Looking Global: Croydon Brand

By - Wednesday 25th September, 2013

In the concluding part of his series on what Croydon can learn from cities globally, Tom Lickley looks at how the town could market itself

‘I Love New York’, ‘IAMsterdam’, ‘City of Light’. Strategic and organic place branding has given the world some of the most evocative and well-known brands. The ‘I Love New York’ brand, which was conceived as far back as 1977, is a particularly successful piece of marketing, given the universal recognition of the brand. Place 1977 New York into context; it certainly was not the safe tourist hotspot seen today. Whilst a brand alone is not enough to change the image of a city, in a world which is increasingly fostering competition between cities themselves, rather than just the businesses which reside in them, how can Croydon place itself by coming up with a clever marketing campaign?

Of course, the underlying theory about brands is that your brand is whatever customers perceive your product/business/town as being. Look at McDonalds for example; for all their heavy promotion of salads and healthier options in the past few years, it is still seen as an unhealthy fast food brand. So let’s be frank; Croydon does not have a great image to outsiders, the town weighed down by the 2011 riots, dated architecture and tired, stereotypical jokes by ‘comedians’. Regular readers of the Citizen will of course realise the community is taking considerable steps to banish these stereotypes, but how do we sell this to potential residents, investors and the general public?

A realistic example to look at is Glasgow. The city gave itself the brand ‘People Make Glasgow’ in June 2013, using it under several different contexts such as ‘People Make Glasgow Home’ and ‘People Make Glasgow Creative.’ A clever piece of marketing for a city which historically has low life expectancy and is known for its sectarianism. Whilst some may dismiss place branding as a way of covering up a city’s cracks, a look at Glasgow’s website reinforces the idea that marketing can make a difference; it is about picking out the positives of a place, in order to attract people – from there, positive changes can be made to the community as a whole.

Surely it is a positive that the town can be accepting of very different political viewpoints

And we have a deluge of positives in Croydon which could be reinforced by a top-down, authority led initiative. Look at Croydon Tech City, a growing community of tech companies which may one day rival Silicon Roundabout. Look at the town’s large amount of green spaces, such as Lloyd Park and Addington Hills. Look at the town’s environmentally friendly transport system.

In particular, we should celebrate the town’s diversity; London has built its image on the fact it is a ‘global’ city, a melting pot of communities from many different ethnic backgrounds. Perhaps we should even celebrate our political diversity, with Labour and the Conservatives constantly holding the north and south of the borough respectively, and the Centre often marginal. Surely it is a positive that the town can be accepting of very different political viewpoints, and petty public arguments, such as ‘Walkgate’, only increase the opportunity to ridicule the town.

Of course, re-branding a place costs money – Glasgow’s cost £500,000. Whilst there are many problems within Croydon which need addressing, investment in positively marketing the town could have considerable tangible and intangible benefits – good place promotion is often seen as a measure of a top global city – and with plenty of positives in the town, there are a number of angles wit h cause to highlight.

So what do we go for? I’ll leave you, the reader, to come up with some suggestions. It could be a simple slogan, like that seen in New York. Or we could take extreme measures, like Staines (Staines-on-Thames since 2012). Saffron City anyone…?

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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  • Ally McKinlay

    I thought i’d posted a couple of hours ago but it didn’t appear so will try again…

    I’d be keen to develop a “Made In Croydon” brand that starts with local pride in all things decent created here. For me it’s about people as well as products.

    Local Pride will bring a positive global image. My Croydon Radio show has 15 good reasons to celebrate the people & products of Croydon. There are thousands more people out there worthy of telling their stories too.

    If we create a culture where people are proud to be “Made In Croydon”, if people are encouraged to be more creative and produce things Made In Croydon then this should generate a positive global image.

    I’m starting up a Saffron Crooperative and looking for associated products that are Made In Croydon…

    • Andrew Dickinson

      the Made In Croydon idea is a great one.I sincerely hope that we get ideas and products that can carry that branding and individuals that do well and are not afraid to say that they from here. I’ve seen Hannah Barrett from XFactor in the town centre and wished her well in the competition and said to make Croydon proud by being the winner.

    • Tom Lickley

      Like the concept of it! Thing is, with ‘Made in Croydon’ people may immediately jump to ‘Made in Chelsea’ with negative comparisons?

      • Ally McKinlay

        I’d not heard of Made In Chelsea until a few months ago and I’ve not watched any of it. I’m sure certain people will draw a comparison but do they do the same with Taiwan or China?

        For me it’s about embracing some Creative Culture in Croydon (CCC). Encouraging people to create products and declare to the world that they are Made In Croydon, every place has a right to market a product of their own by saying “It’s from here..”.

        I think we need to get Croydon kids & parents on board and the business will follow because it will be a product that everyone believes in. As Bieneosa states above, it’s the people that will really make this happen. It also gives people a stronger sense of Local Pride because they believe in what they are and where they are.

        Anything that occurs in Croydon is Made In Croydon in my book, and all are welcome to get involved…

        • Tom Lickley

          I’ve thankfully never watched more than a minute of it either, but looking at it objectively, people may think it’s a downmarket version of an awful reality TV show – of course that isn’t true, but people maybe won’t look past the name.

          It’s a great idea, and I hope it succeeds.

          • Ally McKinlay

            Mmm – I think Made In Chelsea will fizzle out but I’m not thinking about a big international push on branding the noo.

            I’m thinking about encouraging local people to create products and carry the brand.

            Here’s a simple example:-

            A Mushroom & Saffron Omelette,


  • Andrew Dickinson

    Saffron City? The City built on Saffron? Maybe.
    I believe the town needs a promotional film extolling the positives that the town has and will have in the years to come. We need to push ourselves ahead of other London areas as the place to live otherwise how will we fill all the new housing developments in the town centre? You guys at The Citizen could make this film happen.(sound of gauntlet hitting ground)

    • Ally McKinlay

      We will be doing a photography project in half-term with HLP which will give some historical insight from the perspective of young people. I can’t elaborate for all the red tape involved but it will be intriguing what is produced!!

    • Tom Lickley

      Berkeley produced this a few months ago for Saffron Square – obviously it’s focused upon drawing people to their development, but it’s the right idea I think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glQAX2yB_xs

  • bieneosa

    Interesting piece, Tom.

    I would like to draw your attention to a few points. You mention that McDonald’s ‘for all their heavy promotion of salads and healthier options in the past few years, it is still seen as an unhealthy fast food brand.’ I disagree. When I worked in the communications department at McDonald’s in 2003, the brand was under considerable attack. Looking at how the brand is perceived today, there has been a significant shift in a positive direction, which is backed up by data: http://www.warc.com/Content/ContentViewer.aspx?ID=e9206e58-13dd-42dc-8ccd-67b65f78cd6e&MasterContentRef=e9206e58-13dd-42dc-8ccd-67b65f78cd6e&Campaign=admap_nov12&utm_campaign=admap_nov12

    It is useful that you refer to McDonald’s as an example. Whilst you are correct to highlight that changes to the menu was part of McDonald’s overall narrative of change, it was just one aspect of it. There was an overarching strategy in place that involved a process of listening, making real changes and listening again before embarking on an external narrative. I think this is pertinent to Croydon. I don’t know if this has already been done, but it seems logical that Croydon needs to do a listening and engagement exercise before it comes out with a shiny new brand and starts to communicate this externally. This listening and engagement exercise needs to incorporate residents, businesses and all the other audiences that have a stake in the borough, as well as the external audiences that we seek to attract. Any brand narrative has to be authentic, consistent and relevant; otherwise it will be a case of papering over the cracks. As we all know, once a reputation is damaged it can take years to rebuild, so it’s important that Croydon is able to deliver on its brand promise.

    Like you, I think that Croydon has many things going for it. I find the existing narrative tends to focus on assets like transport and infrastructure, which resonates more with business. I don’t think this is a particularly innovative approach and can sometimes come across as sterile. I think we should look to incorporate what is arguably our
    biggest asset: our people. The global theme of your series of articles is ironic, as right now I do not think that we, as a borough, are tapping into the global potential via our multicultural population. I’m sure there’s a huge business angle that can be exploited with UKTI. I also think we need to leverage what differentiates Croydon from other parts of London.

    Finally, Croydon’s brand identity needs to evoke an emotional connection with the many audiences that it seeks to attract and retain. When there’s an emotional connection you then have the potential to build a brand that people know, like and trust.

    • Tom Lickley

      Thanks. My perception of McDonald’s was based on myself and friends still using it as a ‘cheap’ option on a night out, and the fact that – despite the report – if people are looking to buy a salad, McD’s would likely not be the option for most people. It’s interesting that McDonald’s have gained a resurgence during the economic crisis; perhaps people having less income to spend on more expensive meals out means McDonald’s has gained as a cheaper option?

      Anyway, I digress. I think you’re right in saying the steps Croydon needs to take in coming up with an overall brand identity, and much of the narrative currently highlights infrastructure, which may not be the best way to go; other similar towns, Reading for example, also have great infrastructure, and we need something more than that.

      Indeed – an emotional connection to a town will not only attract people, but just as important, retain talent.

  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    As someone who stands at national exhibitions in front of a Croydon banner I can certainly endorse the view that marketing our particular brand can be a challenge.

    There is already considerable investment in positively marketing Croydon and work is being done right now. ‘Perception and Image’ is one of the themes of the Croydon Business Improvement District company, which runs a programme of Town Centre events to boost Town Centre footfall, delivers marketing, PR and promotional campaigns and improves empty premises to minimise their negative impact. BID’s next initiative is the Check Out Croydon card, a discount scheme for Croydon residents and workers which launches in October. Initiatives such as http://www.destinationcroydon.com successfully promote us nationally as a conference destination.

    I think brand-revitalising efforts are hampered by Croydon’s identity confusion : London borough? ‘burb? overgrown Surrey town? wannabe-city? (although surely we’ve shelved that last one by now?). Strong emotional connection to Croydon already exists – just look at the runaway success of the Bygone Croydon website, although it’s revealingly not a connection to modern day reality and won’t be until we can decide what that is.

    Cynicism is Croydon’s greatest enemy. We need to be honest about why people are cynical – too many promises have been made then not delivered. I talk to people about regeneration every day – too many of them roll their eyes. More schemes and dreams will only worsen this situation.

    We know the obvious positive stuff – great trains and the rest – and the obvious negatives. Now we need action. The energy of Croydon – the number of projects starting or already up-and-running, like Tech City, the levels of local engagement with issues, the voices raised in argument on every conceivable subject – is our greatest asset and fills me with optimism about our brand’s future, although we also have significant numbers who are disengaged or too poor and struggling to even seek to do engage.

    I just don’t think the answer is more marketing.(Sorry, hard-working marketeers). Using improved perceptions of McDonalds as an example of success is, I’m afraid, as cynical as you can get, because whatever’s happened to the perception, the stuff is the same s*** that it ever was and everyone knows it. Delivery is what’s needed now. That said, I am utterly charmed by the idea of Saffron City :-)

  • AKhoiR

    Croydon – Capital Living a Country Life .. and possibly ..
    A London borough that don’t like to boast .. Croydon… merely the most!
    The above and other ‘slogans’ promoting Croydon can be heard on the song
    This Town is Top at youtube.com/The AKhoiR ..