Intangible Assets: ‘Smart Cities’ Tools For Branding!

Michael D. Moberly  August 8, 2012

Throughout my former residency in Memphis, I listened to a weekly program on the local NPR station titled ‘Smart Cities’, then hosted by Carol Coletta (CEO’s for Cities).

Of the many takeaways I consistently received from Coletta’s program and her varied guests were the not so subtle references to missed opportunities of various U.S. cities which I come to characterize as overlooked, neglected, deserted, abandoned, and otherwise ignored and undeveloped intangible assets.

In a ‘smart cities’ context, intangible assets are embedded in community’s often rich historical, cultural, architectural, and/or epicurean presence.

To demonstrate this, I engaged a gentleman at an outdoor high school sporting event in St. Louis (my current residence) last year because he was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of a small, non-descript bar-b-que restaurant located in mid-town Memphis which I had frequented many times.  I asked the gentleman, whom I learned had a son attending a Memphis university, if he had actually eaten at this restaurant. My question sparked a very spirited, albeit one-way exchange, in which he described this restaurant’s bar-b-que cuisine as the best Memphis had to offer and even compared it to other well-known Memphis competitors.  The gentleman went on to describe how he had come to personally know the owner, and that he and his family ate there each time they visited Memphis.  Our discussion concluded with him saying that he routinely had this restaurant’s bar-b-que FedEx’ to his St. Louis residence

An interesting twist to this is, having been a former resident of Memphis, I can say, quite objectively, there are easily 100+ good bar-b-que ‘joints’ throughout Memphis, some of course are the ‘weekend pop-up on a street corner’ variety where one can find very good bar-b-que if they willing to venture away from the mainstream and into the various neighborhoods of Memphis.

Many city’s intangible assets, even though they may be what I refer to as the ‘in your face, seen’em a thousand times’ variety, remain as conveyed above, neglected, deserted, abandoned, ignored and, perhaps worse, overlooked and unrecognized.  Regardless, those embedded assets may well have the potential for being re-captured, re-conceived, re-invested, re-incarnated, and ultimately re-branded to produce and deliver powerful, attractive, and broadly dispersed value to a city, providing, that is, when community leaders genuinely recognize, understand, and initiate viable strategies to effectively exploit existing intangible assets!

Of course, this entails, among other things, identifying them, unraveling them, investing in them, positioning them, leveraging them, managing them, and putting best practices in place to sustain them along with monitoring their contributory value.

All that said, there are, in my view, analogies to be drawn between the bar-b-que scenario and the development of ‘motivational umbrellas’ in cities to form so-called bio-tech corridors and/or re-vitalize commercial areas and art districts, etc.  Colleta may know different, but I have no knowledge of any such initiative being successful absent a foundational starting point in which certain recognizable intangible assets were already in place and embedded within a community’s culture.

When commencing such well-intended endeavors however, those charged with its leadership and execution must include strategies to sustain the foundational (intangible asset) underpinnings necessary for project vibrancy and sustainability.

So, in today’s increasingly competitive municipal governance environments, the viability and sustainability of city projects does not lie solely in the production of patents and other intellectual property centric practices that tend to be quite vertical.  In a ‘smart cities’ context, it’s the consistent production, exploitation, and delivery of competitive advantage driving intangible assets and their contributory value to a community. Intangible assets, when addressed early and managed effectively, can deliver long term strategic value in the form of multipliers and spillovers that spread throughout a community!

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