Category Archives: Toledo Region branding

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.

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?

October 2013 activites

I started attending more economic development and planning events in October.

First, it was the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority‘s Annual Update to the Community on October 10th. The Blade and Free Press covered it. One insight on how ED works: site selectors are more like site eliminators.

Next, it was the 2013 Northwest Ohio Planning & Zoning Workshop on October 25th. I acted as the event photographer. Some of the more interesting things from the all-day event:

  • The Toledo Area Partnership Project did a form of user research to get insights into what senior citizens and the disabled need from public transportation. Design charrettes with stakeholders were used to plan the Downtown Transit Hub. Nice to hear about “physical world” methods that match the digital world.
  • Several different “economic development” vs. “planning” debates broke out. “Jobs” vs. “quality of life”. The traditional model is that people get a job first and move there to live, so creating jobs what you should focus on. I heard stories where today more young people are first selecting where they want to live and economic prosperity follows. For example, if enough young people start living in a downtown area, the businesses pop up to support them. We heard a story of a couple that moved to Oregon (the state) then later found jobs there. Attract talent and the jobs will follow. Of course, both matter and are related, but it was good to see some emotional debate.

The best session of the day was Jeff Schaaf, the Toledo Region Brand manager. (I am biased about the best session because I invited Jeff to present.) A few notes:

  • The role of Michigan counties came up right away. Since there is funding from the state of Ohio, the counties that border Ohio are not “primary” counties in the region, but they are still included in the region storytelling
  • Regional entrepreneurs have been a primary target audience of the branding efforts, but attracting talent (especially by featuring quality of life aspects) is becoming more important.
  • The website and the Facebook page are still some of the biggest accomplishments. Brochures and images for groups to use in their marketing efforts are some more things they have produced.
  • North design is working on the next phase of the branding efforts.
  • Several audience members commended the efforts and cited examples where it has helped them. Naming the Toledo Region Transportation Coalition legislative agenda was one example.
  • Getting residents to feel and talk better about the region was also cited as an important part of the branding efforts (even though it was not really in the original scope years ago).

I am looking forward to the next phase of the branding work.

My third event of the month was the NORED Showcase on October 30th. It was a fun way to learn about counties and cities in the region. Economic development leaders compiled facts and stories about their part of the region and paraded around the room dressed in ways that represented what made them special. Several featured their manufacturing leaders: Fremont/Heinz ketchup, Clyde/Whirlpool, Bryan/Spangler Candy. There were also popular culture references like Muddy & Madonna, Klinger and Sam Hornish.


The stories compiled for the showcase will be used in the Toledo region branding effort. More content, to tell more and richer stories about the region!

It was my first NORED event: I was never able to make to their previous meetings and conferences. I will try harder to attend their next one.

Toledo Free Press back page, 3/30

The Toledo Free Press has joined in the effort to spread awareness of the Toledo Region Branding efforts to residents and local business leaders by devoting the last page of their March 31 issue to it.

Back page of the Toledo Free Press

Since this is considered an ad, you won’t find it on the TFP web site, but once the digital version is published, you can see it online there.

What appears to be new in this round of communication are the “taglines” for each of the 4 parts brand system:

  • LIVE: Live the Best for the Least
  • WORK: Find Everything You Need to Accelerate Your Opportunity
  • LEARN: Put Yourself on the Fast Track to Opportunity
  • ENJOY: More Scenic. More Shoreline. More Fun.

“New Manufacturing Economy” is mentioned as well, repeating the “accelerate your opportunity” phrase to connect it with the WORK aspect.

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!

WSPD interview, February 15th

Jeff Schaaf talked with Fred LeFebvre on WSPD radio a few weeks ago.

Fred asks some great questions:

  • What do you do, Jeff?
  • What is the brand? What is our story?
  • What makes this branding effort different or better than things done (not so well) in the past?
  • What will be happening in 2013? What stage are we at?
  • Are we ahead or behind on things like this?
  • How do people contribute content or (good) news?

A great call for regionalism at the end.

Toledo Blade article, Sunday, February 10

The Toledo Region branding efforts are in the news again: this time with the lead story in today’s Toledo Blade business section:

Jeff Schaaf, 37, brand manager for the Toledo Brand Initiative project, stands near the Web site of

It is great to see Jeff Schaaf featured! I am looking forward to helping him (and the others involved in the effort) take it to the next level.

In general, Jon Chavez wrote a good article. What I liked:

  1. Focusing on the initiative entering a new stage. The work now is less about “what is the brand” and more about “getting groups in the region applying the brand framework to help them accomplish their goals”.
  2. Mentioning the New Manufacturing Economy theme. NME is a key concept and we have not been explaining it enough. There are still many people who do not understand what it means and are using other “less visionary” terms like “advanced manufacturing”.
  3. Reminding people how we got here and stressing the long term benefits. Telling the history of the project is very important. It has been a long and somewhat winding road, but that is how these things go.

Being nit-picky, there are some things that the article exposes that are I believe the branding effort can improve upon.

  1. “…go out and sell the completed “Toledo Region” brand.” Brands are evolutionary, they are never “completed”. The new stage is not only about selling: it is listening to the needs of other stakeholders in the region and helping them adopt the brand framework. For example, several companies may need a video to recruit talented people (like doctors, entrepreneurs & engineers). Instead of each company doing separate videos (that may not tell the same brand story), they should coordinate to create video content that can be shared. “Selling” is an OK way to think about the next stage, but “partnering” and “adoption” are better ways, in my opinion.
  2. New Manufacturing Economy is not the only theme that is needed in the brand framework. NME is great in the economic development context (“Hey, CEO, you should locate your company here!”) but it is not the right message when talking about the Toledo region in other contexts. For example, if you are trying to convince people from outside the region that they should vacation here – the Tourism context – then we need to talk about fun and recreational activities. It is still the same brand framework, but you tell different stories (and the same stories in slightly different ways) depending on who you are talking to.
  3. Narrow view of “the region.” Specifically, excluding the parts of Michigan that are in the region by using terms like “Northwest Ohio.” “NW Ohio” is a common shorthand, but it is inaccurate. I find that it helps to use examples from the “edges” to remind people of the geographic scope. Mentioning Monroe county, Cedar Point and Lima, for example, reminds people this is not just about the city of Toledo and the suburbs that border it.

One of the most important “big tests” was not mentioned: having the brand system adopted by the city of Toledo as part of the Future of Toledo initiative. That is moving along well.

Overall, a good article and it is nice to see the Toledo Region branding initiative moving to the next stage.

Regional Branding mentions

Aspects of Toledo Region branding have been getting mentioned lately. The ones that I have noticed:

Did I miss any other news or mentions of the regional branding?

Toledo Region Digital Inventory

Originally published at on June 15, 2011.

Documentation of work started on June 15th, 2011 (continued on June 16th, finished on June 18th), as part of my IBM Centennial Day of Service for the NW Ohio Branding Council’s Toledo Region Story efforts.

Task 1: Provide feedback on Toledo Region phase 1 web site copy. The site is going live in a few weeks. My comments may help improve it and reviewing it is good background research for the rest of my day. Recap of feedback:

  • Some items are in multiple categories, to be expected. Example: 260 Live > Sports & recreation; 510 Enjoy > Sports & recreation. The link text, messaging and destination should often be different, however. For example, “Live” is focused more on making the case to potential long-term residents, while “Enjoy” is more about making the case to (short-term) tourists. Community assets like sports teams and museums often have different messages for the two audiences.
  • Some link labels seem too “org charty” and not written in users terms, especially based on the brand context the link is appearing in. One example: “Fremont Sandusky CVB” seems like the org chart name. The destination site is called “Lake Erie’s Favorite Neighbor” which is better but still not ideal in this context. The brand messaging / reason for including this link may be because it is a “lesser known gem” so that could be included in the link text. Another example: “EPIC Toledo” would be better as something like “Meet the future business and community leaders and join them in changing the region” – that is, less about the organization and more about how the group is making the region a better place to do business.

Task 2: Quickly review the digital presences (web sites, social media) of key Toledo Region organizations. Categorize a mostly-random sample along various criteria to help in the planning for the phase 2 web site. Source: Phase 1 links,,, (for additional Michigan organizations).

How to read the table:

  • Brand platform: The part of the brand platform that an organization contributes to. In general, Live = quality of life, Work = economic development, Learn = education, Enjoy = tourism. Some (like “Live > Worship”) reference specific sections of the Phase 1 web site.
  • Organization: The group that contributes to the Toledo Region brand. Some organizations may be represented more than once in the table. Larger organizations will have sub-organizations listed.
  • Website: Link to the site for the organization, or to specific pages that support the brand platform.
  • Social media, content feeds: Sample of social media accounts and feeds (where the organization is syndicating content that could be integrated into various Toledo Region web presences easily). Not complete, just samples to show the range and possibilities.
Brand platform Organization Website Social media, content feeds
Live > Worship Multifaith Council of Northwest Ohio Blog RSS, Flickr
Live > Health & Services Family Service of Northwest Ohio
Live > Sports & Recreation Destination Toledo Example Sports & recreation feeds:
Live > Arts & culture Toledo Symphony TwitterFacebook
Work > Getting started EPIC Toledo Twitter,
Work > Economic Development Regional Growth Partnership
Learn > Educational Resources Partners in Education of Toledo
Enjoy > Nature Metroparks of the Toledo Area
Live > Sports & RecreationEnjoy > Sports & Recreation Toledo Mud Hens YouTube, Twitter, Facebook
Learn > Post-secondary education University of Toledo YouTube, Twitter, Facebook
Work > University of Toledo – Innovation Enterprises
Learn > Post-secondary education Bowling Green State University News feed, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook
Work > Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
Work > Williams County, Economic Development Corporation
Work > Wood County, Economic Development Commission
Work > City of Toledo, Lucas County – Business
Enjoy > City of Toledo, Lucas County – Visiting
Live > City of Toledo, Lucas County – Residents
Live > Toledo Community Foundation Facebook
Live > Greater Toledo Urban League Twitter, Facebook, Flickr
Learn > Greater Toledo Urban League – Education and youth services
Work > Greater Toledo Urban League – Workforce development
Work > Job1USA Twitter
Work > Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority Twitter, Facebook
Enjoy > Crowne Plaza Toledo
Live > Lucas County
Enjoy > Lucas County – Visitors
Work > Lucas County (LCIC)
Live > Lucas County (LCIC) – A great place to be
Live > Downtown Toledo Improvement District
Live > The Blade Twitter

Summary of findings and recommendations for classifying Toledo Region digital presences for Phase 2:

  • Some organizations belong in several parts of the brand platform, obviously.
  • Large organizations, like U of T & BGSU, probably contribute to many/all parts of the brand platform. These 2, for example: have departments focused on economic development, contribute a lot to the quality of life in the region, provide learning, and hosts events that visitors from outside the region will be attending.
  • Web site quality, features, level of engagement, etc. vary widely across the region.
  • Social media use varies widely across the region. Facebook seems more common. Little or no use of social media for economic development was found (much more common for tourism groups).
  • Very few instances of content feeds was discovered. This will make it hard to share content at a regional level (e.g., nearly impossible to implement a regional news feed or single calendar of events).
  • There is a lot more analysis like this that needs to be done. One day is not even close to enough time. Recommendation is to focus on only 1 piece of the brand platform next and inventory all of the organizations/web sites that are contributing. For example, which organizations already have “quality of life” pages that attempt to give a high level overview of why this is a great place to live? Do 1 part of the brand platform, fold the results into the plan for the Phase 2 regional web site, then move on to another part of the brand platform.
  • Filling out this table may be a good way to help organizations see “Where do I fit in” to the brand platform. Ideally, some online application can ask them questions and they can provide answers – and out pops rows of this table for them.

Task 3: While doing task 2, keep track of Twitter accounts for Toledo Region organizations. Compile a list of which ones @ToledoRegion is not currently following.

Follow-up task: Add 5 new followers each day until complete. This builds up the accounts like of followers (to make it easier to implement the social media strategy) and gives provides a regular flow of new engagement.

Task 4: Attend the NW Ohio Brand Council meeting on June 16th to report on my day of volunteering. I only had a few minutes to give a report, but it was good enough that I was invited back to talk with the council some more. I will call that a success.