A Flag without a Brand

Josh Brewer

July 8, 2019
The City of Manhattan, Kansas—502’s hometown—is getting a new flag.

Several months ago, the city solicited designs from the general public, and the Arts and Humanities Board selected 6 finalists, none of which, to general dismay, were named Flaggy McFlagFace.

Now, the general public is voting on their favorite design, and many are good concepts. Once the new design is selected, the old flag will be lowered and the new, fresh face of Manhattan will be hoisted up. At face value this seems like a quick, affordable way to modernize the look of our city, so as a strategic marketing agency, why do we care about a city flag?

Our city, like many of the clients we work with, is looking to grow. To grow, our city recognizes that their target audiences—young professionals, retirees, business owners, and others—need to see value in living and working in this community. To connect with those audiences, they recognize that the Manhattan brand needs to look modern and forward thinking, so it’s only logical to change the flag. This same instinct leads business leaders to ask us for a new logo or a website refresh. If they only looked a little better, they feel, their audience would instinctively see the value in their product, services and people. 

These leaders are correct in empathetically approaching their brands from a user’s point of view, and that process often correctly identifies a logo or a flag that’s out of line with the value of their business or city. However, their discovery process often stops there.

The problem with failing to dig deeper is that a flag or a logo only represents a brand identity, which is the visible part of a brand. However, brand identity—a logo, a color scheme, a font or a flag—without brand strategy is like a flag without a ship, you’ll have a design to show off, but you won’t know where you’re going, how you’re getting there or if that identity will resonate with the key audiences that will determine your success. 

That’s why when organizational leadership comes to us and asks for an updated logo or website, we don’t ask about colors or shapes. Instead, we ask why. Why the logo? Why the flag? Is it recruiting? Is it a lack of pride in the design? Is it a comment made by a large client? Then, we ask why again and again until we can clearly communicate the vision of the organization. For example, some of our clients would like the see no person go hungry in the world. Some of our clients would like to see Kansas farmers appreciated. Some want to see a hard day of industrial work respected. Some would like to see customer service have value. Next, we uncover the values that impact every decision. Honesty. Pride. Grit. Finally, we get literal. Brass tacks, what does the company do, how does that create value, and for whom?

The combination of vision, mission and values is a brand’s essence. From that essence, we develop a marketing strategy that represents a client’s genuine brand. That, in a nutshell, is how we effectively position our clients so that they have the best chance at success. 

So why is Manhattan redesigning a flag? It’s old and has two curves that could be an apple top or a Flint Hills landscape. They ran out of flags and might as well update it before they order more. Why is that a problem? Because Manhattan’s brand, how the outside community views us, is fragmented and for some audiences, stagnant. How does that image make us feel? Unrepresented, unrecognized, forever insignificant to the Big Apple where few Manhattanites would ever want to live.

Does a new flag ever fix any of that? 

Are you raising a new flag or a brand strategy? If it’s a strategy that you’re needing, we’ve got some questions to get you there. 

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