Just like Ronnie Miller going from “totally geek, to totally chic!” in the 80’s cult classic Can’t Buy Me Love, the city of Cleveland is undergoing a major rebrand.

Thanks to the #RNCinCLE this week, along with a perfect storm of recent events and positive buzz, the world is starting to see Cleveland in a whole new light.

So, how is our little underdog city doing the unthinkable and overcoming decades of national jokes and negative perceptions to become, dare we say, almost hot… or at least, pierogi warm?

And more importantly—what can any marketer learn from this regardless of your city, product, service, industry, or political affiliation?

Acknowledge the brutal truth (and sometimes the trolls)

What are people saying about your brand beyond the boardroom and office walls? What’s the social chatter? Be honest. Domino’s admitted publicly that people thought their pizza tasted like cardboard. So they changed it. Old Spice and Pabst Blue Ribbon knew they were thought of as dying “dad brands.” So they emotionally connected to millennials and hipsters in brilliant ways.

Cleveland was coined “the mistake on the lake” in the 60s due to catastrophically embarrassing water pollution issues. So we spent 50 years cleaning up our fresh water resources, including innovative initiatives like Burning River Fest.

Bottom line is, sometimes it’s better to seek criticism than praise. Denying or ignoring there’s a problem can only make things worse. (See Michelle’s, err, Melania’s speech this past week.)

Make sure your rebranding campaign is authentic and believable.

Today’s consumer uses a sophisticated technology to interpret advertising, social content, and yes, even convention speeches. It’s called a B.S. meter. And the surest way to set it off is by blabbering about yourself. The truth requires few words. And even fewer visuals.

So instead of being the brand that says, “We’re the city of champions!” how about something a little simpler and more understated like… “The Land.” (Ahhh, perfect—thanks, LeBron.)


Win something. Anything.

Whether it’s breaking a 52-year sports curse or becoming the next Iron Chef, North America’s Best Transportation System, Top 10 Craft Brewery in the Country, Fast Casual Brand of the Year, U.S. News Top 20 Cancer Hospitals, Ad Age Small Agency of the Year, or J.D. Power’s highest ranked retail bank. The world loves winners. Especially ones who prefer not to wear shirts.

Accentuate the positive and eliminate #TheJersey.

What makes your brand special? What makes it unique? Cleveland is great at food (just ask cousin Monica), along with craft beer, healthcare, art, orchestras, sunsets, Price is Right, affordable housing, parades, starting pitching, CLE t-shirts, and self-effacing humor.

We admit, we’re not that great at starting quarterbacks. But it’s a new day here. And we’re more than just drinking the new C-town Kool-Aid. We’re helping make it. Which might explain why we retired the most infamous jersey in town, and killed the monster we created. So long bad juju.

Good luck with your rebranding efforts, everybody.

-Your always sunny friends in #NewCleveland

The truth requires few words. And even fewer visuals.

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