Would that which we call Leaside 
by any other name smell as sweet?

With apologies to William Shakespeare….

Leaside, along with other notable brands like Seiko, The Ritz-Carlton and Aston Martin, is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year. Leaside will mark the occasion with a variety of events, while Seiko has launched two limited edition watches, The Ritz is offering a special “Royal Experience,” and Aston Martin is ready to “unleash” the first of its highly anticipated next-generation sports cars. Brand experts love to make a bit of noise when it comes to milestone anniversaries because they provide an opportunity to tell their brand story, engage customers, build trust, refresh the brand, and boost the morale of its stakeholders.

Yes, neighbourhoods can be branded and all neighbourhoods have a brand. Brands are a combination of tangible and intangible attributes that create a unique identity in people’s minds when they think of a neighbourhood. Anyone aware of Leaside will already have a set of images or emotions they associate with our ’hood as well as us as individuals who live here. Successful neighbourhood brands offer the promise of something positive and unique, and are not what we say about ourselves, but what others believe about us.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” (Warren Buffet)

Urban and neighbourhood branding is an effective tool for the development of cities, and on a smaller scale, neighbourhoods. Research has shown that a strong brand can increase the distinction and success of living places and the value of their social capital. Branding a neighbourhood involves creating an identity for the area that sets it apart from others, and highlights its unique characteristics and features while establishing a positive reputation. Successful neighbourhood brands promise something that users value and then deliver on that promise, increasing the popularity of the brand and creating demand.

Today, more than ever, buyers are wary of brands they interact with, and if a brand breaks its promises, those buyers will not only cease interacting with the brand, but in this age of social media, they will tell friend after friend and the damage of viral word-of-mouth communications can be irreversible.

So, what’s triggered my interest in Leaside’s brand? Well, given the amount of ‘intensification’ that is currently enveloping us, we could be facing population growth greater than 50 per cent over our current level. Frankly, I’m concerned about the sustainability of the brand’s strength and the neighbourhood’s ability to live up to its ‘brand promise’ in the future. After all, keeping promises matters and breaking them can be damaging since a brand is really only a perception, and perceptions will eventually match reality over time.

In my investigation, Leaside’s brand appears strong. Except for the higher cost of living – 42% more expensive than the Canadian average according to areavibes.com – and the occasional NIMBY-bombs that are lobbed our way, Leaside frequently scores well in various Toronto neighbourhood comparisons and ‘livability’ assessments. As an example, areavibes.com rates our livability as “exceptional” with a score of 84, ranking Leaside higher than 99 per cent of all others in Ontario and securing our spot as one of Toronto’s “top six” neighbourhoods (refer to table).

Leaside Livability Ratings. Source: www.areavibes.com

In the September 2019 issue of Leaside Life, I wrote, “Even if a city or neighbourhood is densely populated, it may still be able to offer strong characteristics that make living there worthwhile.” Still, I can’t help wondering if the strength of our brand is steeped in past glories, and that the brand promise that developers have relied upon to attract buyers will ultimately become a shadow of its former self. Especially if it becomes evident that the brand promise, as promoted in those glossy condo brochures and websites, falls below expectations over time.

“A neighbourhood is more than a place. It is a state of mind.” (Branding Strategy Insider)

To address this unacceptable scenario, our collective attention needs to focus on ensuring that Leaside’s brand promise will be able to sustainably support the forecasted population growth without further degrading our current level of infrastructure and services, many of which are already aging and under strain, or negatively affecting the enviable social capital Leaside is known for.

I’m intrigued by this quote in Branding Strategy Insider: “In this turbulent, unsettling, uncertain, fragmented world, the idea of neighbourhood is more relevant than ever. A neighbourhood is more than a place. It is a state of mind.” When Shakespeare’s Juliet pondered the question “What’s in a name?” she concluded that names are meaningless and I suppose in her context that could be true. But the story of Leaside is one of non-fiction, and the branding experts in our midst might see our situation differently. Places can be emulated, but a state of mind is something intangible that resonates with individuals.

A well-executed neighbourhood branding strategy can help attract residents, businesses, investment and visitors and enhance the area’s overall attractiveness and vitality, which subsequently improves the quality of life for its residents. It is also acknowledged that a neighbourhood’s brand can have a significant impact on home prices. All other things being equal, homes in neighbourhoods with strong brands are those with desirable amenities, attractive architecture, or a strong sense of community that can command higher prices than comparable homes in neighbourhoods without similar features.

Unlike Seiko, The Ritz or Aston Martin, Leaside does not have a marketing department brimming with brand experts. Rather, our local businesses, residents, community organizations and leaders will need to work in unison to ensure Leaside continues to deliver on its brand promise for another 110 years, despite the significant change we witness all around us.

Happy birthday, Leaside!

How would you describe Leaside’s brand? How closely does it match the description provided to you by friends living elsewhere? Will the intensification of our ’hood have a positive or negative impact on Leaside’s brand on the next 10, 25 or 110 years? Let us know at .

About Glenn Asano 60 Articles
Leasider Glenn Asano is a partner and principal consultant for the strategy and business development practice at Centred Performance. He is also an Instructor with the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.