“Brand Cincinnati – How Would You Define It?”

Up for a challenge? Read on.

A few months ago, I was honored to have been asked to join the Livable Communities team of Agenda 360. Agenda 360, as you may know, is a rather bold initiative, with the mission of “transforming Cincinnati USA, by the year 2020, into a leading metropolitan region for talent, jobs and economic opportunity for all who call our region home.”

The work of Agenda 360 will be merged with initiatives already underway in Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana, in order to create a cohesive agenda and action plan for the entire Tri-State. (You can find out more at Cincinnati360.com.)

Not so long ago, at a meeting of my team, which is focused on “civic pride and engagement,” we found ourselves in agreement that defining Greater Cincinnati’s assets and narrative – its “brand idea” – would be a great thing to do. And then we quickly realized that we’d never figure it out on our own.

There are scores of sharp minds engaged in Agenda 360, but we can always use more. That, dear reader, is where you come in.

Suppose you’ve just been appointed to the imaginary position of Cincinnati Brand Manager. Your first task is to define “Brand Cincinnati,” so that you can create and shape a meaningful, motivating brand experience. Ultimately, you want residents, visitors and businesses to become ambassadors and evangelists for Greater Cincinnati.

So how would you define “Brand Cincinnati”? Your challenge is to put your thinking into words. To frame your thinking, consider the following core brand elements:

1) Assets – What are the strengths and unique characteristics of Greater Cincinnati? Consider physical, human, geographic, historical, cultural, institutional and other assets. List your top four.

2) Difference – What does Greater Cincinnati have that is difficult or impossible to find in other major metropolitan areas? Identify our 3 most potent differences.

3) Benefits – What are the unique benefits that Greater Cincinnati provides to residents, businesses and visitors? What do they gain by interacting with our city? List the top three.

4) Brand Character – If Greater Cincinnati was a person, how would you describe him or her? How would he or she behave? Select up to five adjectives. Alternately, answer this question: If Greater Cincinnati was a celebrity or historical figure, who would it be and why?

5) Bonus question: If you could define Greater Cincinnati’s brand equity in 8 words or less, what would it be? FedEx is “overnight,” BMW is “performance,” Southwest Airlines is “freedom to travel”… what should Greater Cincinnati stand for?

These are not easy questions. And that’s exactly what makes your thinking so valuable. Send your answers to any or all of the above questions to matthew-at-threedeuce-dot-com in an email titled “Brand Cincinnati,” or post them below. Your thoughts will be shared with the Agenda 360 team, as well as published here in a future column.

Not incidentally, this kind of “brand role-play” is a great way to develop your marketing muscles. Instead of flipping channels when you’re watching TV, watch the ads closely. Consider what the advertiser is trying to accomplish, whether it works and whether it’s the right thing to do.

For example, Budweiser has recently launched a campaign stressing its brewing techniques and heritage – an obvious response to the recent share gains made by Sam Adams and other craft-brewers. You might ask yourself: Is this the best possible strategic choice? Does it work? If Bud was your brand, would you have made the same choice?

And Saab has been going out of its way to convince you that their autos are “born from jets.” You might ask: Is Saab playing its strongest hand, given its assets and the competitive landscape? Do you think it will succeed? Why or why not?

Start today by stepping into the role of the Cincinnati Brand Manager. I look forward to receiving your ideas about “Brand Cincinnati.”

A version of this post appeared in the Cincinnati Business Courier on March 21, 2008, in the column “That Branding Thing.”

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2008 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.