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Branding Champions

Brantford has a rich and storied history, and a bold and dynamic future; I say this without equivocation or hesitation.

I say it proudly, I say it loud and I say it often.

As Council, and citizens of our community -- our hometown -- we have the responsibility to ensure that we are honouring our past while we are building for our future.  We live in the 21st century, a time of metamorphic change and upheaval.  Things move faster, stresses are many and varied, we know as much about the lives of people 3,000 kilometers away as we do about our neighbour across the road. 

There is no reason to lament this change, nor to fear it, instead, we must embrace the change and turn it to our advantage as a community.

What we need is a far-sighted vision and an aggressive action-plan on how to position our community to meet the changing world head-on, and to make full use of the remarkable resources within our community. 

Over the course of 2011, I held a series of Mayor's breakfasts (sponsored by the OLG, and not from tax-payers dollars), and invited an eclectic group of community champions to come together and discuss where we are, what we have and how we should be using it all.  We had upward of 65 people at these meetings, including 7 of 10 City Councillors, and they all rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

The original concept of the meetings had been to identify and draw in a new group of community champions; those individuals in our community that have regular contact with people inside and outside of Brantford, and who derive a sense of pride from being able to sell their hometown. 

Community champions have become few and far-between in recent years, really the result of the change that I mentioned earlier.  We have seen a drastic decline in the number of community volunteers, there are fewer and fewer companies that view community giving as part of employment agreements, and there has been a shift in the idea of "corporate responsibility." 

We won't change this thinking, because it is a result of the pressures of competing in the global marketplace, so adapting and creating new opportunities for people to be involved is our desired outcome.  

As the the Mayor's Breakfast of Champions evolved, the participants started to move the discussions toward how to brand and market Brantford.  In the last meeting we allowed the evolution to proceed, and I presented a view of the plethora of brands and marketing campaigns that Brantford presents to the world.  More than 30 different brands and messages are communicated on behalf of our community, with little tie between any of them.  In some cases we don't even use "Brantford" -- explain that one.

When I was growing up I was really affected by the "Let's Speak Up" campaign that encouraged the people of Brantford to speak proudly of our community.  The song, is available on-line, and if you type it into a search engine you will see a broad discussion.  There was also the 1977 Centennial campaign which also had an impact on many of my generation. 

What strikes me about this, if these songs and the campaign had such an impact, why can't we undertake the same type of initiative today and help to focus people's energy and good-will.  I don't want to pretend that this type of campaign will solve our community's ills, or  become the panacea for economic prosperity.  This can be a tool, a simple yet powerful tool, to help improve our own sense of self-esteem as a community.

I have presented to Council a resolution to begin the process of analyzing and developing a community-based branding and marketing initiative.  I do not propose all of the answers, because I really believe we should use this as a community-building exercise. 

Part of the campaign is to establish Community Champions who are both advocates and sales-people for Brantford, and to establish a structure where we incorporate a community approach to longer term visioning.  Champions will come and go, philosophies will change, but because we will develop a flexible and adaptive approach, we will not be pushed around by change, we will lead change.

This is not for the term of any one Council, it is a Brantford based initiative that could, and should, have a life of its own.  If any Council wishes to lock itself in self-absorbed navel-gazing, the community champions can function outside of procedural wrangling and maintain an image of positivity and forward progress.

The best, and most effective champions for our community is the community as a whole.  Each and every citizen -- every woman, man and child -- will sell our community, first internally, then in all their interactions with the big bright beautiful world around us.

Be a Booster!