South Bend needs Rebranding

So much has been said about South Bend since it showed up on the “List of Dying Cities.” A city much like ours in many ways, Grand Rapids, (also on the list…) put together an incredible video in response. I have lived in South Bend most of my life and I spent 4 years in Grand Rapids attending art school, so I know both cities well. Grand Rapids and South Bend are similar in many ways. They both have a river running through it, a downtown area that has struggled (they tried some things that worked, some that haven’t) the arts, beautiful and troubled neighborhoods, great restaurants, theaters, shopping, colleges, etc. Grand Rapids had a great response. They didn’t whine, they didn’t roll over, they didn’t agree. So they developed a rebuttal- a video from people who believe in where they live. It came down to attitude, that positive, “bloom where you are planted” mentality.

There are a lot of great things about South Bend and plenty to do, if you look for them. There is the Morris Performing Arts Center, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, South Bend Regional Museum of Art, LangLab, football (high school and college), Silver Hawks, Notre Dame, the Farmers Market, the Potawatomi Zoo, Sunburst, the East Race, Meet Me On The Island, Greekfest, Leeper Park Art Fair, Art Beat, etc. etc. We also have amazing restaurants, from fancy to local favorites; LaSalle Grill, Carriage House, Barnaby’s, CJ’s, The Vine, Trio’s – the list goes on.

Do we have some things to work on? Sure, we could be so much more!

Are some of the problems significant? You bet.

So, South Bend needs rebranding! That’s the process of looking at yourself, finding what makes us unique, then look for the “brand gaps” and fill them. Rebranding isn’t about slapping a shiny new tagline on the city and expecting things to get better. It’s about promoting what’s good about the city to our own residents and fixing the problems that need fixing.

Is it really an innovative city with a thriving business environment? If not, then how do we get there? When we can prove it , we can say it! In brand development, we tell our clients that we can’t make statements that aren’t true. What we can do is take all the points of distinction and create the brand essence-the statement (with facts) about who we are, and what makes us unique a brand franchise-what we tell others, the “outward” facing statment and perhaps a positioning statement.

All this would be a great start. But we teach our clients that the really important – critical actually, element is brand enculturation. We need to communicate to our residents about our city, and allow them to believe in it as much as many of us do. Everyone needs to believe in the brand promise and become evangelists for the brand. Think Harley or Google—that’s what we mean by brand enculturation.

We need to change our attitude about where we live, I have heard so many people complain about living here. Let’s hear some solutions. What do you think is missing? What are the problems that are making the city undesirable? Granted there are certain things we can’t change, like the weather, but we have to look at the donut, not the hole.

These days when I take a random poll of people I come across in my daily ventures, I ask them “What do you think of South Bend?” I get answers like, “I can’t wait to leave it, there is nothing to do,” “The public schools are crap,” “It’s boring.” If I was from out of town and asked these questions, and got these kind of responses – what would I think?? These people live here and they aren’t proud of their city.

After the city, and it’s people, do the heaving lifting and fill the brand gaps, we turn our community around to a place people are proud to live -THEN we tell the world.

So, let’s quit bellyaching and make some positive changes. At Force 5 we’re all about brand and community, we live here and have our business here – we’re in it to win it, are you with us?

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.

Henry Ford.