The State University of New York at Buffalo, the largest public university in the state, has gone through a number of branding iterations in the past few years. In an effort to focus their branding efforts to highlight what makes the university standout, the brand focus has alternated between highlighting the school’s Buffalo home and putting at the forefront its place among the universities in the state and the name recognition that accompanies “New York.”

After a number of years splashing “New York” across everything from athletic fields and uniforms to marketing materials and websites, a change in brand strategy has reversed course back to focusing on Buffalo as the school’s main point of emphasis.

Outside of the conversation that could be had about brand consistency and the importance of identifying a solid direction across all areas of the institution, one point that this back-and-forth has emphasized is how branding, especially place-name-focused branding, impacts the community in which the brand resides.

In this situation, one of the driving forces behind the change back to commonly using “University at Buffalo” and putting the city name up front was to better connect the university with the community, and to allow Buffalo residents to have the university as a point of civic pride, instead of feeling as if they shared its success with the entire state.

Institutions in which the branding includes a place name often include this perspective in their branding efforts. Communities are built on commonality, and place-focused brands provide that on a large scale. The most prominent examples of these are sports franchises, where the name is front and center and which serve as a uniting force for their home bases.

Consideration should exist across the brand portfolio, starting with the name. Although it can seem a minor part of the process, choosing which specific city, state, town or region to use in the brand name can have far-reaching impacts.

The Carolina Panthers football team, whose home stadium and business operations all reside in Charlotte, North Carolina, decided early on in their branding process their goal to become a regional mainstay, a “team for both Carolinas” (completely with a logo that is shaped similarly to the outline of both states together) and not limit themselves to one city or state.

This expansion of the brand identification to an entire region has been paramount in the brand strategy, especially as the team made its way to the most recent Super Bowl and promoted a “One Carolina” marketing campaign, looking to further enhance its uniting powers within the region.

On the other side, trying to cast too wide a brand net can alienate your local audience and be seen as putting their community on the back burner in the eyes of the brand. This is yet another example where research, information-gathering and a sense of awareness to the state of mind around you is the most important aspect of brand development. Knowing the importance of local buy-in and the best way to ensure a connection with the brand can save time and money down the road, and also give your brand a head start in its drive to success.

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