Place Branding: Toronto Who?

Just like any organization or individual, destinations are also capable of branding themselves in order to provide a promise of value to specific customer groups that satisfy their needs; either as a place to live, or as a travel destination. In my last post, I wrote about Las Vegas and how it has informed people around the world what to expect, and then delivered consistently on that message for many years. The Las Vegas identity is well-known, and the mere mention of it conjures up visions in one’s head that actually become reality when travelling there. Today, however, I am looking at a contrasting example – my hometown of Toronto. I love this city and believe it has many things to offer to visitors around the world.  However, whenever I ask people who are not from here what their thoughts are about this city, they usually know absolutely nothing about it, and the ones who have actually travelled here do not really have any powerful takeaways from this place I call home. So, how can the city of Toronto become a place that a) the world knows about, and b) is on people’s bucket list of places to see before they die – like London, Rome, New York, Paris, and Las Vegas.

Unique Value Proposition

All great destinations offer something unique to its visitors that is usually a combination of physical attractions, along with an indescribable aura that is unique to that city. Rome offers a combination of a rich history combined with “La Dolce Vita”. Paris offers beautiful architecture, the Eiffel Tower but is also “the city of love”. Finally, New York offers towering skyscrapers but is also “the city that never sleeps”.

So what does Toronto have to offer as a physical attraction? Well, I would say that the thing that makes Toronto the most unique to me is the fact that on most lists, Toronto ranks as one of the most culturally diverse metropolitan areas of the world.  A fortunate consequence of this is that one can eat almost any type of food in Toronto, with the quality resonating with that of the area from which the recipes originate. As someone of Italian background, I can honestly say that the Italian food found right here in Toronto is on par with what one can find anywhere in Italy – which is a lot more than I can say about some Italian food I’ve tried elsewhere.

Given the rise of the foodie culture in North America and across the globe, I think that the quality and variety of food found in Toronto is something that will attract a growing customer segment to the city and is something that can and should be exploited.

The variety of international foods also brings out the emotional reason why Toronto is a great place to visit – that one can learn about a multitude of cultures all in one place; and beyond that, visitors can witness and take part in the cultural exchange and integration of peoples. While studying in Toronto I have had the opportunity to become friends with and share stories with Muslims, Jews, Chinese, and Columbians, all while having a drink at a bar. While the ability to interact with other cultures is present in other cities around the world, the level of diversity in Toronto is superior.

Consistent Messaging

After several hours searching the internet for an advertisement promoting Toronto as a destination for travel, I could not find even one that was less than 10 years old coming from the official tourism board for the city.  Even going to the official tourism website does not help me gain a clear understanding of what to expect when coming to Toronto. It would appear therefore that if Toronto does have a message for its audience, it is not readily available to them.

So where does Toronto go from here? Well, if the city agrees with my statement regarding its unique value proposition, it needs to develop a clear communication strategy.  This would let people who are interested in exploring new cultures know that Toronto is the place for them.  Staying in Toronto will provide access to some of the best food around the world, for all kinds of budgets. Without getting into too much detail, this would obviously require a slogan that captures the proposition being sold, printing ads around the world reaffirming this message, a youtube channel with promotional videos showcasing the diversity of this city, and it would require directly seeking out these “culture junkies” to let them know that Toronto has exactly what they are looking for!

Cooperation among Stakeholders

Cooperation between local businesses and the various departments of the municipal, provincial, and federal government is paramount to delivering the unique value proposition and communicating a consistent message.

At present, there are a multitude of excellent restaurants in Toronto that are not recognized globally by prestigious restaurant ranking systems. Michelin has never published a restaurant guide for any city in Canada, let alone Toronto.  Not a single Canadian restaurant entered the “San Pellegrino top 100 restaurants in the world” list. There needs to be a concerted effort by both the municipal government and the restaurants themselves to convince these prestigious restaurant rankers to at least come to Toronto to try the food.  Having Canadian exposure on these lists would go a long way in helping Toronto strengthen its reputation as a food city with fantastic international cuisine.

In conjunction with beefing up the city’s restaurant exposure, Toronto must make it easier for tourists to explore the varying cultures that the city has to offer. This involves the coordination of festivals, traffic and transit improvements, and welcoming committees, to help make it easy for tourists to get the most out of the city, among other improvements I won’t mention here.

As you can see, branding a destination is more than just finding a catchy slogan, and does not come as a result of fortuitous geography, nor as the benefit of history.  Branding a destination requires careful planning, and commitment from all stakeholders involved. Las Vegas saw an opportunity to satisfy a customer need, and managed to become an oasis in the desert, representing all things copious through consistent messaging and cooperation from all stakeholders, in order to deliver on their promise. Toronto is like many other cities in the world that struggle to attract visitors.  By defining a physical and emotional differentiator, communicating this differentiator to the right customer base, and ensuring that their promise is delivered through cooperation, Toronto can become a travel destination that people will want to include on their bucket lists.


  • Mirv
    September 5, 2013 - 10:10 PM | Permalink

    Giampiero for Mayor!

    • Giampiero
      September 6, 2013 - 12:01 AM | Permalink

      Thanks Mirvise for reading! If I am mayor, at the very least people will know how well we eat!

  • September 19, 2013 - 6:29 PM | Permalink

    So, I started writing a reply, then it got really long, so I just made a blog post out of it. You can find it here:
    – don’t worry, I didn’t forget to add a link ;)

    • Giampiero
      September 20, 2013 - 10:05 AM | Permalink

      Hey Matt,

      Thanks for the support and awesome job on the article!

  • Silvia
    November 7, 2013 - 11:18 AM | Permalink

    Rob Ford on promoting Toronto’s brand:

    This also ties into your subsequent post – Is all publicity good publicity?

    So Giampiero – what’s your opinion on the impact of Ford’s crack admission on Toronto’s brand? A flash in the pan to be forgotten tomorrow, a way to put us on the map, or a good way to tarnish our brand?

    • Giampiero
      November 8, 2013 - 12:42 AM | Permalink

      Hi Silvia, thanks for taking the time to read my blog! We are seeing first hand in Toronto how not all publicity is good publicity as the spectacle known as Rob Ford has done significant damage to the city’s image. While more people may be aware of the existence of this beautiful city, their first impressions (if they did not know about Toronto before) will be that it is a city that is being poorly run, a city that has a drug problem, and by extension probably has an issue with crime – All qualities that would deter potential visitors among people looking to move here. From a business perspective, companies may not want to set up shop in the city because of the politicians that they may have to deal with, and may be put off by the talent that is available in this city (who wants to hire from a pool of crack smokers). Just like the CEO of an organization, the mayor is the face of the city, and like it or not, his qualities serve as a representation to onlookers of what the city represents. As a result, the image that he is portraying to the world is what people will remember when they think of Toronto…especially when the image is as memorable as the one that his is showcasing.

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