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Toledo Region Brand Platform

The beta version of assets for the Toledo Region Brand Platform were distributed back in June. I took a peek back then, have re-read them a few times since, but thought I had better try to write up something to help me make sense of it. This blog posting is just "what it is" - without any commentary on what I think about it (which will come later).

But wait: what the heck is this initiative and why do I care about it? It is part of a long-term effort to take the best of corporate branding techniques and apply it to where I live, with a focus on improving economic develop efforts. Place branding is one term for it. So far, I have gone to several of the community forums & one of the working sessions, and pestered the guys at Applied Storytelling (who are helping lead this) with my feedback and user experience point of view. I probably only know enough to be dangerous.

I am interested for several reasons. I see some similarities to what I do for IBM (help translate corporate branding goals into digital experiences) and taking this "public sector" view might give me insights to help me do my IBM job better. I think I can contribute to these regional efforts: designing digital experiences will be an important part of the Toledo branding efforts. And anything I can do to help the Toledo-area economy grow might help my kids later.

(If you want to learn more about these effort, start at You can also do some searches for "toledo region brand" to find some local media coverage.)

On with my recap of the 3 documents from June 16th, the beta version of the Toledo Region Brand Platform:

About the initiative, so far (pages 3-22)

  • Why? Competing for jobs, talent, investment money. Milwaukee, Pittsburgh examples.
  • Bring together messages for key audiences. Tell a good story of what makes us unique, clear promises.
  • Lots of existing background research (including IBM study). Community work sessions, interviews with business leaders.
  • Brand: unique & valuable, what NOT to be, fit with reality, some industries lead, others follow.
  • Jobs, jobs, jobs. Universities. Smart manufacturing. "Toledo" in the name. Downtown. Water. Infrastructure. "World-class assets in a mid-sized package".

The brand platform (pages 23-74)

  • Essence --> (Promise | Positioning | Personality) --> (Logo | Visual system | Messaging/Backstory | Tagline | Name | Descriptor) --> (Brand Visual Guidelines | Brand Voice Guidelines) --> (Digital Media | Event Environments | Packaging | Print Communications | Advertising).
  • Essence: Toledo Region, appealing region in the State of Ohio.
  • Brand drivers: Access, Affordability.
  • Positioning: Economic Development. Secondary: Learn, Quality of Life, Play.
  • New manufacturing. Computing. Deploy technology. Sustainability. Product customization. Across industries.
  • Position #1: "The Toledo Region is the destination of choice for tomorrow's entrepreneurs and leaders in the New Manufacturing Economy." Yes, it is Credible, Ownable, Defensible, Relevant.
  • Position #2: "The Toledo Region offers the highest quality of life at the most reasonable cost of virtually any other place in the nation." C-O-D-R.
  • Position #3: "The Toledo Region is the water recreation capital of the Midwest." C-O-D-R.
  • Promise: Find everything you need to accelerate your opportunity -- in the heart of the New Manufacturing Economy.
  • Descriptors: Plug and play. (Plug in and learn.) (Live the best for the least.) (More scenic. More shoreline. More fun.)
  • Personality: warm (interested in people), worldly (well-informed), enterprising (decisions, motion). (Often under-utilized. Emotional aspect of the brand.)

Messaging (pages 75-95)

  • Relevant/resonate, Clear/organized, Well-integrated, Different ways to communicate with audiences. Based on the brand promise.
  • Audience #1 (Economic development): Toledo Region-Based Entrepreneur. Wants: infrastructure, talent, peer support, low COB, business success. Promise: Existing activity, efficient business operations, academic & peer support.
  • Audience #2 (Quality of life): Talent. Wants: quality/affordable housing, cultural activities, schools, medical; professional and personal fulfillment. Promise: Low cost-of-living, world-class but more intimate amenities, "big small town".
  • Audience #3 (Education): Prospective College Student. Wants: Options, top programs, career, affordable. Promise: academic options, business connections, job in the new manufacturing economy.
  • Audience #4 (Tourism): Leisure Tourist. Wants: character, experiences, nice people, easy to get to. Promise: water, recreation, sports.

The story for ED (pages 96-109)

  • New Manufacturing Economy. Manufacturing mindset. No more centralized command and control.
  • Research, design, manufacturing, logistics. Talent, capital, networks.
  • Shorelines, islands, riverbanks (not concrete). Deep, lasting roots.

Channels, touch points and integration (pages 110-131)

  • All channels, every channel.
  • You have no choice but to build a brand online. Web site as hub, fed by social media. Web experiences.
  • Web site mock-ups. Living-Working-Visiting-Learning. Banner ad, mall sign, mobile.
  • Integration into local company marketing efforts: Mud Hens example.
  • Transparent participation in social media. YouTube instead of TV.

Implementation (pages 132-133)

  • Obviously, there is a lot more detail to the plan than is shown here. Is looks like a local agency (or several of them) is set to be hired soon. Then developing something by the end of the year and launching it in January.

Again, this posting is really just a way to force me to comb through the material to help me understand it better. If you found it useful or interesting, great! Now to find some time to figure out what it all means.


I was at The Toledo Chamber's Leadership Academy course the other night on "Sustainable Communities" and this topic got brought up. I think it's an amazing opportunity and one worth pursuing... however, my concern comes into play when I'm sitting in a room with close to 15 people, and only 2 have heard of the Toledo Region Story at this point in January 2011.

The point of The Toledo Chamber's Academy topic was building Sustainable Communities, so of course this project came up. The efforts of the Toledo Region Story are admirable and MUST be done in order to move Toledo forward into the new manufacturing economy; however, we must work with our current community to help not just rebrand us for future opportunities but meet our current communities where they are and involving them in the process of the rebranding... otherwise, where is the energy and the sustainability when potential businesses come to our area?

If we want this to be a long-term venture instead of a short term fix... then more then 2 people in a room of 15 (and these are involved community members in the area) need to know and understand the branding efforts with Toledo Region Story. By the way... I'm not really feeling the name of the project. You know what I love about Toledo, the people. When are we going to start bringing the human being back into business? The project already feels rigid. It should feel fun, alive and profitable. Isn't that why we want them to come here in the first place. Work hard, play hard? C'mon, that's Toledo.

I will be looking into this project in the coming weeks as I hope to be a part of this effort as Toledo is a great place to live, work, & socialize. Hopefully we can brainstorm other ways towards getting Toledo area businesses and community members educated on the Toledo Region Story. To me, this is mission critical!

I went to college at UT and left for 7 years and just moved back in December of 2010. I can't go to a mall, a coffee shop or talk to a colleague without hearing a negative tone around living in Toledo. Really? How are we going to get others here if we can't start with our own communities being on board with Toledo and being a great place to live? We need them to think differently about their own perspectives of living in Toledo. We need Toledo to stop, take inventory and be told the new story as to why Toledo is a great place to live, work and socialize.

If you're needing a good reason as to why... please check out Dr. Steve Cady's book, "Stepping Stones Toward Success" on page 49. He is a Graduate Faculty member at Bowling Green State University where he serves as Director of the Institute for Organizational Effectiveness ( The below explanation from his book clearly tells us the reason behind the perception of Toledo and the why behind needing to start internally with our current community branding efforts.

Dr. Steve Cady:

Yes, we can change our thoughts. Chaos theorists have taught us that our thoughts are powerful and the things we look at actually change based on the way we look at them and what we notice.

Dr. Masaru Emoto from Japan has done some controversial research. Some people are debating it, but I will tell you that chaos theory and quantum physics supports what he is finding.

He takes a Petri dish and puts in a drop of water. He then puts a label with a word on it, on the dish. He directs specific thoughts at the Petri dish. He speaks words to the water and then they photograph the water as it freezes to see how the water crystallizes.

For example, he labels a Petri dish "You fool" and takes a picture. And what appears is misshapen, diseased-looking water. He then takes another dish of water and labels it "Thank you" and takes a picture. And what shows up is an elegant structure.

He then took another Petri dish, and he had some children sit with it and ignore it. What showed up was water that was misshaped. The children then said, "You are beautiful" just a few times to the water, and it started to take shape. They said, "You are beautiful" a lot of times, and a beautiful elegant structure formed (a snowflake).

Now consider the following facts: Your body is 85% water. The kinds of thoughts you have, and the things you pay attention to have a major effect on you for good or for bad. Look around you and notice what kind of environment you have created or allowed yourself to be in. What kind of people do you gravitate toward?

I know. Some of you are thinking this is BS, others will get it. It doesn't matter if you agree with the research or you don't. The point of this little blurb out of Steve's book is to bring it back to one simple point; attitude. What is Toledo's attitude around... Toledo? How can we even begin to aggressively move forward with a project that most of the community isn't even a) aware of or b) hasn't even realized why Toledo is a great place to live?

I'm asking for a call to action. The media, the area businesses, The Toledo Chamber, our local schools, our academic institutions, our healthcare affiliations, our local governments, and our communities need to band together and say "YES, this is why I support Toledo Region Story". I don't know, maybe the Mayor's office needs to make some type of support emblem; a sticker or sign to put on the door of your building, use the emblem at the signature of your letter head, and show that this effort is important to you, your business and your community to help build a stronger Toledo for a stronger world.

Alicia Kuehl
DreamSurge Coaching

Alicia - Thanks for leaving an amazing comment! I see you polished it up and made an even better blog entry on your site.

I am just happy that someone else is writing about the Toledo Region Story on the Internet. For an effort that is supposed to be about communication and community involvement, the "airwaves" have been pretty darn quiet. Maybe a lot is happening "behind the scenes" but for an outsider like me, it seems like nothing is happening. Arg.

The Toledo Free Press appears to be stepping up to help make sure the regional branding efforts are part of the conversation: see TFP's editorial and tomorrow's Eye on Toledo.

I guess it takes being called miserable by Forbes to get people to state the importance of the regional branding work.

If that is what it takes to move the branding efforts forward, then so be it.

If you want to understand some of the history and challenges behind regional branding in general, read Eric La Brecque's interview for the Reinvention Summit.

Eric has done this with Detroit and Calgary and is one of the key people at Applied Storytelling who is working with folks in the Toledo region.

It looks like news of the Toledo branding efforts were presented at two conferences last year (which is cool, it shows this is some leading-edge work):