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Published: Friday, 12/20/2013 - Updated: 8 months ago

Local firm revising efforts to market the Toledo region

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
 Jeff Schaaf, brand manager for Toledo Brand Initiative project, wants the city to be known for more than just manufacturing. Jeff Schaaf, brand manager for Toledo Brand Initiative project, wants the city to be known for more than just manufacturing.
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After nearly 4½ years, a $500,000 effort to create and promote a “Toledo Brand” has progressed to where the group behind the initiative will begin a fourth phase — attaching their brand’s message to local companies in an attempt to move it out beyond the northwest Ohio-southeast Michigan region.

The latest effort likely will begin in the spring and utilize traditional media, social media, and help from North, a local marketing firm that designed the logo for the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

But before the fourth phase can start, the brand on which the group has worked since 2009 will need to be revised and updated.

Jeff Schaaf, the Toledo native hired last December to sell the “Toledo Region” brand, said the effort up to now has painted Toledo and northwest Ohio as the heart of the “New Manufacturing Economy.” It was a narrative designed to tell outsiders the truth about the Toledo they only thought they knew.

“Our DNA is strong with manufacturing. We know how to build things,” Mr. Schaaf said Thursday in an interview with the editorial board of The Blade.

But, “while it’s true, it doesn’t resonate with everyone,” he said. Feedback has indicated that for half the region, which is involved in other businesses and services, manufacturing is not their Toledo, Mr. Schaaf said.

So the Toledo Brand Initiative has hired North, which has expertise in branding and logos, in an effort to tweak both its message and the current “TR — Toledo Region” logo, Mr. Schaaf said.

Initiative backers hope to have a new message crafted during the first quarter and begin its spread-the-word efforts in the second quarter.

“The goal is to make this resonate with more people,” he said.

The brand initiative plans to make that happen by altering its message.

Until now, the group has focused heavily on the advantageous economic development aspects of the region. Mr. Schaaf said the group thought that was the best way to attract businesses to the region.

But after viewing the brands of several other successful metro areas around the country, the group discovered that a two-fold message works best: economic development to attract business but quality of life to attract and retain the individual.

“We were not as heavy on the quality-of-life side,” Mr. Schaaf said.

The new message will be: “It’s cool to have your business here and get a job here. But it’s also cool to have a life here,” he said. “We’re going to see more of that taking place in 2014.”

Keith Burwell, president of the Toledo Community Foundation, a key backer of the initiative, emphasized that the idea “is not to create a bumper sticker” or clever catch-phrase.

The revised efforts will try to convey the idea that “once people get here, they are amazed at what we have here,” Mr. Burwell said.

Mr. Burwell said brand initiative members intend to revise their strategy of the last four years.

Thus far, the brand initiative has focused on having positive stories and marketing placed in outside media, such as national magazines and publications. That generates initial interest.

But then when companies or individuals go to the Internet to research Toledo and the region, they find few positive attributes about the region.

“The problem now is, if you’re a company who is recruiting, the first place those recruits go is to the Internet. There’s not a whole lot there about why you’d want to come here and work,” Mr. Burwell said.

By having local companies promote the region’s good points to the outside world — through links to the brand’s Web site, ToledoRegion.com — individuals can find photos, information, and testimonials about all the region has to offer.

“We need to put things on the Web that [Toledo] people can sell,” Mr. Burwell said.

To carry out its next phase, the brand initiative will need more money. It has spent just over $150,000 annually the last three years, and while it made the most of its funding, the region is being badly outspent by other metro areas.

“The sad truth is that other communities are raising 10 times the money we are,” Mr. Burwell said. Cincinnati, he said, has a $2 million annual budget to market its brand.

The brand initiative likely will ask its area supporters to increase their financial support after the first of the year, he said. “We need resources to be more targeted and focused,” Mr. Burwell added.

But fortunately, the group isn’t where it was in 2009, when it was asking contributors to have faith.

“Now we have some legs,” Mr. Burwell said. “We have something to show, and we have examples of [companies] using what we have to help recruit.”

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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