I attended the D Brand Summit this past Friday. The all day seminar was hosted by the Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), and gave those not familiar with the new tourism attraction strategy some insight into how the Detroit region is being marketed.
The particular age range the CVB hopes to attract is 21-34, a very unconventional age range, as far as marketing strategy goes. Their hope is to appeal to young professionals from across Michigan and the United States.
Their definition of "Detroit Region" includes areas as far south as Wyandotte, as far north as Auburn Hills, as east as Mount Clemens and as far west as Dearborn. The goal it to highlight all there is to do in Southeast Michigan when it comes to, what the CVB deems to be, the five core attraction categories: cars, culture, gaming, music and sports.
Many of the people attending the Summit were from a large cross section of industries. There were professionals representing banking, health care, technology, design, sports – you name it, they were there.
While most businesses and organizations may not be able to directly incorporate the marketing strategies outlined at the event, most people walked away with the tools to infuse their current marketing with "Detroit positive" messaging.
The key is to be proud of Detroit, making the City something businesses want to promote, rather than shy away from. One panelist, from an IT consulting firm with locations across the country, talked about one of her requirements for hiring. She said each member of her team, whether they were based in Michigan or not, must be proud their headquarters was located in Detroit. In fact, everyone being considered by the company has to come to Detroit for their interview. It’s a small step, but a great way to start showing people everything the region has to offer…and be proud of.
I think the attendees were energized by this new strategy, but those sitting at my table started to discuss our thoughts. I was seated with a two people I work with, both graphic designers, as well as a woman from a printing company, two people from a production house and a few people from the banking industry. All of us lived in the suburbs, but were currently working downtown or had worked in Detroit in the past. While we all thought the new Detroit branding strategy had promise, we all mentioned the best way to attract "outsiders" to the City is to positively promote Detroit when we talk about it. This, of course, brought up a discussion of some of the challenges Detroit is currently facing.
For example, Detroit has no mode of public transportation. Ok, we do have buses but it’s not any quicker, safer or easier than driving to work. We don’t have designated bus lanes, and any hold up a bus encounters (red lights, snow, etc.) we would have to face in our cars anyway. It’s just not a reliable and convenient form of transportation.
I suppose we also have the People Mover, which is a sorry excuse for “public transportation” if you ask me. It goes in one direction, some of the stops are just blocks away from one another (i.e. Bricktown and Greektown), or the stops are just a bit too far away from the attractions they were meant to serve. The People Mover is only convenient if you’re going to lunch in the middle of the workday, or parking and riding it to an event. Very few citizens can use the People Mover as their main form of transportation.
If Detroit wants to attract the young professional crowd, we need some form of public transportation. We’re talking about a generation with exposure to the conveniences of the subways of New York and the transportation systems of Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. If I could hop a train from Ferndale to downtown, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Not only would I save money on gas, I’d also be helping the environment. It would be wonderful to catch the subway to go to a bar in Hamtramck or Detroit and not have to worry about finding someone to drive, or worse…trying to drive home after drinking. So in effect, a public transportation system would help save lives.
The group at my table also discussed the issue of safety. Not only the perception of Detroit’s safety, but how safe the City actually is.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been mugged twice, at gunpoint, while downtown. No, I wasn’t walking around wasted in the middle of the night, nor was I walking in an area that I shouldn’t have been. The first time I was visiting a friend who lived on Prentis. The second time I was going to a bar near Atwater. Both times I was with other people (which included at least one male) and both times more than one person mugged me. And the most annoying part of it all, both times the police were little to no help. In each instance we were treated like the stereotypical "suburban white kids" who weren’t aware of their surroundings or were doing something stupid downtown – which was not the case.
The City isn’t just perceived to be a danger for suburbanites, but can be unsafe for its residents as well. I once had a friend who lived in a house at 4th and Willis. She had her house broken into and her car stolen in the same week. Countless other friends have had their cars broken into (or stolen) and others have had their apartments broken into or windows shattered by stray bullets.
It’s unfortunate that if you live downtown, having your property stolen or broken into comes with the territory. Why should anyone, no matter where they live, expect to have those things happen? Your home is a place where you’re supposed to feel safe, not a place where you have to hide everything before you leave just in case someone breaks in. When you go downtown to eat or see a show, you shouldn’t have to worry that if you park too far off Woodward your car’s going to be broken into.
Between my personal experiences, and those of my friends, I vowed not to become fearful of the City. Yes, for the first few weeks after each incident I was probably hyperaware of what was going on around me, but I got over it. And now when I recount my stories, I do so to remind my friends they shouldn’t take their luck of having nothing happen to them while downtown for granted.
Now, I know I’m just as likely to be mugged in Troy, Royal Oak or even Ferndale, but Detroit is a struggling city. Many people are homeless or jobless and will resort to any means necessary to survive.
After I shared a few of my stories with the people at the D Brand Summit, I made a point to mention that I still talk positively about the City. Sure it would have been easy for me to never want to come downtown, or to talk trash about how unsafe and scary Detroit is, but even with its problems, Detroit has a lot to offer.