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Friday, 11 May 2012 14:06

Revamping the Michigan brand

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WEST MICHIGAN — When it comes to what Michigan represents as a place to do business, experts and business leaders agree that the state could use a makeover.

While businesses continue to fight off recession-induced stress and the state begins to reform its budgetary issues, a dialogue is brewing on the perception of the Michigan brand and its value.

Experts say some tough questions need to be asked about what Michigan stands for and how we want to be perceived. Kevin Budelmann, president of PeopleDesign Inc., a Grand Rapid-based national strategic design consultancy, said one of the challenges in trying to reposition a state’s message is the complexity of its inherent political constructs. Michigan, like any state, carries with it a number of historic and ingrained characteristics and the diversity of its regions can make deciding what to emphasize a difficult task, he said.

“Are we a technology leader, a quality of life leader, an advanced manufacturing leader, a health care leader? Are we all those things?” he said. “The challenge I see with companies that I work with is that they are trying to do a lot of things. What we have to decide is how we want to be on the map.”

Budelmann said that Michigan has to be honest about where it can improve and play to its strengths in developing a value proposition. In the flattening of the global economy, Budelmann believes that in many ways, Michigan is competing not just with other states but also with the rest of the world for time, attention and resources. Trying to express too much can make things blurry on a brand level, he said.

“It’s a matter of selecting something that can have the best emphasis,” Budelmann said. “We encourage our clients to select an attribute of their company that is reflective of their current and future abilities, but also (that) people want to hear.”

Budelmann said efforts like the Pure Michigan campaign, which has been productive in some ways beyond its tourism emphasis, is successful because it has a solid theme. There is a strong association being made between the word purity and what Michigan has to offer from a lifestyle perspective, he said.

However, Budelmann said the campaign has its limitations in that the theme seems in deliberate contrast to those that live in urban environments. So, when trying to create a model to address Michigan’s business environment, sometimes it’s a matter of connecting dots in a holistic effort, he said.

“Entrepreneurship, higher-education and business development are valuable on their own, but you have to think of a brand as a holistic issue,” Budelmann said. “As a co-owner of a small business, my interest is probably not unlike many other small business owners — how do we attract and retain the best talent in the world?”

The group Business Leaders for Michigan is in the midst of trying to rally support around the rebranding of the state.

CEO Doug Rothwell said his organization’s biggest challenge is reenergizing executives and community leaders about the good things that are happening in the state.

“It’s hard to sell others if you don’t feel good about your own state,” he said. “Michigan still has some tremendous advantages.”

Rothwell and his group have indentified six areas where they think Michigan can prioritize leadership and wrap into a cohesive brand.

  • Higher education — The learning institutions in the state have the ability to support business with a highly skilled workforce.
  • Geographic location — The state is strategically positioned to be an alternative gateway to middle America.
  • Natural resource base — Michigan has a world-class agriculture base and an abundance of fresh water that can attract manufacturing and tourism.
  • Base automotive industry — Michigan is a global center for the mobility industry and can be a hub of mobility design.
  • Life science assets — Rothwell said Michigan is a top 10 state for producing medical professionals.
  • Engineering talent — Michigan can become a global engineering village.

Any branding effort is going to have limited success, Rothwell said, but if there is a critical mass of people thinking about these assets, a cultural adjustment can occur that will convince outsiders that Michigan is serious about its future.

Todd Woodward, VP of global brand for Amway Corp., said other business and community leaders as well as government officials can learn from one company that has does a tremendous job representing the state — Chrysler.

Woodward said the automaker’s “Imported from Detroit” campaign sends a clear and forceful message — one that has lasting and real-time relevance.

“It’s a poster child for recovery,” he said. “Nothing epitomizes or exemplifies Michigan like the auto industry.”

Woodward said the brand represents what the core values are behind an American product, which is something that resonates with clients from international markets he has worked with in the past.

“What we are talking about here is an ownable position for the state,” he said. “The American story translates and we can carry that message with us. It’s important for us to say we are distinctly American, but we come from Michigan too.”

Woodward said he doesn’t think there is another state that understands rebuilding and industry pride better than Michigan. The next step, he said, is getting the right people in the right room.

“On something big like this, the question becomes how do we get government, business and civil leaders to coalesce around an idea,” he said.

Woodward said the state can tell a positive story, but it just needs to find the right model.

Read 1700 times Last modified on Thursday, 02 August 2012 20:18
Elijah Brumback

Staff Writer

ebrumback@mibiz.com

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