Using Progressive City Branding to Create a New Image of Taipei City
The Taipei City Government Urban Branding Team (UBT) has initiated a progressive style of urban branding.
Such teams are rarely seen in government in Taiwan. The UBT’s task is to flip the image of the public sector. From the Taipei Lantern Festival to the practice of hanging red banners, they want to build the city brand beyond all imagining.
For the World University Games, a simple paint job transformed trains in the Taipei metro into cool swimming pools—such creative marketing comes across as a breath of fresh air. A series of innovations and creative changes has ignited enthusiasm for Taipei’s urban brand. Once the task-based UBT was given permanent status, its focus gradually evolved from urban aesthetics to urban branding. The team includes people from both inside and outside city government, and experts from all industries are recruited to harness their expertise with images, writing, architecture, aesthetics, marketing, and the internet. In this way, they help the city explore in-depth key policy issues and the major public concerns, and so strengthen public sector communication.
The UBT first positioned itself as an “outpatient service” for branding for city government departments, “but of course, no-one thinks they have a problem,” jokes Agnes Hsiao. Both city government consultant and UBT member, Hsiao said the upshot was that the team decided to take the initiative and ask the city government to make a list of large-scale events for them to assess and suggest ways to recalibrate, looking at factors such as target audiences, marketing positioning, exposure channels, social media interaction. All this in an attempt to bring city government practice closer to its citizens, and to give more people a better experience of government.
Being considerate is the key. For example, the Taipei Card issued by the Information Bureau has a concise, elegant, and meaningful visual design. The Charity EasyCard has braille to help the visually impaired, and the Senior EasyCard uses bright orange-gold coloring to help those with diminishing eyesight. Such thoughtfulness is intended to give users a more fulfilling interaction by breaking away from traditional top-down government practices and instead embodying people-oriented thinking.
As a bridge between public and private sectors, for the UBT the most difficult part of their work is probably all the back-and-forth communication. The Taipei Card has evolved from its original design, which was too cluttered, overloaded with various information. In the tug-of-war between function and aesthetics, it took a lot to introduce the concept of a brand recognition system that would create visual coherence.
Team consultant and film director Hua Tien-hau said that in the past many public sector activities were characterized by “slow communication, masses of restrictions, and little flexibility.” Anti-corruption practices and conservatism prevailed. Quantity was more important than quality. Performance indicators were biased towards procedure rather than content, and there was a lack of professional marketing. All of which deterred bids from private companies.
In particular, the lack of funds meant there was no practical alternative but to compromise. A penny-pinching marketing budget only buys a couple of nice slogans, nothing more. The usual publicity techniques make it very hard to generate enthusiasm, let alone shape brand value.
By contrast, the UBT takes a professional perspective in its analyses and evaluations, putting forward suggestions for ways to gradually improve the quality of Taipei City Government events and striving to make both quantitative and qualitative improvements.
The UBT is the first of its kind among regional governments in Taiwan, and inevitably it has faced many questions from people on the outside. As Agnes Hsiao explained, to avoid conflicts of interest, once the team gets involved, this effectively rules them out from invitations to tender.
The UBT expects to encourage change by strengthening team’s dynamics and incorporate city branding in their daily routine. The ultimate goal of city branding is to serve the general public with the emphasis on people’s overall well-being, and beyond politics.
The city is the vehicle of culture. Taipei’s strength lies in its culture of freedom, diversity, and inclusiveness that makes it an arena for dreams and competition.
So while the carnival-like Taiwan Pride parade was organized by the private sector, the Department of Information and Tourism also painted an LGBT pride flag in Ximending and infused the spirit of the event into community identity. Such undertakings are exactly the kind of value the UBT wants to bring—from understanding and recognition to participation. That’s what will make these characteristics part of the common language of the people of Taipei, breaking the stereotype of Taipei as an elitist metropolis, and leading Taipei forward with courage and liberty.
Taipei has freedom and progress, and these are beautiful things, but at the same time there is no lack of stagnation, which is a crying shame. UBT member and former deputy county magistrate of Taitung County Chang Chi-yi said that in Taitung, “When something gets done, people see it,” while in Taipei “even when you do more, no-one sees it.”
Domestic events like Taipei’s annual Lantern Festival, Nuit Blanche, and marathon need new innovations every year. At the same time, Taipei has to compete with other counties and cities that are gradually focusing more on aesthetics. Chang believes that on the one hand large-scale international events such as the Taipei International Flora Expo, Universiade, and Design Capital help update urban service standards and infrastructure; on the other hand, they also give the city government team the opportunity to accumulate a wealth of experience.
For its next battle, the UBT will focus on the Taipei Marathon and Taipei Lantern Festival. The city government is looking over Taipei Marathon’s plan to apply for gold label certification in order to rival world-class marathons such as Berlin and Tokyo. The theme for this year’s marathon will nod to current events and pay tribute to epidemic prevention personnel for their hard work that has enabled runners to come together and “Dare to Breathe.”
Meanwhile, the Taipei Lantern Festival, which used to be held in a fixed venue, has been held in various districts in recent years—integrating local characteristics in order to drive sightseeing in the urban business district. Next year, the festival will come to the historic district of Monga, bringing light and recognition.
The UBT go about their business quietly, possibly under the radar. But communication between city and brand is not a thing of a moment, but an ongoing undertaking. Just like the beautiful vision of this city, imagination is endless. This team is building a new look and new creativity in Taipei!