Most people are unaware of the incredible assets our city possesses. Could part of the problem be a “branding” issue? Follow us as we explore some of our region’s most under “marketed” assets.
Text By Kyle Patterson.
Artwork by LJ Anderson, Kyle Patterson, Reilley Group
"The perception of cities, and the mental image held of them, became active components of economic success or failure,” says Ann O'M. Bowmanand Michael A. Pagano in their book, Terra Incognito. The fact is when it comes to building a global brand, companies like Coca-Cola, Proctor and Gamble and Nike have it down. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year assuring the brand names are on the tip of our tongue. The more exposure they have, the more mindshare in a consumers thoughts. Case in point—Kleenex became so good at branding, that the name became synonymous with tissues. So much so that you may not even know the difference. Nike successfully branded themselves as the sports shoe and apparel company for the best athletes in the world. The fact is over 130 billion dollars were spent on marketing in the United States in 2010. Media provides the tools and the framework for these companies to communicate the value that they offer consumers. While advertising works for businesses big and small to influence buying decisions thus increasing revenue and creating a profit which is then enjoyed by the owners of the business, we decided to explore what it would look like to do the same for a city with similar but different goals in mind. We coined the idea The Buffalo Branding Project and produced a mock campaign. Interestingly there are more than a few books and many articles written on the topic of “places branding” from creating a successful media strategy to attracting tourism dollars, cities have realized that tourism is big business. In “Media Strategies for Marketing Places in Crisis” authors Eli Avraham and Eran Ketter write, “These developments have created a climate of competition among different places around the globe for national and international status and for high-class residents, tourists, conventions, sporting events, entrepreneurs, investors, industries, businesses, and global capital. From growing industries like hospitality—namely restaurants and hotels and entertainment—sports and parks, branding isn’t just for business anymore. Cities seriously need to consider the economic impact that perception plays and the benefits of working to improve it. Thus the Buffalo Branding Project was born. Our website buffalobrandingproject.org exists to take this conversation further and to collaborate artists, entrepreneurs and others around branding our city forward. It’s and an open forum (using the Tumblr platform) for creatives to contribute their skill in changing the perception of our region. The fact is the media world hasn't been specifically kind to us in the past. The world of news and sports specifically. Four Superbowl loses and just as many or more snow storms created a perception of less than desirable.
This, thankfully is beginning to change, but needless to say we are not without challenges. Most recently Tom Brady took the liberty to bash the quality of Buffalo hotels which garnered more media attention including an analysis in the New Yorker probing further into the comment. So as a young group of culturally minded, socially active caring citizens, we gathered up our creative juices and created a mock campaign of which we hope spreads to the four corners of the globe, celebrating, shouting and declaring the assets of our city. It's time we as a community rise out of the ashes and thrive once again. With that in mind we tapped into the creative minds behind THRiVE! and a couple of our partners to help build a campaign and strategy to counter the wiles of our city's enemies with one goal in mind: attract and retain people to Buffalo. Thankfully outside of this article much work is being done. Organizations like VISIT BUFFALO NIAGARA exist to attract tourism opportunities to Buffalo and they even spend ad
dollars with national magazines to assure it happens. We, like many others, want to add fuel to the fire and continue the evangelizing of America with the good qualities of our region. It's time to let our light shine.
In coming up with a strategy for our mock campaign, we, like any good agency would do, researched the problem. We asked, what is the perception of the Buffalo brand? What do people think of when they think of Buffalo? Chicken wings?Sports? Weather? Knowing the problem is half the battle. We gathered that Buffalo was considered nationally as a blue collar city of chicken wing eating football fans. With that research in hand we set out to reveal (in our campaign) the assets of what Buffalo is really like. Yes we have good sports teams that we love (Go Bills and Sabres, among others). Yes we invented the chicken wing and enjoy them weekly if not more. But there is so much more, and that is where the opportunity lies. The assets that most everyone would agree upon are as follows: architecture, art, food, sports and rich history. Are we missing some? Yes. And that is by design so that this isn't a one way conversation but rather an ongoing online campaign for our city and against those preconceived ideas of what the city is like.
Here is some of the data we came up with by category.
Architecture: "Buffalo is home to some of the greatest American architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with major architects like Henry Hobson Richardson, Frederick Law Olmsted, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright building marvels here. Together they shaped one of the grandest early visions of the democratic American city,” said a recent NY TIMES article. The buildings are too numerous to mention. From the Guaranty Building, Electric Tower and The Ellicott Square Building to the Statler Towers we have some of the most beautiful architecture in the nation.
Food: With over 400 locally owned restaurants, this to tourists and foodies alike is a big deal. Move over chain restaurants that consumers can experience anywhere and move in independent tastes and experiences that are literally unique the world over.
Art: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Burchfield-Penny and the rise of independent galleries showcase the creative genius of artists from our own backyard to some of modern arts most prolific work. And we are happy to say we have it all here.
Sports: Buffalo knows sports and let's not be ashamed of it. Yes we went through a few unfortunate Superbowl and Stanley Cup defeats but we aren't giving up. Buffalo's close proximity to Canada and winter months have helped us sustain and produce some top talent in the NHL today. Plus, we also have one of the greatest and most passionate hockey fans/sports owners in the game, Terry Pegula.
History: From the Erie Canal, grain elevators, Pan-Am Exposition, Presidential inauguration, Frank Lloyd Wright Legacy, Billy Sunday Evangelistic meetings and the numerous inventions Buffalo has an incredible history and contribution to American culture today.
These five assets (the list is by no means exhaustive) serve as some of our city’s competitive advantage. It’s assets like these that have inspired the Buffalo Branding Project. Our hope is that it wouldn’t stop here. In an interview with Ted Black, President of the Sabres, Black mentioned how long it took him to realize the Elmwood Village neighborhood even existed. He said it well when he explained that Buffalo needs to stop keeping what we have to offer such a secret. And that is where this project comes into play. We are going to continue with a Branding Buffalo section in each issue of THRiVE! and we will take some of the best content we receive from you online and place it in our print magazine to keep this conversation going. Then when your friends say, Buffalo? Why would you want to go to Buffalo, you’ll have a thousand reasons right at your fingertips to say, this is why. Our thought is what if we could apply the principles of business branding, marketing and advertising to our region and drive our city forward. It is time we stop keeping the assets of our community such a secret.!