Telling Dearborn’s story through branding

After a period of economic instability after the financial crisis of 2007-2008, city leaders in Dearborn were ready to shake off the dust and get to work on putting the city back together.

They asked themselves: “How can we change our image to the public?”

With support from Ford Land, Fairlane Town Center, and the City of Dearborn, Downtown Dearborn has begun funding a plan to market Dearborn to the rest of the Metro Detroit area and beyond.

Mary Laundroche, director of the city’s Department of Public Information, believes a solid brand will help the city recruit home buyers, commercial investors, employees, and visitors.

“The branding initiative will give Dearborn a chance to take control of our own story, and it is a wonderful one to tell,” says Laundroche. “Everyone will benefit from our ability to powerfully convey the positive attributes of our community.”

Downtown Dearborn Director Cristina Sheppard-Decius notes that when people think of the word “branding,” they think of logos.

“It’s not,” she says. “Branding is really defining the character of the community, through written and spoken word, and visuals, and yes logos and graphics, but messaging and narratives that are really telling the story of the community and the fun things to do as well.”

The community-wide initiative will include a brand that both businesses and city leaders can use in their own branding, with documents and tools that will be utilized to spread the same message and be recognizable to all.

“The initiative then is to bring this collaboration together,” says Sheppard-Decius. “One voice, one Dearborn, one downtown, and knowing that our east and west are still going to be very different and offer different things and different flavors.”

Getting the conversation started with events

Recent events held in Dearborn are the result of all sides pooling their marketing efforts, such as Movie Nights, Restaurant Week, Ladies Night, and many others.

“I’m really excited about all the redevelopment going on, and I’m interested to see where it goes,” says Dearborn Brewing co-owner John Rucinski. “I love seeing more and different events being tried. I guess if it was up to me, I’d like to see a continued push to support local live music from local businesses. Being in the shadow of Motown there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to pull it off.”

Rucinski, along with his wife Sheila, opened Dearborn Brewing in 2015. He says they are looking forward to Wagner Place, the 60 million dollar-plus investment by Ford Motor Company to redevelop two blocks in west downtown Dearborn.

John Rucinski, Dearborn Brewing. Photo by David Lewinski.

Rucinski was very pleased at how helpful the city was when the brewery was first getting started and was excited to see the community welcome them.

“Especially when it became apparent we were something new and different and we were engaged and trying to help support the community,” he says. “And that’s always been important to us. Dearborn isn’t just where the brewery is; it’s home.”


Getting the public involved


Christal Medel is one of the citizen participants interested in helping inform the city’s branding strategy. She moved to Dearborn 12 years ago from Florida to be closer to her husband’s family, who grew up in Dearborn.

“I knew nothing of Dearborn,” she says. “I love the diversity here.”

Christal Medel. Photo by David Lewinski.Medel mentions that although Dearborn is a great place to live, she perceived media reports from around the country try to skew Dearborn in a negative light.

“Various news outlets like to point out that we have the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the country,” says Medel. “Which is really a huge boon to our community. It’s a rich, cultural experience that people otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to.”


She says that expanding that outreach of the cultural richness of Dearborn is key going forward, despite those that have skewed opinions of the city, or those outsiders who try to proclaim that Dearborn is under ‘sharia law.’


“It’s cool to see the truth,” says Medel. “I’m invested in the community,” says Medel. “And I am invested in the success of our community.”

A kickoff event is scheduled for Nov. 1 where city partners will ask for help from the public. Anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Dearborn is also invited to visit, where they can participate in a survey starting Nov. 1 until Nov. 25, and can stay updated on the Dearborn branding initiative.

Results of the survey are expected to help the branding team develop the messages and ideas that will “foster positive perceptions about Dearborn and benefit everyone is a part of the Dearborn community in many ways,” according to a statement on Dearborn’s website.

“I think it’s incredibly important to send out a unified message describing the city, the trick is trying to include as much as possible without making the message so broad it’s basically generic and meaningless,” says Rucinski. “I’m hoping for something that emphasizes the development occurring and stressing the things to do and see in the city.”

Sheppard-Decius looks forward to building community spirit through branding.

“This will bring a lot of pride to your community,” says Sheppard-Decius. “To where we say ‘Yeah, that’s us! All the great things we love about us. We know that we are growing and changing and we need to transform and we want our brand to look to the future and where we are going as well.’”


Read more articles by Elizabeth Clark.

Elizabeth Clark is a Dearborn-based freelance writer.
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