Patty Kinney

I am a Detroiter. Admittedly, I have been away from Detroit far longer than I have lived in Detroit; but the city is in my blood.  Like my struggling hometown, its culture, diversity and painful past are forever a part of my identity.  It’s nothing I can, or wish, to change.  An identity can’t be wiped clean or ignored.  But it can be strengthened.

Amidst all the sensational media, the turmoil and the hand wringing, some are asking if there is any equity left in the Detroit brand.  For years we’ve been reading about the demise of the city that gave birth to the American automotive industry, armed the country throughout WWII and gave us the Motown sound.  This same city also claims the 2nd highest crime rate of 2013, an $18 billion debt and a 40% poverty rate.

One can argue at length about why Detroit is where it is today. But, it doesn’t change the last sixty years of ignoring problems.  What Detroit can do is look to its strengths, the most powerful being its brand.  Last year’s 2012 Major League Baseball World Series featured a spot called Opportunity Detroit, narrated by native son, Kid Rock. It took Detroit’s gritty, tough reputation and turned it into opportunity.  “It’s as much about grit as it is intellect. An explosive high-tech corridor located at the intersection of muscle and brains? You bet. Because opportunity only comes to those already in the game. What does opportunity look like? It looks like Detroit.”

Damn right it looks like Detroit! The brand equity has never been stronger.  Americans love a challenge and rooting for the underdog.  Today, opportunities abound in Detroit for innovative and creative, young people eager to make a difference. Young entrepreneurs and big investors alike are bringing new life to the urban center. We see it documented in commercials like Google’s new Maps app that showcases Detroit’s hipster side.  According to Google, Detroit provided the perfect backdrop, with its bustling startup atmosphere and emerging art scene, to tap into an edgier audience

Detroit now has an opportunity to create a new message, not by ignoring its past, but by building on it. So, what must Detroit do to keep the wheels turning?

  • Be transparent. Sixty years of mistrust is a long, long time.
  • Be honest about the obstacles ahead.
  • Be authentic.  Celebrate who you are and don’t apologize for who you are not.

Detroit is hot right now, in a good way. And that’s cool.

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