Repairing The Detroit Brand

I was recently thinking about my hometown and its subzero brand equity. Throughout my entire life, I have had a love/hate relationship with the city of Detroit. I recall my first trip overseas (shout out to Toyota-Shi/Toyota City, JAPAN) and being shocked how different Detroit was from the rest of the world. Mind you, I was 15 at the time and I was not as worldly as I am now.
I saw big city streets that were fairly clean. There was no assortment of ragamuffin types accenting the litter on the street corners. For the first time in my life, I witnessed an environment that I felt completely safe, which was so weird that I eventually became paranoid of it being “too perfect.” LOL I mean, this country had arcades you could hang out in at 11:00pm with no security on the premises [IN A MAJOR CITY]. There had to be something wrong with the place, right?
I remember never wanting to leave Japan; even though, I eventually felt like too much of an oddball there. Homogenized societies are kind of freaky to a person from an area that houses several different ethnic groups in it, regardless of the fact that they self-segregate themselves.
Anyway, initial impressions go a long way though. At that time in 1995, I could not imagine anyone having any bad words to say about Japan that would prevent one from visiting. I still long to go back, but only to visit. I love where I am from now. It took a while to get there though. I can thank four years in East Lansing, Michigan for that (Go State!). I just wish I could be completely proud of my hometown whenever I take trips elswhere.

Now I do not expect Detroit to be like Tokyo, London, NYC or L.A. Heck, Detroit’s not built to be as spectacular as Chicago. Urban planning is not Detroit’s claim to fame. Although, Detroit is making great strides to be a nicer city to live, it still has a long way to go.
This may seem like a personal problem, but The D is not one of the special places that Americans are interested in visiting. When you note that we have a history that folks from the major cities wish they had and we have a local pride like no other, I do not think I should ever hear people saying how they would NEVER come here. I can only attribute that to Detroit’s everlasting bad reputation.

The thing is, people do know the good things about Detroit, but they are far more familiar with the bad parts. It is the weaknesses in the city’s infrastructure, high crime rate and our sport team that the average person likens to Detroit, Michigan.

I give all this backstory to get at the point that we all should become more mindful of our brand(s). I have had the wonderful happenstance to realize my calling in terms of marketing and public relations. In the last couple of months, I have been reading all I can about the latest and greatest in marketing strategies and trying to figure out how I can apply them to layman cases that I am privy to every day. In the midst of my studies, I have been reading a lot about branding. I recently attended Podcamp Michigan and a gentleman by the name of Hajj Flemings did a presention on Personal Branding. It sort of set the stage of my recent transition to utilizing my strengths to pursue career efforts that are actually of interest to me.

When I think of brands now, I think of how it affects an entity’s ability to do business. I think of how Detroit is losing more and more in new industry possibilities every time a related party lands a negative story on the national news channels (ie, former mayor, Big 3).
I cannot help but feel that if Detroiters took a greater interest in making sure they protected their brand that we may not be in the position that we are in today. It is bewildering – at least to me – that I do not feel as confident to say that I am from Detroit anymore. I reluctantly wrote this piece, feeling that I probably lost 50% of my readers by just talking about Motown. At the same time, I know what Detroit is made of and that keeps me upbeat. We are still contributing great things when it comes to arts and culture, but until we can get a grip on the negative things being reported we will continue to be overlooked.

If legendary producer James “Jay Dee/J Dilla” Yancey was from California or New York, there is no doubt in my mind that all of his musical efforts would be lauded as classics on a mainstream level. States like California and New York have tremendous branding power and when they make noise, people listen. That just isn’t the same for states in the Midwest.

It behooves one to think about everything that makes up their own personal brand. From the clothes you wear to the words you speak, you are being judged at every moment. Where you come from is just another element in establishing who/what you are. If there is anything less than stellar about you, people are going to remember that and then probably not want to deal with you or even worse – forget about you. You have to deal with that and figure out how to somehow repair the issue or deal with it face first. In some cases, it may just be as simple as embracing your weakness to show that you are not perfect to help bolster your image. Detroit, for example, could help itself by being humble and taking responsibility for its own existence. For having such great people come out of its ranks, it does no good to try to brag about it. No one likes the boastful guy; no one likes a sore loser either. Besides, there is just too much negative being disseminated worldwide to even try to spin a contrary message.

Detroit’s strength is in its people, who provide a bright light to a dim place. That alone should be motivating enough to understanding that the bright lights are to be supported if we all want to shine. We owe it to the Motown, the J Dillas, the Eminems, The White Stripes and so forth to better our collective situation. These folks help us look good. We need to figure out how to eliminate the weak areas. If this monster of weakness could be conquered, then I know Detroit would be on the fast track to greatness… where it rightfully belongs.

If you took the time to read all this, then I am interested in what you think. Where do you think we need to start in repairing Detroit’s brand? Please leave a comment!

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