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The future of cities and brands

Ben Reed, head of brand engagement at The Silvertown Partnership, discusses the role brand experiences play in developing the persona of a city 

Truly immersive brand experiences can be found in many of the globe’s great cities. From the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin to the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, many cities position a thriving retail customer experience right at the centre of their destination marketing. Equally in the B2B marketplace, the Business Bay in Dubai was one of the first purpose-built business destinations to be marketed to a B2B audience, positioning the development as the region’s business capital.  When the marketing of these destinations is executed with an audience in sharp focus, the presentation of brand experience and city enhance one another and become inextricably linked in the mind of the customer.

While these brand experiences are often cornerstones of a city’s efforts to market itself, they increasingly operate in isolation. These spaces are often awe-inspiring destinations in their own right, but it’s hard to escape the idea they could and should be doing more for both brands who create them and the areas in which they are developed.

Firstly, these experiences tend to operate in silo and often represent the only destination of their kind in a city. Further, they are also often within close proximity of a brand’s original operational HQ. Given they are often bolted onto a building built hundreds of years ago, this can also enforce space constraints that stifle the scale and ambition of these experiences.  As a result, brands can find themselves sleepwalking into glorified sales promotion, rather than ambitiously looking to take their innovations to new terrains, searching for the receptive new audiences that are ready and willing to engage.

As brands marketers become more aware of the value of these brand experiences, there also comes the realisation that we need to re-think how they are delivered. It is becoming clear in today’s age of collaboration and social sharing, the current retail model is no longer fit for purpose and requires greater interactivity.  These experiences need to offer greater scope for brand collaboration, work harder for the local community and as such, future city-planners have a vital future role to play.

In the future, our cities need to be developed with a view to facilitating brand experimentation and collaboration on a larger, more collaborative scale.  If we can provide brands with the space to deliver truly transformational destinations, we open an entirely new set of opportunities for brand marketers. Beyond this, brands can become more than just a name to local communities as they demonstrate their contribution to impactful, tangible improvements in the areas in which they operate.

That is our vision for Silvertown, where some of the globe’s biggest brands will have the opportunity connect with their consumers, right alongside the brightest and most innovative business start-ups.  Silvertown will encourage collaboration and collision, becoming a destination where the boundaries of life and work blur, offering people genuine flexibility. Businesses and brands will be encouraged to be open and share ideas through open access and tech systems.

We see Silvertown ultimately as an atelier on a grand scale, a place where the people who make things have the chance to show them. It will be a place for people and brands to collaborate, experiment, share and communicate. We want Silvertown to ferment a start-up culture, where makers and creators come together to innovate so that this spirit flows out to the wider Silvertown area. Delivering a destination with these characteristics we believe offers the greatest opportunities to brand managers. Further to this, this vision also provides the best possible chance of creating immersive brand experiences that move beyond the one-time novelty experience and help to define a city district for generations to come.