An Illustrated History of Cleveland’s Varied Attempts at “Rebranding"
Cleveland Rocks by Ian Hunter
A commenter than linked to this awesome article about urban brands with some advice from Don Draper.
"Face it you can't escape from who you are"
The problem, it seems, is a fundamental misunderstanding of what branding a city really means. Talk of “creating a brand” suggests a blank slate, a point of ground zero where we begin the process of establishing who we are. But cities are living organisms, with a legacy of past behaviors and no shortage of current, on-the-ground realities, which means–like it or not–they already have a brand.
Jackie Benson, a long-time player in place-based marketing, puts it this way: “If you’re the guy who doesn’t return phone calls, it doesn’t matter how much you talk about your personal commitment to your clients. You’re still the guy who doesn’t return phone calls. That’s your brand.”
People imagine that folks know nothing about the city and will believe anything pumped out by the PR team. The reality, is often that they know, a bit, and that you already, for better or worse, carry that brand.
Cleveland's biggest moment of civic branding happened in 1969
It was the city where the river caught on fire.
What's the ad guy gonna say? No, The River Didn't Catch on Fire?
Now we have some new branding for Cleveland.
It's the city with the former county executive on trial for large scale political corruption.
OK, and then it's the city that's home to The Cleveland Browns-etc....
My point is you can't hide or evade the things people already know about your city and culture that are true. If they are really, bad like being known for lots of violent crime, pollution or corruption, you likely have to work on changing those facts.
If your leadership fails to engender trust, you can’t sell strength. If your policies are not incentivizing what you want and penalizing what you don’t, you can’t sell vision. If your zoning promotes sprawl and your citizens are disconnected from civic participation, you can’t sell community.
What you can do is build up and sell the great things about who you are even if they won't appeal to everyone.
Like Cleveland might not be a great place to go on a diet.
But you know, a few people might like that. In fact, Cleveland has lots of great and very real things that many people would love.
Part two soon.