Wednesday, Sep 26, 2018
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Building the brand

An effective effort to promote the Toledo region will emphasize its many strengths without ignoring its problems


How, and how well, the Toledo area defines itself to the people who live and work here, and to the rest of the world, greatly affect this region’s ability to attract employers, residents, visitors, students, and investors. That effort largely determines the strength of the economy and culture in northwest Ohio and much of southeast Michigan.

So everyone in the region has a stake in the success of the initiative that aims to develop Toledo’s brand identity and communicate globally what Toledoans already know: This is a great community.

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That doesn’t mean glossing over the region’s problems, which would be futile. It does mean playing to this area’s strengths while showing how Toledoans are working together to address its weaknesses.

Jeff Schaaf, who manages the brand initiative for the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, told The Blade’s editorial board last week that the program will move into a new phase early next year that will broaden its message.

So far, Mr. Schaaf says, the brand initiative has focused on touting the region’s economic advantages to potential employers and investors with the slogan: “Accelerate your opportunity.” It portrays Toledo as the capital of America’s “new manufacturing economy,” using the area’s traditional strengths in such industries as auto and food production as a foundation to attract companies engaged in advanced technology and materials, alternative energy, foreign trade, bioresearch, logistics, and design.

But Mr. Schaaf concedes that approach “doesn’t always resonate with the community.” Now, he says, the brand initiative is equally emphasizing the Toledo region’s quality of life: its three dozen colleges and universities, its superior recreational and cultural amenities, its natural beauty, its vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, its low cost of living, its easy access to attractions.

The new phase of the effort will encourage Toledo-based companies to link their online platforms to the brand initiative’s Web site, “We need to amplify our message,” Mr. Schaaf says. They might study the example of a company called Shinola, which is selling watches and other upscale products with the slogan: “Made in Detroit.”

During its four-plus years, the Toledo brand initiative sometimes has appeared sluggish or stalled. Keith Burwell, the president of the Toledo Community Foundation, which works closely with the initiative, notes that similar efforts in comparable communities, in Ohio and elsewhere, often have 10 times the budget that Toledo’s program does.

The initiative needs greater investment from Toledo’s corporate community and local governments if it is to compete successfully, Mr. Burwell says. That’s a chicken-and-egg question: Potential investors are less likely to back the initiative if they don’t see substantial results. But if the program lacks adequate resources, its ability to spread the Toledo gospel will be limited.

Toledo’s image shouldn’t be defined by videos of urban decay posted on YouTube by “EconCat88,” or by snooty British journalists who rave about a major art exhibition in London but neglect to mention the Toledo Museum of Art’s role in mounting it. The branding initiative can offer a different, equally compelling message.

Promoting the many positive aspects of life and commerce in the Toledo region is vital, provided that effort goes beyond simple-minded boosterism. Many Toledoans say they had no idea how much this region had to offer before they moved here. If the brand initiative does its job, there will be fewer such surprises.

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