalk, do stuff like be rude to Transit workers and abuse the system. Hell, they may even throw a block party, plant flowers on public property and make donations to The Toronto Public Library Foundation.
Let’s remember, there needs to be a human dimension to our city and the people who are the front-line workers who interface with its citizens are not simply efficiencies that need to be cut to serve the bottom line. They are core to the brand experience. They are central to citizens’ (yours and mine) experience.
What do you want the Toronto brand to be? Should ‘human’ be one of the adjectives in the Toronto brand creative brief? Because if Mayor Ford has his way, words like ‘efficient’ and ‘responsible’ would make the list, and human and empathic would not.