On Monday, Boston’s ad community came together for The Ad Club’s EDGE Conference, an annual examination of what’s happening, what’s new and what’s next in the marketing world. EDGE always manages to impress, but this year’s theme, “Branded in Boston,” made it an exceptional experience. It was more than an enlightened look at the state of marketing; it was a celebration of the city we call home.

Boston is the epitome of edge. Across industries and disciplines, Boston is on the forefront, inventing and creating ahead of any other corner of the globe. In her opening remarks, Ad Club President Kathy Kiely proudly proclaimed we have more “firsts” than any other city. First school. First children’s hospital. First Facebook. These firsts are proof that Boston is truly a “city upon a hill” — a beacon of innovation for the rest of the world.

But why?

While each EDGE speaker had a unique take on branding here in the Hub, nearly all touched upon one theme which seemed to permeate the entire conference:

It’s not the big-name companies, world-renowned universities or even the cutting-edge innovations that make Boston an incredible place to build a brand. It’s the people.

John Della Volpe, Founder & CEO of SocialSphere, kicked off the conference by sharing his “Five Reasons Boston Will Remain the Hub.” His reasons were not about GDP or industry might, but about the character of the population.

“We are the home, and the home away from home, for founders, tastemakers, geniuses and generals,” Volpe said.

Volpe explained it is the people who go to school here, who spark social conversations and who power Boston’s diversity of industries that make Boston a city of global import.

David Chang, COO of the PayPal Media Network, emphasized bright, driven individuals as the key ingredient in the special combination of  “talent, capital and ecosystem” comprising Boston’s innovation scene. Chang described how Start Tank, PayPal’s startup incubator, and initiatives like Launch Angels, an early stage venture capital firm supporting fledgling startups, empower aspiring innovators. It is clear that it’s not only talent, but a community willing to foster that talent which positions Boston on the leading edge.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, James Gallagher, and Mike Sheehan

But the best testament to people’s place in brand building was when Mike Sheehan, chairman of Hill Holliday, Jim Gallagher, EVP of John Hancock, and former Mayor Thomas M. Menino shared the fascinating story behind the The One Fund, a charity created to aid victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. 

A mere seven hours after Mayor Menino called for its creation, The One Fund was up and running. Three days later, The One Fund had raised an astonishing $10 million. Now at more than $73 million, The One Fund has achieved almost unheard of success, raising more money than most charity funds could dream. But the Fund’s triumph cannot be solely measured in dollars and cents. The time, effort and selfless generosity of the people of Boston are the true measures of success.

Mayor Menino, Mike Sheehan and James Gallagher were able to call upon the right people whose expertise and urge to help victims enabled the fund’s swift creation.

“Everybody knew how to do their job, and we just did it,” Sheehan said.

And the rapid raising of funds — sparked by John Hancock’s initial $1 million donation — is a credit to the generosity of the Boston business community.

The story of The One Fund is the story of how talent, character, tenacity and local loyalty collide to build something great. And in fact, that’s the story behind most brands represented at EDGE. From Dunkin’ Donuts’ ascendancy to global fame to Boston Children’s Hospital’s innovation culture to Bully Boy Distillers’ homegrown family business — these successes are products of their environment and, more importantly, the products of the extraordinary people who live, work and play here in Boston.

See what the 2014 EDGE Conference speakers had to say about what it means to be “Branded in Boston.”