‘It Matters Where You Make It’ drives new Toledo branding effortWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Yarder’s family has been making sheet metal in Toledo for four generations. Doug Mallette moved to Toledo for college and decided to stay in Northwest Ohio. Jemma Hostetler has lived in big cities coast to coast but found a home in the Glass City. David Woodward lived in Atlanta for years before returning to his hometown to start a business.
No matter what your story, a local group working to brand and market the Toledo region wants you to connect with the region and make it your own.
The Toledo Region Branding Initiative is a nearly five-year, $800,000 project of the Northwest Ohio Brand Council — representatives from various public and private organizations that came together in 2009 with a common goal to promote the region, said Toledo Region Brand Manager Jeff Schaaf.
On April 4, the group unveiled a new tagline, “It Matters Where You Make It,” along with a new logo, the word “TOLEDO” with a small green arrow pointing forward.
For the past few years, the group has focused on promoting the area as “the heart of the new manufacturing economy,” citing factors like geographic location, access to transportation channels and availability of a skilled workforce. Six months ago, the group hired Toledo-based North Design to rethink the branding and expand the focus to showcase the region’s quality of life as well.
Enter “It Matters Where You Make It.”
“We did not really have a slogan before and we wanted to put together something people could really adopt and use and make their own,” Schaaf said. “It has a double meaning. That’s intentional. ‘Make it’ could mean you physically make or assemble something in the Toledo region because of the abundant economic assets and/or you could make a life or accomplish goals here because of the inviting culture and lifestyle.”
Woodward, president and creative director of North Design, said he felt “the heart of the new manufacturing economy” was relevant, but too specific.
It ignored lifestyle elements, like culture, art and affordability, Schaaf said.
“Everybody was saying, ‘This is really great but you’re leaving out a huge element of what makes Toledo so great,’” said Schaaf, a Toledo native. “We realized that after you go home at the end of the day, you don’t focus solely on economic assets; you focus on the things that make your life more meaningful.”
The group dropped its former “TR” logo in favor of the word “TOLEDO.”
“TR was great, but if you didn’t have the actual words with it, people weren’t sure what it was,” Schaaf said. “The new logo is very simple, but it says exactly who we are: Toledo, plain and simple.
“Some people were suggesting it might be too simple, but one of the most iconic brands in the world that’s located right here in our backyard is Jeep. Their logo couldn’t be more simple, but when you see that name you know exactly what they’re talking about and that’s what we want.”
The green arrow signifies forward progress, he said.
“That’s something our community has always been about. When settlers came here in 1795, they were looking to move forward, to make their lives and make them better,” Schaaf said. “The green is energetic, it’s fresh, it’s youthful, it’s very popular right now.”
Despite the prominence of the Toledo name in the new logo, Toledo Region is still very much regionally focused.
“We focus on the word because it’s the largest city within the region and most people, if you’re out of town and someone asks you where you’re from, more often than not you say you’re from Toledo,” Schaaf said.
“The way we balance that is if you look at our images and you look at the messaging we convey, the companies we’re promoting and the assets we’re promoting, we’re not solely in Toledo city limits.”
It was North’s recommendation to simplify the brand and focus on Toledo.
“We think if there is a lack of perception or negative perception of the region, it revolves around the city of Toledo.
“So if we don’t fix the perception of Toledo and what it represents then we’ll never be able to build a brand called the Toledo Region,” Woodward said. “Whether you live in Sylvania or Perrysburg or Sandusky, we’re all impacted in some way by the perception of Toledo being the largest city in the region.
“We’re not throwing away the regional piece and we want to talk about the surrounding region within the context of the story and we will continue to highlight cities like Sylvania, Perrysburg, Maumee and Waterville that add to the quality of life in Toledo. Those communities are a hugely important part of our story.”
The Waterville Economic Development Corporation is on board with the Toledo Region branding, especially the “It Matters Where You Make It” tagline, said board member Phyllis Hyder.
“We in Waterville are very supportive of the regional idea. If we don’t work together we’re all wasting our time,” Hyder said. “Most site selectors know what they are looking at is a region and not a particular city anyway.”
Pat Nowak of the Sylvania Area Chamber of Commerce is cautiously optimistic about Toledo Region’s new direction, but said she would have preferred something broader.
“While I applaud Toledo’s effort in its current rebranding and I am sure that in today’s times it is a necessity, I feel the region as a whole would have got more benefit from an areawide collaboration much like the very successful and widely acclaimed ‘Pure Michigan’ idea,” Nowak said. “In their campaign they have positively meshed regions, towns and cities to highlight and enhance the area.”
The effort’s website and marketing materials were also redesigned by North Design. By utilizing photos posted by area residents on social media, the initiative takes on a more genuine feel, said Hostetler, the agency’s art director.
“When you see this, you automatically know it’s not stock photography,” Hostetler said. “To mix some of that in with content that’s curated from the community, it all of a sudden actually feels like Toledo.”
Schaaf said the arts community and many young professionals have embraced the new branding, but the goal is for it to resonate with everyone.
“We’re really excited about the viral buzz we’ve created, but we want this to resonate with everyone,” Schaaf said. “That’s kind of why we left it open-ended with ‘It matters where you make it,’ so you can say what makes it you and why you make it.”
Mallette, chair of EPIC Toledo and product manager at HCR ManorCare, said he likes the “personal ownership” implied by the campaign.
“I’m a person who’s all about ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,’” Mallette said. “I really like how it’s more than a ‘Hey guys, we’re Toledo, we’re great.’ It’s ‘This is your city, take ownership and move forward with it.’”
Schaaf is unapologetic about focusing on the positive aspects of the region.
“When you go on a job interview, you don’t tell them your faults; you tell them your strengths. We’re trying to promote the good stuff and, as we’re finding the negative stuff, we’re trying to work on that as well,” Schaaf said. “There are plenty of things we could talk about if you want to talk about problems. Those are not unique to Toledo. There are issues in every city. Our organization’s sole purpose is to promote the Toledo region and the positive assets and that’s what our focus is going to continue to be.”
Yarder, vice president of sheet metal fabricators The Yarder Manufacturing Company, is the first company to co-brand its logo with Toledo Region. A new Yarder Manufacturing box truck features the Toledo Region logo and tagline.
“It made a lot of sense,” Yarder said. “To us, it matters where we’ve made it and we’ve been making it in Toledo for more than 100 years.
“Driving around Michigan and Ohio with that truck, spreading the word, will unify the community a little more and people will start to understand what makes us tick here in the Toledo region and why we’re moving in the direction we’re moving and what matters to us,” Yarder said. “I’m not looking for direct results for my company, but rather a strong, bonded community. A community moving in a forward direction together is a better one to have your business in.”
The new message is designed both to attract newcomers as well as inspire pride in residents.
“You get into a room and you start talking about it and it starts to evoke emotion in people,” Schaaf said. “We’ve had people smiling ear to ear. People have said, ‘This makes me feel so proud to live here.’ I’ve had a couple people actually tear up [after reading the group’s positioning statement]. Someone on [our advisory council] said, ‘This is exactly what we were looking for when we started!’
You Will Do Better
In mid-December, as North Design was tweaking the rebranding effort, a grassroots movement centered around the slogan You Will Do Better in Toledo emerged. Rather than worry it would compete with what Toledo Region was doing, Woodward said he sees the two messages as complementary.
“In our mind, anything positive is something we should be able to take and use as part of the conversation that’s happening in the community,” Woodward said. “I love Holy Toledo, too. We think those are all positive messages. They are all phraseology people know and associate with our brand and they are all good things. It doesn’t have to compete. It can all work toward the same goal.”
Branding is important, said Bill Thomas, executive director of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District.
“There are people who think, ‘Oh, it’s a bunch of hogwash and we don’t need to do that,’” Thomas said. “The problem is, we have a lot of people who have lived here all their lives and like to talk negatively about Toledo.
“We need to have good material to talk about who we are in an authentic way because we have a great story to tell here. When people looking to live Downtown or move to Toledo ask, we want to have a great story that’s compelling enough to inspire follow-up questions.”
Ryan Bunch, performing and literary arts coordinator at The Arts Commission, agreed, saying the new logo and tagline is “the right thing at the right time.”
“People who 10-15 years ago would have gone to New York or LA are moving to Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus. And what those cities have in common is they’ve managed to make this kind of tough but welcoming persona for themselves. People are really attracted to that and Toledo is right smack dab in the middle of those three cities.
“The view of the city from inside can be pretty negative and the view of the city from outside can be pretty negative, so I think it’s really important and vital at this moment, with all these things going on in the arts community and with the business and development that’s starting to happen, that the city really emphasizes the positive view of itself and put that out there for people to have something to connect to.”
As of the end of February, Toledo Region had spent about $800,000 over the nearly five-year effort, Schaaf said, including market research, website development, Web hosting, strategic planning, staff, marketing and more.
The first phase of the initiative was the development of the initial concept and research. The second phase was developing the story and brand position. The third phase was creating the website and launching the brand. Phase four started in the fall when the group hired North Design and charged them with refreshing the brand.
Schaaf, who joined Toledo Region in January 2013, is the only paid full-time staff member. There was also a paid summer intern last year.
The majority of funding has come from private sources, Schaaf said. Although the City of Toledo has supported the initiative, it is not the primary funder, he said. He declined to disclose how much North Design was paid for the rebranding or how much any particular group has contributed, but said costs are reasonable.
“I’m very frugal and very cautious of what I’m spending because I’m working really hard to make sure that our message is getting across in the way that our funders and our community would like them to get across,” Schaaf said.
“It looks like a lot when it’s a lump sum, but if you look at what other cities are doing, like Columbus, Pittsburgh, Des Moines, Iowa, they are spending $1 million a year and we haven’t even spent a million in five years.
“If you break it down, we have about a million and a half people living in the region, so that’s less than a dollar per person over a five-year period.”
Pittsburgh declined to release how much it has spent on its branding initiative. Representatives from Columbus and Des Moines were unable to be reached.
Woodward said Toledo Region needs to spend more to truly compete with other cities.
“So in five years, they’ve spent $150,000 per year promoting the region. What’s the GDP of the region? What percentage does that $800,000 equal? Look at a business and how a business promotes and sells itself. If we were to compare it to a business, what percentage of their revenue do they spend on marketing and sales so they are successful?” Woodward said. “We’re in the same type of environment where we are competing for resources, we’re competing for talent share, we’re competing for attention at the state level and the federal level for dollars.”
The next step will be to raise more money to fully roll out the new campaign. Schaaf and Woodward would like to create a promotional video, finish the website, launch an app, ramp up marketing and more.
“We can’t expect and we don’t expect the money to come from the city or the county. It’s going to have to come from people who believe in the community and want to make the community better,” Woodward said. “For this to truly be a success and for us to be able to compete with Cleveland and Columbus or other cities in our region who are doing a good job of building their brands, we’re going to have to fund it. If there are companies out there or individuals out there who believe in this mission then we need their help.”
Woodward said he hopes the Toledo Region brand will attract new residents as well as empower lifelong residents to share why they love Northwest Ohio.
“Toledoans, as you know, we can be our own best ambassador or our own worst ambassador,” Woodward said. “It’s up to us when we’re visiting our friends [in other cities] and they ask, ‘Why do you live in Toledo?’ Well, let’s tell them why. I think too many people shy away from the question. Part of the strength of putting together something we think resonates with the community is that we can start to tell that story in a positive way.”
To learn more, visit the website toledoregion.com.
Tags: Atlanta, Bill Thomas, chair of EPIC Toledo and product manager at HCR ManorCare, Co-branding, David Woodward, Doug Mallette, executive director of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District, Jemma Hostetler, Mallette, Matt Yarder, northwest ohio, Northwest Ohio Brand Council, resident and creative director of North Design, Sylvania or Perrysburg or Sandusky, The Toledo Region Branding Initiative, Toledo Region, Toledo Region brand manager Jeff Schaaf, Waterville Economic Development Corporation, You Will Do Better, ‘Pure Michigan’ idea, “It Matters Where You Make It”, “TR” logo