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October 2010

Brand Story Comes Alive: The Chicago Experience

Part of what makes a brand great is its ability to tell a story that engages people at an emotional level. Great brand stories are able to communicate their messages effectively by establishing a deep connection with their audience.

Just as there can be customer journeys that monitor interactions between brands and consumers, so too can a world-class city offer the same type of journey that is able to fulfill our every need. Chicago is one of these cities.

Having recently returned from a trip to Chicago (my third visit), the city never fails to disappoint. At first glance, one would think that the size alone would inhibit the kind of closeness and intimacy characteristic of great brands. But the Chicago experience proves that this isn't so.

In his groundbreaking book BrandSimple, author Allen P. Adamson states that in the case where brands offer entertainment value, "it's more a matter of coordinating interactions to create an outcome of a more emotional nature. Here the journey is more like orchestrating an event. It's theater."

The emotional journey through Chicago begins the minute one steps into the always bustling O'Hare airport. Yet underneath all the confusion is an innate sense of order, as people from all over the globe run around chasing their next flight - or jump into the next cab or bus. The journey into the city can take a solid hour at rush hour, yet the sights and sounds are so fascinating that it's easy to forget the time. Skyscrapers loom as one approaches the city limits. The magnificent Chicago skyline seems a welcoming fortress that says "Welcome to Chicago - have a nice stay - and before you leave, you won't be disappointed by the story we will tell."

What Adamson says about brands is true. The interactions between myself and Chicago-ans are always friendly and illuminated. Service at hotels, stores and restaurants is excellent and people actually seem to want your business. The entire city offers a sensory smorgasbord guaranteed to fulfill even the most cynical appetite. Cultural events are rampant, and museums are world-class centers of historical significance. In comparison to other cities of similar size, Chicago doesn't seem afraid to showcase its grandeur. The waterfront is magnificent, and tourists are catered to in a way that makes them want to come back again.

Yes, I love Chicago. To me, it tells the story of incredible intellect and ambition in which its citizens were able to pull together all levels of government and industry to create a brand story guaranteed to incite a powerful experience for all who venture between its walls. To live Chicago is to experience it, and the story naturally unfolds to those willing to take in all the delights that the city has to offer.

Brand guru Scott Bedbury once said that "a great brand is a story that's never completely told." In this way, brand Chicago will always be evolving as visitors are offered powerful connecting experiences that continue to transcend place and time.