Category Archives: Blade

Two editorials

Two of the newspapers in the region had an opinion piece about the Toledo Region Branding Initiative recently.

Branding Toledo explains why a region needs to do branding, talks about the next phase, and offers some positive suggestions, such as showing the diversity of urban life and of the regional overall (e.g., rural). The need for financial help is encouraged.

419 Days contrasts the grass-roots community pride efforts with the branding initiative.

It is good to see both papers adding their support and encouraging others to contribute. If these two often-warring publications could find a way to work together for the good of the branding initiative, it would signal a change in the in-print dialog in the region. We need that, and many more small sparks of change.


Letters to the Editor, Jan 28 – Feb 5

Additional Letters to the Editor regarding the regional branding efforts were printed in the Blade on January 29th and February  5th. My comments:

  • “Glass City” is a city label, not a regional label. Related but different.
  • Targeting glass-related manufacturers might make sense, not for old-times-sake but because they are doing some sort of advanced manufacturing with glass. It is the “new manufacturing economy” not the “live in the past economy.”
  • Getting TARTA more on board (pun intended) is good news. It is already acting in a regional capacity (which is not as common as it should be around here). For site selectors and business leaders, the transportation infrastructure matters. For some potential residents, good public transportation is a requirement.
  • “Ordinary residents and other interested parties” were asked for their input in January & February 2010, at the start of the branding project. A community survey was done and “town hall” meetings were held. The web site created for that – – is no longer online, but this archive of the timeline shows some of what was done. But it is probably time to do another round of community engagement.

Finally, I will just repeat this verbatim: “And The Blade should stop always seeking the negative slant on local happenings.”


Catching up

There has been so much great activity around the Toledo Region branding effort that I have not been able to keep up with it.


On January 12th, the Toledo Free Press did another edition of its annual special issue on economic development, Visions. In case you missed it, you can check out pages 11-24 of the digital version. The content included articles by D. Michael Collins/City of Toledo, Paul Toth/TLCPA, Mark V’Soske/TRCC, Ford Weber/NORED & LCEDC, and an interview with Jeff Schaaf/Northwest Ohio Brand Council.

On January 19th, The Blade printed Jeff Gerritt’s editorial Toledo is losing the branding battle. He argues that the regional place branding efforts need to include community identity (“what a place wants to become”).

Also, today, January 26th, The Blade included a 24 page section Toledo Region: Business and Opportunity Accelerated. You can see it online in the eBlade version – navigate to Section Z. Pages 2 and 3 feature sections on “Our story,” “Key industries,” “By the number,” and “Doing business here.” The other pages are advertisements by businesses and quality-of-life assets from across the region.

Each of these 3 are important milestones and deserve deeper analysis. I may not have time to write about them right away, but will get to my thoughts about them eventually.



Letters to the Editor, Jan 8

The Blade published three Letters to the Editor about the regional branding efforts on January 8, 2014.  This was in response to a news article, an editorial, and a commentary in December.

The responses provide diverse and sometimes conflicting points-of-view, which is common for a complex issue.

  • One writer says to include “the natives” (people born, raised and have always lived in the region) in the branding effort. They are considered the “toughest audience.” I suppose this person would support “Toledo Pride” efforts, things to get the natives feeling good about the region.
  • Another writer says the brand is based on how local organizations act (such as local governments), not on “Toledo Pride” types of efforts.
  • The third letter reinforces the “brand is determined by the political environment” sentiment.

I agree with some of this. The brand is determined by the experiences people have with people and organizations of the region. If the branding efforts includes telling less-than-genuine stories, and people’s experiences do not match those stories, then the effort is a failure. But the regional branding efforts I am aware of are more about amplifying and encouraging more positive stories from the region to help balance the negative ones. No “false image” building is happening.

The other key aspect is the regionalness. Two letter writers are focused on the city of Toledo, which is an important part of the region, for sure. But the region is bigger than the city, and I believe when you communicate the value of all of the region’s assets, then you can overcome some of the shortcomings of any 1 part of the region. The world thinks of us as a region, and the better we can think of ourselves as one, and act as one, then the better off we will be.

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.

Building the Brand editorial

The Blade editors printed a commentary entitled “Building the Brand” on Friday. Hinted at 2 weeks earlier, this followed a news article  on the 20th about the branding initiative. (Separate is the work of advertising, the 3rd leg of the Blade organizational chart: see the Treasures of Toledo advertising supplement.)

I agree with the basic premises of the editorial:

  • Residents of the region are stakeholders (the real boss). Key audiences to attract include “employers, residents, visitors, students, and investors.”
  • Promote the positives (beyond “beyond simple-minded boosterism”), and that includes what we are doing to address the negatives.
  • The initiative has not made a lot of progress, at least not as much as most participants had hoped. (I had to go back and search a bit to remind myself when this started: January, 2010.) A broad-base of commitment, money and other resources, has not been established yet. It is still a project by/for too few organizations.
  • This work is an important part of an important goal, establishing the “strength of the economy and culture” of the region.

So, what to do next? This editorial does not really offer any calls to action or concrete suggestions.

To me, the best way to address the chicken-and-egg problem of getting financial support is to pick a specific audience and a small set of use cases, then execute on the branding strategy in a narrow project with realistic goals. Make that project a success, and others will be more willing to sign up to support the next project.

Which audience and which uses cases? It depends on where you expect to get the money from. If that is local companies, then find out their biggest pain points (talent attraction is one challenge, from what I hear) and do a project to alleviate some of this pain. Or, if you want to go after funding by government agencies in the region, then find out where they are spending their money today (to accomplish whatever goals they have) and do a project to make them more efficient.

We need to make the Toledo region branding initiative crucial to the day-to-day operations of local companies and local government agencies.

TRB update in the Blade

I think the last time the Blade did an article on the Toledo Region Branding initiative was in February. Nice to see an update in the paper today:  Local firm revising efforts to market the Toledo region. My thoughts:

  • It is good to see an overall update to the messaging and the logo. Evolution is good. Looking forward to the next iteration.
  • The New Manufacturing Economy aspect is still a good message, but for a specific audience (business leaders in this manufacturing space). There are business leaders in other industries, and other purposes, like talent attraction, that need different messages. It is still 1 Toledo region brand, just different messages for different audiences.
  • Those quality of life audiences are important, and I am not sure any existing groups are serving them for the region. The traditional ED audiences like site selectors were already being covered well by RGP and other players, so I think this focus will demonstrate the value add of the branding initiative.
  • I really like the notion of having the branding system used by local companies in their talent attraction efforts. It is more complicated than just links to the web site, however. For a good experience, the “region” content will need to be syndicated to the local company web sites or other sites where the users are at. Social sites like Facebook but also maybe LinkedIn (where professionals hang out), city-data, not sure where else people are going online to evaluate where they want to live. The net is that it takes a solid information architecture and content strategy to get the content where the users are, instead of relying on a single site.

And, for sure, more money is needed to make this all happen. Grass roots efforts are nice, but, to be competitive, you have to develop content and other assets, and that takes money.

Treasures of Toledo

Today, Sunday, December 8, 2013, the Toledo Blade included a 106-page advertising supplement called Treasures of Toledo with its Sunday paper delivery. (I do not see anything online yet: if the content becomes available digitally, I will add a link. So far, I can only find the price list for advertisers.) It is sub-titled “Gems that impress local, national and international visitors.” It includes cultural institutions, community organizations, and some family-owned businesses. The typical entry for each advertiser is a self-written article on the left and a full-page ad on the right.

Some will laugh when they read the Joseph Zerbey “To Our Readers” part about the “negativity about everything Toledo” because they fault the Blade for a lot of that negativity. Maybe this is an attempt to make up for what other parts of the paper do to hurt the image of the region. Or maybe it is just a way to make money from organizations who are spending less on paper-based media.

Regardless, it is important to understand the audience this is intended for. Zerbey ends with: “This is a great area to raise a family, to get a job, to earn a diploma, to have fun, to worship in peace and to help the less fortunate.” From my list, it seems clearly targeted at residents and talent. It could help with talent retention and attraction by raising awareness of these treasures. It should help increase resident morale.

It is a partial view of the “quality of life” factor, neglecting other aspects like cost of living that go into the total equation when people consider where they want to live.

If you are like Jeffrey Potter, mega-host of The Business Blackboard, you will probably puke when you see the Blade supplement, because you are tired of hearing about the quality-of-life assets. As a business leader, he cares about business assets, such as a skilled workforce, transportation to markets, and business taxes. He regularly says things like “No one moves a business here because of the Zoo or the Museum” and he is correct. Again, it is important to craft the region’s messages to the target audience. The supplement won’t help a business in the region develop an innovative project and grow. It won’t convince a CEO to move a headquarters or build a factory here. It is not intended to. Hopefully it will help with the talent retention/attraction and resident morale aspect, only a part of the challenge.

I find it interesting that 2 of the “classic” economic development players did choose to advertise: Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and RGP (back page). Both messages from them are correctly geared for the residents, reminding us what they are doing to develop and promote the assets to the world.

As nice as having all of this positive content in one place is, I have three basic problems with it:

  • There is some lip service to the Toledo region, but there are very few “gems” from outside the city of Toledo. I see a car dealership from Monroe & BGSU, and some regional groups like TARTA & United Way. Kudos to the Toledo Opera for featuring a map of the region showing its educational outreach. Zerbey hopes this will be an annual section: the next one needs to represent the whole region better.
  • If you pick what I believe is the most important talent retention/attraction audience – young people who are likely to start-up their own businesses – then I suspect this won’t help much. It probably just reinforces that the “old farts” do not understand what they care about. A future edition should be focused on the gems that this audience cares about.
  • It is advertising-driven. Ads have its place, of course, but I think, in general, stories told from an advertising point-of-view are a lot less effective than more “genuine” stories. If you really want to get residents excited about Christmas lights, a contemporary church, comfortable mattresses, and helping students, then personal stories told by other residents connect at an emotional level better than ads.

Still, nice to have this advertising supplement of treasures. Nice to see the Blade publishing something positive. The Blade gets a +1 today!

Planning video-based experiences

Now that people are talking about the role of YouTube videos in economic development around here (old news for others), let’s move to the next level and start planning better digital experiences (that include video) to support our regional ED goals. Hopefully we can move beyond the inane aspects of EconCat88-gate. Here is how I think we should move forward.

First and foremost, create positive (yet accurate) videos and make them easy to find. Take existing videos that support our branding goals and make them easier to find by putting them in the right places online, adding meta-information, and writing stories to go with them. The “bad” need to stay online: they have important purposes. Make the “good” easier to find than the “bad” for key audiences in key situations.

Seems obvious, but requires planning. Understanding your key audiences, their goals, and specific tasks users are trying to perform. Getting agreement on our shared messaging goals. Lining up budgets: some things can be done inexpensively but money is needed to do a good job. On low budgets, getting commitments from people to devote time to it is important.

A crucial aspect of planning digital experiences is knowing who your target users are and what they are trying to accomplish, so that you can design experiences that work for them. This is a list of some of economic development audiences that I have heard about the past few years:

  • Site selectors: Consultants who help client companies find the best locations for their businesses (often, manufacturing facilities).
  • Business leaders: CEOs and others who decide where a company locates its headquarters, plants, and sales offices. These are separated into “current customers” who are already located in the region (who care about growing where they are, hopefully, instead of moving away) and “prospective customers” whose companies are looking to re-locate or expand.
  • Entrepreneurs: A special kind of business leader who is focused on creating new businesses, and thus is often concerned with start-up funding, technology innovation, and finding the right co-founders/partners.
  • Capital investors: People who have a lot of money to invest in real estate and other assets, in order to eventually make money.
  • Talent: The smart and skilled people needed for the regional economy to grow and thrive.  “Talent” is developed, retained and attracted. Students are one part of the talent audience.
  • Tourists: They come to visit (and spend money while here) and tell stories when they go back home.
  • Residents: An often over-looked group in ED efforts, they can be “ambassadors” for a region, pay taxes to fund ED projects, are a source of talent, and in general, act as the “soul” of a region. Unhappy residents are not a good base for selling what you have.

Some brand messages and videos can serve multiple audiences. For example, residents, tourists and talent are all looking for fun things to do. But site selectors are usually focused on transportation costs, workforce skills, and tax incentives, which turn off those interested in “quality of life” issues.

As with any form of communication, the audience matters a lot. Instead of reacting to the discussion by just throwing some videos up on YouTube, I suggest starting out by picking a few specific audiences, based on a clear understanding of their goals and how they go about trying to accomplish those goals, and creating/adding content to address a few, specific needs of those audiences.

Other things to consider:

  • It should not be only about the city of Toledo. The ED audience goals I am familiar with line up with the Toledo Region, not just the city.
  • The answer may not be videos on YouTube. Depending on the audience and what they are doing, they may not use YouTube at all. Maybe Facebook or LinkedIn is better. Maybe Vimeo. Maybe Youku. Maybe it is a special web site like Maybe it is all of these things, in the right combination.
  • The answer may not even be videos. Or at least, not only videos. Maybe it is slides, which are common tools for business presentations. Videos almost always need written text to accompany them for people to scan and for search engines to find.
  • Don’t obsess over “going viral.” Wrong focus.

The Toledo Region branding efforts to-date will make whatever we decide to do next easier and more effective. Which audiences, goals and tasks should we start with?

Section U, Toledo Blade Wrap, Sunday 3/24

The Toledo Region “wrap” – a 4 page description of the branding efforts, list of ways to support them, and the region’s role in the New Manufacturing Economy – debuted with today’s Toledo Blade.

Pages 1 & 3 of the Toledo Region wrap Pages 2 & 3 of the Toledo Region wrap Pages 4 & 1 of the Toledo Region wrap

(Select an image to see a larger photo of the pages.)

It was about a year in the making: I recall seeing an earlier version in the spring of 2012.

The wrap should do a lot to raise awareness of the initiative with residents and local business leaders. I believe the plan is to also use other copies of the wrap for other audiences (that would not normally subscribe to the Blade), such as talent that is being recruited to the region and out-of-region business leaders who may want to invest.

I am already doing my share of the “Ten Ways to Support the Toledo Region,” such as social media activities (#1) and donating my experience planning expertise (#9). Now let’s see how many other people and organizations join in!