Spending $800,000 over five years to develop a Toledo brand might seem an extravagant waste of time. It’s not.
In the digital age, developing a consistent image that triggers a specific emotional response is important for communities, businesses, artists, entertainers, and anyone else who wants to stand out in a cluttered cultural landscape.
For urban regions that compete with other cities for capital and talent, developing an appealing brand is essential. It’s not enough — although certainly necessary — to offer affordable housing, safe streets, healthy neighborhoods, good public schools, cultural amenities, and adequate mass transit.
Regions also must market themselves in ways that tell the world who they are and how they can fulfill the goals and aspirations of the people and companies they want to attract and retain.
Since it began in 2009, the Toledo Region Branding Initiative has had the fits and starts that accompany any creative process. But under brand manager Jeff Schaaf, who has been on the job since January, 2013, the initiative has engaged the Toledo community in developing an authentic and appealing brand and adapting it to social media.
Earlier this month, the group released a new tag line: “It matters where you make it.” A new logo includes the word “Toledo” and a green arrow, signifying progress and moving forward.
The tag line has a dual meaning, reflecting the region’s industrial heritage of manufacturing and the idea of people living a good life and achieving goals. A sticker developed by the initiative states, “I make _______ in Toledo,” allowing users to fill in the blank.
Until now, Toledo Branding has played it safe. That’s not necessarily bad; developing images and a message that companies and organizations can easily supplement as co-branding tools requires simplicity. It almost precludes anything outrageous or too far out of the box.
But as the branding initiative enters its next phase, which includes producing a three to four-minute promotional video that companies can use as a supplemental recruiting tool, it’s time to take chances with something that will stand out and possibly go viral.
The project should embrace the grit of urban life, which has had great appeal in places such as Detroit. Juxtaposing the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, a local rap artist, and a rock band could give a video the verve and diversity it needs.
The branding initiative will have to do an even better job of getting contributions and ideas from all parts of this community. So far, the images and feel of this campaign don’t adequately reflect the racial, cultural, or economic class diversity of the Toledo region.
And Mr. Schaaf needs help, as Toledo’s branding efforts spend far less than those in other major cities. He told The Blade’s editorial page that to meet the group’s goals this year, including producing a high-quality promotional video and updating the initiative’s Web site, it will need another $200,000 to $250,000.
Getting there will require enlisting new funding sources, private and public. Any business, group, or individual interested in helping the Toledo region grow and compete should consider supporting this effort.
To control its future, the Toledo region has to shape how the rest of the world sees it. An authentic branding effort requires broad participation. Toledo’s brand must reflect not only what the region is, but also what it wants to become.
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