Category Archives: Toledo Region branding

“You will do better” signage

“You will do better in Toledo” is in the news again. YWDBIT Day 2014 did not generate nearly the same buzz as the 100th anniversary in 2013, but the use of the slogan on roadside signs at the edge of the city was debuted:

TFP also featured it on its cover with “Yule do better in Toledo” and an editor’s statement.

Sarah Ottney points out some of the criticism of the slogan, such as the apparent lack of a plan behind it. It has to be more than signs and t-shirts. The city needs to add credibility to the slogan by telling stories of people doing better in Toledo, and by taking specific actions to demonstrate it is committed to it.

She also references the Toledo Region Branding efforts, which have similar goals to instill resident pride and help retain and attract talent. One challenge with past regional branding efforts was the confusion about marketing the region and/or the city. I am not sure exactly how “You will do better in Toledo” and “It matters where you make it” fit together, but at least now the core city of the region is starting to fill its branding void.

Let’s keep going, fleshing out both, and figure out the details along the way.

Workforce updates

The Toledo Business Journal has been doing “Workforce updates” on a regular basis: quarterly collections of lists, data and stories in collaboration with RGP & JobsOhio. People from Owens Community College workforce training appear to be leading it.

I catch the 2-page printed spreads when I get a chance to pick up a TBJ or Development News. I just discovered they are one of the few things published by TBJ online (as PDFs): the TBJ Economic Development Dashboard. Taking a glance at the collection:

  • Some of the lists, graphs, and data make more sense when you look across quarters. For example, the “Top 10 corporations hiring,” “Projects by cluster,” and “Jobs created & retained” do not tell you very much one quarter at a time, but if you compare Q2Q, you start to learn a little bit.
  • The more interesting (to me) feature articles: Manufacturers roundtables (March 2013), Welcoming communities (September 2013), and Foreign direct investments and exporting (March 2014).
  • The last two – “It matters where you make it” (June 2014) and “Selling NW Ohio across the world” (September 2014) – show the evolution of the branding, marketing and selling strategies for the region. As a whole, the region is reaching out to a broader range of stakeholders, including residents. We are doing a better job of targeting specific audiences, such as talent and site consultants, with stories that are relevant for each.

If you have never read any of the Workforce updates (because maybe you do not pick up paper copies at grocery stores like I do), then check them out online.

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.


TFP Cover Story, April 12, 2014

Be sure to read this weekend’s Toledo Free Press cover article: ‘It Matters Where You Make It’ drives new Toledo branding effort. It covers the latest activities and some of the larger issues in the Toledo Region Branding Initiative and has an additional article about what other cities are doing.

An update on the recent activities is very useful, and all of these things we are starting to do is great. Keep going! The article covers some of the larger issues that we need to address as a community as we move forward.

1. Target audience priority. This sentence in the article might get lost, but I think it is very important: “Woodward said he hopes the Toledo Region brand will attract new residents as well as empower lifelong residents to share why they love Northwest Ohio.” I am not sure anyone has even read the original branding guidelines (from Nov 2011). One thing it explains is “target audience”. “Regional entrepreneurs” are the primary target. “Talent” is secondary and “Residents” do not even make the list.

These new efforts reflect a significant change in the target audiences. I think switching to talent as a primary audience and adding residents is a good thing. With limited resources, these priorities are crucial, because I think it is more important to do an awesome job with a very specific audience than it is to spread your resources too thin across many audiences.

But discussing target audiences, assigning resources carefully, and sometimes making hard calls on what NOT to do is a constant, community-wide activity.

2. City branding and regional branding. These new efforts are focused on the City of Toledo, and I think that is OK. There is definitely a huge opportunity to brand the city better for a wide variety of audiences. It is hard to advance the larger whole when the core is not solid.

But city branding messages are different than regional branding messages. The processes you use for regional efforts are different because of the larger number of diverse stakeholders. Related but different.

Clarifying the differences, and the similarities, is important. Again, with limited resources, we will have to make some hard calls, when to invest in city branding, when to invest in regional branding, and when to do both at the same time (which is ideal but a lot harder).

3. Funding, the Council, and how to get the work done. It is not sexy, but the logistics and processes to do the branding work is important.

When I talk to some people, they say no “real money” is needed for any of this branding work: people do it as part of their regular jobs, use social media, get companies to donate their resources, etc. Others say organizations should donate out of the kindness of their hearts, for the greater good. I disagree. There needs to be a business model around it all. Local companies should be begging to contribute to these efforts because they get services that help their companies in return.

Also, the legal organization leading this, the Northwest Ohio Brand Council,  needs to be more open about how it works, how to join it, how it is spending money, and how to give input into its processes. Years ago, the council had “committees” where non-council members could volunteer (I was happy to help out that way). Jeff is a great guy and he is doing a helluva lot of great work, but there needs to be a way for many people to be helping him, in a semi-managed way.

The key is designing an extended network of organizations and lean processes to accelerate the work, not get in the way and slow things down. Designing a logo and campaign are sexy; designing the regional branding processes is not. Designing the business model that drives the processes will be the real secret to success.

I hope that as a community, we can work on these 3 larger issues. I am sure there are more (like, it seems like few people actually know the differences between branding, marketing and selling). Perhaps the next step is to figure out how to deal with issues like this at all. Everyone is busy, heads-down doing good things. But we also need to be planning for the longer term and doing things that cause us to lift our heads up and see the bigger picture.

New Toledo Region branding

The next iteration of the Toledo Region branding effort was released yesterday. I was still out of town, so I did not get to participate in the Mud Hens/Walleye events where the new logo and slogan were debuted. But I did get to hear about the plans a few weeks ago.

Profile       EmailSignatureV2

Some more information:

My thoughts:

  • A new logo was needed, because the “TR” was not that great, and because it was never really developed beyond “put this in your email signature to show support.” A logo needs to be positioned in a wide variety of contexts, adapted for many uses, yet still be a unifying element. Brand Columbus has flexibility and guidelines for use as an example. There has also been some thought into a visual language for the region (such as icons). A good start: lots more work to do for us here.
  • The “Toledo + Right-pointing caret” is good, but I worry that it will become a city-of-Toledo-only logo and not represent the region well. There is a regional version (with the word “region” on a ribbon under it), but it is not clear to me how well it will appeal to organizations across the region.
  • “It matters where you make it” should be a great campaign, but people may have a hard time understanding how it differs from the brand platform. This is the first real campaign developed from the platform. Eventually, campaigns end, having served their purpose, but the branding continues, with the platform driving what comes next.
  • Folks like to rag on “The Heart of the New Manufacturing Economy” because it does not apply to them (a small business owner, an insurance company, a talent recruiter, for example). That is because it was not intended as a message for them! It was supposed to be used for more traditional economic development audiences, like business leaders who are looking to move or expand their companies. “It matters where you make it” works better for talent recruitment and retention, and for resident morale, which I think is a good focus for a while.

I am excited to see the progress! Hopefully this iteration will spur wider adoption and increase financial backing. There are lots more things to do, and the Toledo region is not keeping up with the resources being invested by our competitors.


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.