Keith Burris Commentary, 12/29/13

Keith Burris has joined the recent stream of Toledo region brand coverage by the Blade with his Sunday commentary “City branding effort just one part of pitch“. I do not agree with every one of his articles, but I enjoy reading them (and not just because he has an awesome first name).

First, I like some of his key points:

  • The branding initiative needs more resources to make a difference. The branding work needs to be woven in to many other economic development, talent attraction/retention/development, tourism, etc. activities. Branding is not a stand-alone endeavor: it should be a consistent theme in many projects.
  • Grass-roots efforts by the “youngsters” should be tapped and expanded upon. Put more of the young, energetic, in-love-with-Toledo folks in charge.
  • Joe Napoli would be an awesome person to put in charge overall. He knows how to run a company that delivers great experiences.

Second, it is hard to understand the context in a print article. Fortunately, online we can add links for people who want to know more. Here are some references to things Keith mentions:

Third, there are a few things that are incorrect or inaccurate in the commentary, in my opinion.

#1 Definition of branding. At least he did not say it is all about a logo,  but managing a brand is a lot more than “an attempt to give the city a thumbnail, or even bumper sticker, identity for the purposes of marketing.”

I like to use two different definitions of branding to help people see the bigger picture.

One definition is that a brand is a promise. You can communicate that promise thru marketing, but you then have to deliver on the promise.

Another definition is from the experience point of view: someone’s view of a brand is the sum of all of the experiences they have with the products and services associated with the brand.

In both cases, the brand is much more than marketing, and much more than symbols. You might market yourself as being “business friendly,” have a cute slogan and pretty logo for it, but when CEOs deal with you, you had better actually be “business friendly” to them or else your brand will not match your messaging. That means your brand is really determined more by your culture and business processes. It is about who you are and what you do, not just what you say.

#2 City branding vs. regional branding. To my knowledge, the City of Toledo has not had a specific branding initiative (but Future of Toledo team 1 was trying for a while). Jeff Schaaf is leading a regional branding effort, not a city of Toledo one. The city’s brand is an important part of the region’s brand. But the region brand includes the suburbs around Toledo, rural counties in Ohio, and even parts of Michigan. Why? Because that is how the “outside world” sees us: as a region, centered on the city of Toledo but more than just the city.

If you think Jeff’s job is daunting the way Keith describes it – from a city of Toledo perspective – it is even larger and more complex. I think the city needs to step up its branding efforts, as do other cities in the region. And counties. We are competing with other regions around the world, and our economic future is at stake.