Tell ’em, Birdie: Cities, Get Savvy!

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Tim McLaughlin

Cities around the US are making incredible headway around sustainability. New York City, for example, recently announced an innovative “green lease” that incentivizes landlords to implement energy efficiency improvements. On the other side of the country, Portland is leaps and bounds ahead of most others in developing municipal electric vehicle infrastructure. In many cases, however, it is difficult for citizens to learn about and participate in their cities’ sustainable progression. This raises the question: Are cities doing all they should to market these achievements—and the behaviors they desire—to citizens and stakeholders?

I would argue they are not. The lone exception that I could find is New York City, which has all kinds of well-branded programs to help citizens contribute to a safer, stronger, and cleaner city. Why does NYC excel at marketing its social and environmental programs while other cities lag? Well, for starters, its mayor is one of the most successful business people of our time. Bloomberg’s business savvy naturally steers the city’s communication methods toward business marketing instead of traditional citizen engagement.

Given limited budgets and declining tax revenues, how can cities do a better job of nudging their citizens toward socially and environmentally responsible behavior? For starters, cities can do a better job of branding their environmental and social campaigns. Take a look here at San Francisco’s environmental department’s web site (SF Environment). It provides a wealth of information, but not much more. Let’s face it—it’s pretty dry and unengaging. Compare that to NYC’s GreeNYC campaign. The NYC program’s web page includes attractive colors, a memorable logo, and even a mascot named Birdie, who has its own Twitter, Facebook, and FourSquare accounts and YouTube channel. TheGreeNYC campaign is engaging and fun, which means it’s creating added value for its targeted audience. When I look at the SF Environment web site, it certainly doesn’t make any sort of emotional connection.

Unfortunately, for many cities, savvy marketing campaigns that include branding and social media may not seem affordable, especially in these tough times. But if viewed from an investment perspective, cutting-edge marketing campaigns can provide environmental, social, and financial return. If a city can create an inviting marketing campaign that gets its citizens to engage more in recycling, composting, energy efficiency, water conservation, and public transit, it should certainly find the resources to do so. Isn’t that right, Birdie?

Perhaps for too long cities have functioned like… well… cities. In order to successfully connect to their citizens, they need to market more like businesses. So come on, cities, get savvy! Use unique branding strategies and social media in your social and environmental campaigns to invite your citizens to engage, participate, and move the needle forward.

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