I had lunch with a marketing and advertising professional in Buffalo the other day. When I told him about my crazy idea to promote the greater Western New York region, he told me it was crazy. I expected that. What he told me next I didn’t expect. Yet, I can see why it happened.
A couple of decades or so ago, some members of the Buffalo-Niagara community decided to join forces to promote their two communities. They initial suggested to do so under the banner “Western New York” since the local media commonly used that term to describe the area of Erie and Niagara counties (and sometimes even Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties). The grand poobahs of marketing gathered together and rejected the notion. “Everyone knows Buffalo and everyone knows Niagara Falls, so why spend the time and money to rebrand ourselves?” or so I’m told they said. From this groupthink emerged the concept of “BuffaloNiagara.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It does accurate describe one of the four P’s of marketing – Place – and generate a brand name for another P – Product (the other two P’s being Price and Promotion). Unfortunately, business schools can sometimes overlook a fifth P – Position. Face it, folks, after nearly two generations of decline, the brand “Buffalo” – and to a lesser extent “Niagara” – already owned a position in the minds of the nation. And it wasn’t the kind of position a marketer could enjoy.
I know. I – no doubt like many others – experienced it personally. In my case I can quote the May 17, 1998 article “Roaming Near Home for Plays in a Region.” The story, in the most staid Business section of the most staid Sunday edition of the (at least then) most staid New York Times, devoted itself to something I had an intimate familiarity with – a mutual fund dedicated to investing primarily in the greater Western New York region. This is how the article began: “Here’s an idea for a fund: Find one of the most economically depressed areas in the country. Then invest most of the fund’s assets there.” After claiming “Buffalo is not Silicon Valley,” author Carole Gould suggested “some skepticism may be in order.” The article concluded with this single tongue-in-cheek statement: “Go Bills.”
Whoa! Dissed by the national paper of record. That’s what a poor position can do to you. And I didn’t even use the name “Buffalo” or “Niagara” in the name of the fund. Imagine, then, the mountain to climb for the “Buffalo-Niagara” promoters. In lieu of spending money to rebrand, they have had to spend money to reposition.
If one can believe MIT researchers, these repositioning efforts have failed most dramatically. In the article “America’s Ten Dead Cities: From Detroit To New Orleans,” (August 23, 2010, 247WallSt.com), the authors place Buffalo #1 on their list of the top ten. The story concludes “Buffalo was wounded irreparably by the de-industrialization of America.” Tell us something we don’t know.
Must Buffalo and the rest of Western New York wear this albatross forever? Certainly, our region has its share of hidden gems. Why not celebrate those? We’re in the process of collecting blog posts, internet articles and other web-based resources for display in a curated site devoted to all that is good from the Greater Western New York Region. If you’d like to add your blog or something you’ve seen, go to GreaterWesternNewYork.com and enter it. You can also subscribe for free and we’ll send you an e-mail when it’s officially launched. (You can also join the Greater Western New York Boosters group on LinkedIn for lively discussion about the region.)
Oh, about the idea from the NFL. In 1971, the “Boston” Patriots relocated to Foxborough. Although only 22 miles away, the team changed its name to the “New England” Patriots to enhance its regional marketing efforts. I remember laughing back then. The Patriots didn’t have a good team and we thought the name change might have had something to do with that. But it worked. The folks in Boston didn’t seem to mind. And the NFL preferred that name to the original choice of “Bay State” Patriots. Perhaps this NFL experience might provide the key to rebranding our community, or at least a way to start the rebranding process.
I’m not ready to suggest moving their stadium from Orchard Park to Batavia (as others have long suggested). But, with their training camp offering a strong presence in Rochester, it may be time to consider formally recognizing that Ralph Wilson and the marketers on One Bills Drive have successfully rebranded the team from the “Buffalo” Bills to the “Western New York” Bills. Better, why not change the name to the “Western New York” “Buffalo Bills?” This will allow us to change the team mascot from “Billy Buffalo” to “Buffalo Bill.” In doing so, we’ll send a signal to both the league and the nation we’re not just a fluffy stuffed animal to be toyed with, but a serious straight shooter that might know a thing or two about marketing, promotions and having a good ol’ time.
Why listen to me on this when you can listen to Forbes Magazine? In their article “The Top Tailgating Towns,” (Forbes.com August 27, 2010), Buffalo tops the list, suggesting it makes sense to start any regional rebranding effort with the high profile NFL franchise.
Of course, maybe I’m just reading in all the wrong places.