What is the Los Angeles Brand?

By Charlie Stephens

Just after starting my role at Innovation Protocol, I was eager to dive into my new work and learn my way around Los Angeles. Having just moved from Orange County, California, and with a background in urban research, I figured there’d be no better way to learn the ropes than to immerse myself in the city and take on Los Angeles as if it were my own brand client.

So I set out on a 6 week journey to research, analyze, and attempt to define the Los Angeles brand. This was by no means an exhaustive process, and would take much more work to develop a fully fleshed-out brand strategy. Nevertheless, the insights gained were quite interesting and I think shed a nice light on some story-telling opportunities for the city.


Discovery Phase: What’s in a City Brand?

City brands are notoriously complex. There are many different economic, cultural, and governmental factors that work together to create the identity of a place. There are also different ways and reasons to package that identity and share it with people. In some of the biggest cities around the world it’s been proven that strong brands can increase both tourism and investment, and drive collaboration across the public and private sectors.

Los Angeles is well-known around the world, but there is a huge opportunity for developing a brand strategy to boost its overall performance. An understanding of the city’s core identity and brand essence would be a great starting point for achieving this.

Los Angeles is a behemoth of a city. So in order to really get a grasp of the brand I needed to hear people’s stories and research the things that make the city truly unique. With just a few weeks to interview over 20 people and sift through dozens of websites, reports, and articles, I set out to identify what Los Angeles really means to people.


Discovery Phase: Understanding the Findings

Cities today have an opportunity to shape their perception both in-person and online. However Los Angeles’ websites, press releases, city documents, and social media promote a fragmented image. With many different verbal and visual styles and no core message tying them together, the idea of Los Angeles isn’t being expressed in a consistent way to its people.

I interviewed a number residents, tourists, business owners, and past city employees to get a better idea of how people think about Los Angeles, and I identified a few key themes.

People around the world have preconceived notions about Los Angeles. There’s the good – amazing weather, Hollywood, and ‘individuality’. There’s also the bad – materialism, traffic, homelessness, among many others. There’s an almost infinite amount of ways to imagine and experience the city, all of which affect its ability to attract and retain people and organizations.

A big idea that stood out is that Los Angeles is seen as expansive, with its vast network of highways and neighborhoods. It’s also known as a place where people can express themselves and unleash their creativity. No matter what industry you work in – entertainment, professional services, media, aerospace, manufacturing – Los Angeles is where you go if you’re really shooting for the stars.

Los Angeles is also one of the most diverse cities in the world, with hundreds of nationalities, languages, and almost every religion co-existing peacefully. On top of this it’s a creative capital across many industries, leading the nation with its number of creative workers.

All in all, its diversity, creativity, and opportunities were reoccurring themes in my exploration – each an essential component to what Los Angeles has been, is today, and can be in the future.


Brand Position: The Opportunity for Los Angeles

Everyone has a dream waiting to come to life. In Los Angeles, diversity flourishes, creativity takes place, and opportunities to realize one’s grandest visions are available. It’s true that Los Angeles is a city with great amenities and things to do, but more than this, it’s a gateway to a universe of infinite possibilities; a frontier of dreams for all who dare to visit, live, or set up shop there.

Los Angeles is unique in that it has an expansive cross-section of cultures, industries and individuals that enable creative opportunities for all types of people. Whether it’s building community, sparking innovation, or fueling economic growth, the city plays a crucial role in connecting people with the passions, platforms, and people to create the world they want to see.

Of course politics, operations, and basic human nature get in the way of making Los Angeles a complete heaven-on-earth. Inequalities persist, housing struggles, and crime continues, and Los Angeles isn’t perfect. However what a city brand can do is help communicate the city’s values and qualities in a way that encourages community engagement and inspires progress across different issues and areas along the way.

The idea of Los Angeles as a city of dreams has already been floated in Garcetti’s State of the City Address and the latest Olympic bid video. But with fresh clarity, cross-sector buy-in, and belief in its own potential, the city can intentionally start crafting its own narrative in a way that builds upon its strengths and creates a more connected and thriving community for years to come.