Every city has a name. But do they have a brand — and a strategy to use it for economic development?

That was one of the key questions this week in Metro Vancouver, where many of the region’s leaders gathered for half-a-day to kick-start a plan for a unified brand identity overseas. A unified brand strategy has long-eluded the locals.

At the moment, the 22 municipalities that make up Metro Vancouver generally pitch themselves first on trade missions. Come to Surrey. Invest in Richmond. Try Burnaby. What about North Vancouver? The outsider invariably asks, where on earth are those places. Is it the same as Vancouver?

All those municipalities, with their particular strengths and characteristics, are crucial elements of Metro Vancouver. But they need to subordinate themselves to the brand that actually works beyond the region. That is Metro Vancouver, the only brand that works internationally.

Other cities have already figured this out — and they succeed because of it. Denver is the classic example.

When it hit hard economic times in the 1980s, a group of city leaders — the Crazy 8 they were called — launched the crazy idea that to transform itself, the metropolitan region had to unify it’s more than 70 municipalities around one marketing strategy to sell to the rest of the nation and world. That brand was Denver.

When Denver’s trade missions went out to attract a major investor or company, no longer would one municipality promote itself over the other. They sold the vision of a new Denver.

The companies would listen to the pitch and decide where to set up a headquarters or invest. A code of ethics was written to ensure Denver’s municipalities would not drift into parochialism. Any municipality that tried to do an end-run around a fellow municipality after one of those deals were sealed, for example, could be cast out of the next trade mission for acting in bad faith.

It worked. In the years that followed, Denver transformed itself into one of America’s fastest growing and most livable cities.

Can that work for other cities? That seems certain. It’s only a question of leadership and will.

As the day wrapped up on Metro Vancouver’s quest for a unified brand, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was asked if his fellow leaders could craft a unifying vision statement for Metro Vancouver in the next year. He said it was possible.

Then there was a few notes of disagreement. The city’s most famous international architect, Byng Thom, didn’t think a year was reasonable. It’s got to be done in six months, he said. Martha Piper, the President of the University of British Columbia, said that the Metro Vancouver vision should have been done yesterday.