Branding Cities By Their Intangible Assets…

Throughout a previous residency in Memphis I consistently listened to a weekly radio program ‘Smart Cities’ hosted by Carol Coletta…which aired weekly on National Public Radio.

The programmatic and philosophical mission of Coletta…was to introduce listeners to various strategies and innovations which cities globally were – had already undertook, ala branding – re-branding initiatives to attract new business, resident populations, and visitors-tourists. Preferably, as well, these initiatives would collectively morph microcosmic segments of urban areas to be vibrant, attractive, and sustainable multi-use areas.

Of the many takeaways I routinely received from each ‘Smart Cities’ program…and Colleta’s various guests who articulated numerous and horizonal design-build-inhabit philosophies and observable examples, were the not so subtle references to U.S. cities particularly, that missed opportunities for exploitation which I came to characterize as…

overlooked, neglected, deserted, abandoned, and otherwise ignored and
undeveloped intangible assets.

In a ‘smart cities’ context, intangible assets are routinely embedded…for the finding and exploitation’ in communities – neighborhoods often rich with a strong historical, cultural, architectural, and/or epicurean presence.

An example of ‘Smart Cities’ messaging occurred recently…when I engaged a man at a high school sporting event in St. Louis (my current residence). My rationale for engaging this person was that he was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of a small, non-descript bar-b-que restaurant (joint) located in an area of Memphis reverently referred to as ‘mid-town’ which my wife and I visited frequently.

I asked the gentleman if he had actually-eaten at this restaurant…which sparked a very spirited response, in which he described this restaurant’s bar-b-que menu in some detail, as ‘the best’ Memphis had to offer, and then set about comparing it to other, far more well-known (publicized) Memphis restaurants. The gentleman went on to describe how he had come to be personally acquainted with 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 FedExed’ to his St. Louis residence.

The takeaway from this person-to-person experience…is that this individual had unabashedly assumed promotional ownership insofar as perpetuating his bar-be-que (intangible taste – food) experiences in Memphis vs. St. Louis.

Being a former resident of Memphis…I can say unequivocally, there are easily 100+ good bar-b-que ‘joints’ located throughout the city of Memphis, some of which are weekend only – vacant street corner ‘pop-up’s where, according to my palate, high quality bar-b-que is readily available, providing one is sufficiently adventurous to stray from the mainstream and go deep into Memphis’ various neighborhoods.

For those who may find the intent of this post elusive…allow me to point out that the (a.) tastes of multitudes of bar-b-que, (b.) sounds and imagery of Beale Street, (c.) the flamboyance of Elvis Presley’s former residence, Graceland, and (d.) the unperilled logistics of FedEx, are individually and collectively extraordinarily valuable intangible assets, without which, or diminution of, Memphis may likely be a less competitive – attractive city.

Many city’s – communities intangible assets however, are, what I refer to as ‘in your face’, but…for various reasons, remain overlooked, unrecognized, neglected, abandoned, or ignored, and perhaps most importantly, not commercially – personally exploited. In such instances, which, to be sure, are legion, these (intangible) assets may still have the potential to be 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. Such value, revenue generation, and competitive advantage potential is dependent upon community leaders, political and private, to genuinely understand intangibles and initiate viable strategies to effectively and lucratively exploit same!

Achieving this is, in a-majority of instances is doable, providing it…commences by 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 role and value.

There are analogies to be drawn between Memphis’ (music – bar-b-que) intangibles described above, and the development of bio-tech corridors…i.e., variously linked city – university – business collaboratives that attract prospective businesses and employees to re-vitalized and capitalized commercial areas and cultural districts. etc. I am unfamiliar with such initiatives becoming both successful and sustainable absent these foundational starting points, i.e., the necessary intangibles already (variously) available and embedded within a projected corridor’s culture where prospective bio – tech collaborations and launches can occur.

Those charged with R&D corridor’s execution and leadership…are obliged to recognize strategies to sustain the foundational intangibles (assets) which underpin and/or are necessary for corridor vibrancy and sustainability.

However, in the increasingly competitive and valuable public-private ‘intangible asset’ environments…the viability and sustainability of the collaborations does not lie solely in the production of patents and other intellectual property centric vehicles.

For ‘smart cities’ it’s the consistent production and exploitation of competitive advantage driving intangible assets…relative to their contributory role and value to a community-as-a-whole, which should not be overlooked or otherwise dismissed. Intangible assets, when identified and distinguished early and managed effectively, can deliver long term strategic value in the form of multipliers and spillovers that spread throughout a community!

Michael D. Moberly  April 3, 2018  St. Louis  [email protected]   ‘Business Intangible Asset Blog’ since May  2006 where one’s attention span, intangible assets, and solutions converge.

Readers are invited to explore other papers, books, and blog posts I have published at

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