Could Re-branding Detroit Help Our State?

By Amanda Lewan on October 23rd, 2013 / Comments

Yesterday’s Brand Camp Detroit brought over 300 people to gather and learn from investors, founders and VCs from around the country. The Brand Camp event series was started by Personal Brand Strategist Hajj Flemmings as a way to help others learn to develop their personal brand, but has grown to focus on technology and entrepreneurship too.

This year was the fifth year the conference was held in Detroit. The event attracted Founder of Reddit Alexis Ohanian, Nicole Glaros head of Tech Stars, Josh Miller Founder of Branch, and many more. Some of the speakers were traveling to Detroit for the first time.

Hajj Flemmings kicked off the event speaking about how to live your brand authentically in person and online. The question came up from the very beginning and throughout: Can Detroit Use a Re-branding?

Local reactions were a resounding yes, though many of the visiting speakers saw a great side of Detroit.

“This is a city that drove so much innovation and the success of the 21st century America,” said Ohanian. “What’s so cool is that now in the past few years there has been so much energy and excitement pouring into Detroit around the new industry, the tech economy.”

The Founder of Reddit has visited the city five times, and couldn’t stop gushing about it.

“It is interesting we’re at Brand Camp in Detroit, because if you want to talk about one of the best re-brandings in the past 5 or 10 years I would put Detroit right up there,” said Ohanian.

Hajj Spoke about the importance of telling the right story to change national perception on Detroit.

“We can change and become an advocate for the city of Detroit. We can communicate that there are young talented people in Detroit changing the face of technology in Detroit, and that technology can be diverse,” said Hajj.

There has been an effort to re-brand Detroit as a city of opportunity, a city going through re-birth. You can see the Opportunity Detroit logo stamped across Downtown, and the Opportunity Detroit online presence always promoting the good of the city. The soon to be non-profit claims their mission is to showcase “Detroit’s exciting present and promising future by creating an urban environment that attracts businesses, residents and visitors.” D:hive Detroit has a similar mission.

Yet when national media come to do a story, like the recent 60 minutes piece, it disappoints locals. The same problems are highlighted, the story of the local people often left out. During the bankruptcy filing national media outlets often reported from Chicago. That sad fact made a great joke for the Daily Show.

Online, there were many responses to this subject. A friend of mine mentioned that out of state, Detroit’s reputation is tied to Michigan. What others perceive about Detroit reflects on the whole state. Some believe this is leading to the formation of a  “Greater Ann Arbor” that can instead attract talented people and retain a positive image.

At the event, we discussed the “pendulum swing problem” – always focusing on extreme good, or extreme bad. We talked about what we can do to change perceptions: tell the right stories.

But a good brand lives what it represents.  For Detroit, there are problems, there is a good and a gritty side. Both need to be addressed.  I guess we can all continue to tell own our local stories about Michigan. We can make sure to follow the right meda who activate good local stories (Model D,  and Hell Yeah Detroit). What else can be done to re-brand Detroit?

Photo via Shawn Lee Photography.

About the Author

Amanda Lewan

Amanda Lewan

Editor @michipreneur. Co-founder Bamboo Detroit. Follow me @Amanda_Jenn. I love telling the story of entrepreneurs and innovators.