The D Brand and You

Detroit's been undergoing a rebranding — not just getting a new slogan and logo, although that’s part of it. Tourism officials have been overhauling the way they sell Detroit to the rest of the world.

Last year, they settled on a  industrial looking D, and a "Detroit: Cars, Culture, Gaming, Music, Sports" theme. They wanted a Detroit story that was urban, edgy and über cool to appeal to the under 40 crowd, or the crowd that lives like they are under 40.

This little, no, actually huge exercise has been profitable — convention business is heating up, for instance — but Jim Townsend, executive director of the Metro Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau's Tourism Economic Development Council, wants to take it a step further.

Along with The Henry Ford (one of the "early adopters" of the D Brand), the Convention & Visitors Bureau is holding a D Brand Summit on Feb. 1, an effort to extend their branding tools and ideas to area businesses.

The idea is that what's good for selling the region to tourists is good for selling the region to investors and talented people, which is good for business. Plus, if you've got a healthy economy and a region full of young, creative workers, then you've got a place that's attractive to visitors.

It's chicken and egg. Cart and horse. Love and marriage. You can't have one without the other.

"If there’s a new Detroitness that's urban and real and bubbling with cool nightlife and culture, a sense that it’s an emerging city that’s worth discovering, and it’s almost cool to go out and do so," Townsend says, "then that’s the message that is going to help everything else here being done to help change the economy,"

The D Brand

This summit is novel. Other cities have had rebranding efforts, to be sure, and those Las Vegas commercials, where "what happens here stays here," are one fine example. Yet, the idea of spreading that brand into the non-tourism business sectors is rather unique.

Eric LaBrecque, whose California-based Applied Storytelling is helping with Detroit's rebranding efforts, says they looked around at the follow-through in other cities, and the standard operating procedure is to create the brand, "drop it in the constituents' laps," and be done with it.

The problem, he says, is that a lot folks don't know how to use it. If it's just adopting a logo or slogan and slapping it on a couple web sites, then it's not going to have a big impact, LaBrecque says.

To help show other businesses how to adopt the brand, the bureau has tapped some early adopters, businesses and institutions that have already added elements of the D Brand into their own branding and marketing schemes.

"We thought, let's create some serving suggestions, if you will, " says LaBrecque. These real world examples will be presented at the summit. They include efforts by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Tigers and Strategic Staffing Solutions.

Each company was able to use elements of the brand in different ways, LaBrecque says.

"Strategic Staffing Solutions is a global IT outsourcing organization. Its headquarters is in Detroit. Its founder is a Detroiter, and it's passionate about the city," he says. "They realized they weren't talking to a younger audience about how great it is to be here and live here.

"What we're saying to businesses," LaBrecque says, "is that if you are trying to attract talent or retain talent in the Detroit area, it makes sense for you talk about the appeal of living here and working here. If you are not doing that or doing that well, you should be."

The summit

The summit, which is also sponsored in part by Model D, will include an overview of the brand, presentations from the "early adopters" on how the brand has worked for them, as well as ideas on how to put the brand to work for individual companies. 

There will also be an address from John Kao, who as been dubbed a "serial innovator" and "Mr. Creativity" by The Economist. The consultant has worked with a wide range of Fortune 500 companies, startups, and government agencies around practical issues of strategic innovation and organizational transformation. He's taught at the Harvard Business School, and authored the books Innovation Nation, on positioning the country globally and Jamming, on fostering business creativity.

LaBrecque says summit participants can expect to walk away with three main things:

• An understanding that adopting the D Brand can work for their own financial advantage.
• Practical help via forums and opportunities to ask the experts.
• A basic understanding of general branding best practices that can be used even if the organization does not adopt the D Brand. "Even if you don't see the connection to the D Brand there will be benefits. A lot of organizations aren't sophisticated marketers and these people don't have as easy access to the same talent and ideas that big organizations do," La Brecque says.

However, Townsend says the D Brand has applications across many sectors. "We’re not trying to say something that precise, we’re trying to create a tone and a feeling about Detroit. There’s so many different takes people can have on those ideas."

Plus, he says, every company or organization in Detroit is tied to the D Brand by simply being here — and whether that "here" is inside the city or 20 miles outside of it. Where these companies go, they carry a banner for the region.

"Whether it's tourism, high tech, professional services, automotive, creative services — any company that’s located here has a need to tell a story about itself in the context of being here in metro Detroit," Townsend says. "Companies are like people, they have persona and a brand about themselves and it relates to Detroit because they choose to be here."

The more companies that preach the D Brand, or their version of it, the more the message about Detroit's image will change.

"The real object here is to change the Detroit narrative, to change the storyline that attaches to Detroit in people’s mind both locally and globally," Townsend says of the D Brand efforts. "It takes a lot to change the basic buzz about a place. It can’t come from one place; it has to come from a thousand different places. It doesn’t mean adopting the same words and pictures, but they need to be moving in the same direction."

"The fundamental thing," he adds," is being honest and beyond non-apologetic — being honest and proud of what Detroit truly is."

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey's brand is managing editor of Model D.


Skyline at Dusk

Eric La Brecque

Jim Townsend

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

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