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City must rebrand itself to make the most of its assets

It was encouraging to see both candidates for Erie County executive identify the need to redevelop a cohesive regional brand as a priority business issue following a recent Buffalo Niagara Partnership Government Affairs Committee forum.

Recently, a new Brand Atlanta initiative budgeted $4 million for fiscal 2007-2008 to fund its new campaign theme, "City lights, Southern nights." While local financial resources may not be as robust, the time for a cohesive strategy and coordinated implementation is now.

Over the past few years, various organizations have worked to "define" Buffalo and then communicate that differentiation to local, regional and national audiences, all with an eye toward attracting new business and investment, expressing local pride and contributing to this area's advancement. The product of both these efforts has varied in message and execution.

For example, in product terms, an informal poll of family and friends showed that Buffalo has been, or is currently still being "sold" as: Buffalo Niagara -- Where Life Works; Buffalo -- An All America City; Buffalo -- The City of Good Neighbors; Buffalo -- The Queen City; Buffalo -- Talking Proud; Buffalo -- The City of No Illusions; Buffalo Biotech.

The point is not to pass judgment on any of these, or any other commendable efforts that have been, or currently are being made to most effectively communicate the essence of what makes our city so special.

Rather, the purpose is to suggest that now is an opportune time to commission a truly representative effort to review and refine Buffalo's "master brand." If we think of Buffalo as a "product," and that we are all working to sell this product, can we get more on the same page regarding: 1) What is Buffalo's unique selling proposition? 2) What are Buffalo's core "features and benefits?" 3) What is a "slogan" the majority of citizens can get behind?

Once we have this consensus, can we all then navigate our collective organizational and personal communication efforts in a more consistent direction?

These statements and questions are not original, and in fact, have been communicated by many voices in many ways. Perhaps what's additional may be the notion that for a "Buffalo brand" to be truly effective, it has to be owned by the majority of stakeholders, including such key entities as city and neighborhood leaders; the Convention and Visitors Bureau; the Buffalo Niagara Partnership; local university and college leaders; local media leaders; and representatives from the business and creative communities, etc.

At first glance, the prospect of forming such a coalition is daunting. But to do the best job possible, this seems to be what's required when it comes to articulating a brand that the majority of citizens will proudly adopt and work to advance as their own.

Peter Ciotta is corporate director of communications for Gibraltar Industries.

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