A better brand for Lexington

Lexington's leaders are busy picking a new brand for our city.

Sorry, gang.  You don't get to decide.

Lexington_01_sm Last week, the Urban County Council's Planning Committee considered the city identity possibilities of the blue horse that Pentagram
(an international design firm) crafted for
the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau.  The committee forwarded the discussion on to the full Council. 

Unfortunately, the Blue Horse Debate is a waste of
time, talent, money, and attention.

representatives fail to realize that Lexington's brand is largely out
of their hands.  And it certainly isn't in Pentagram's hands.  Whether
they choose
to promote a blue horse or a spotted yak is irrelevant to Lexington's

Telling versus Earning
Marketers (and leaders) suffer from a kind of conceit.  The marketers' conceit is that they can tell us what their brand means.  They fail to realize that brands are reputations which are earned.

A brand isn't a
declaration.  It isn't an intention or a vision.  It isn't what leaders say it is, no matter how well it is designed and researched.  It isn't
a great ad campaign or a really slick logo or a lyrical tag-line.  It is certainly
not a marketing function.

Brands arise from all of our experiences with that product or that city,
not from what the leaders of any company or city want them to be (or say they are).

The best brands don't tell people they're great.  They earn greatness.

people believe that Lexington is a boring town, then (unfortunately) that is part of our
brand.  If people believe that we are a technology backwater, then that,
too, is part of our brand.

This is scary because our brand is
pre-set in peoples' minds, and it takes a lot of hard work to be good enough to dislodge entrenched perceptions.

It is scary because it isn't about saying we're better; it is about actually BEING better.  Really
better, not just in-our-marketing-plan 'better'.  Not just
approve-a-message/logo/strategy-in-a-meeting 'better', either.

We have to earn a reputation for better schools, better businesses, better technologies,
better leaders (and not just at LFUCG, either), better conversations, better people, and
better visions of the future.  And we can't buy that reputation from any design or branding firm.

To improve our brand, we have to truly transform Lexington.

So why do our representatives persist in their silly pursuit of the blue horse?

Over the years, I've frequently witnessed something
I call institutional inertia.  Institutional inertia happens
when individuals in an organization don't really feel
responsible for (or influential upon) the success of the organization.

In those cases, the easiest thing to do is just stay the course, even
if that course is doomed to failure…  When inertia raises its ugly head, it is often,
maddeningly, the powerful (those who think they have the most to lose)
which become the most hostile to change and most determined to stay the
destructive course.  Doing nothing is always easier than doing the
right thing, especially when doing the right thing is a lot of hard work.

paying someone to design an 'identity' is an easy-but-doomed course for
improving Lexington's brand.  There is no 'magic bullet' for crafting a
better brand for our city.

If we want a better brand for Lexington, then make sure our city is
an attractive, welcoming place for our visitors.  Ensure that our
people are knowledgeable, warm, and friendly.  Create rich,
distinctive, and memorable experiences for both our citizens and our
visitors.  Foster the growth of vibrant businesses and arts communities
that make Lexington a compelling place to work and play.

Then, perhaps, Lexington will earn the better brand we are seeking.

Update: 4/28 Cross-posted to both Ace Weekly and Transform Lexington.

Full disclosure: In a previous job, Rob severed his firm's relationship with Pentagram.

[where: 200 E Main St, Lexington, KY, 40507]

4 thoughts on “A better brand for Lexington

  • April 28, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Grabbed this thread via Twitter and have been enjoying the whole branding conversation. Unfortunately, you have made a great argument for why the blue horse is exactly the current best brand for Lexington (and let me say I am not a fan of the BH it is way too exclusive). By logic, the BH is what we have earned and what we are, today. Brands are created and are born out of VISION and EXECUTION of that vision. The place to start is creating a new vision for Lexington that includes everyone and then executing on that vision. IMHO.

  • April 28, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Jim is so dead wrong. “The blue horse is exactly the current BEST brand for Lexington”???
    Why exactly?
    Let me guess – “because that’s what people think of, when they think of Lexington.”
    Which is entirely backward.
    Are you not supposed to MANAGE YOUR BRAND, as opposed to having it MANAGED FOR YOU? A horse of ANY COLOR is nowhere near the BEST “brand” for Lexington – if it WAS, we would ALREADY be THE BEST CITY we could be. The horse “brand” has been around forever – and where has that gotten our Lexington, all this time?
    You don’t “create a brand” because that’s what people think of you ALREADY – that’s flat out stupid. You “create a brand” to COMPEL people to think of you the way YOU want them to.
    Helllloooo??? It’s called Brand MANAGEMENT – WE determine it, NOT anyone else.
    And per Rob’s writing – he is dead right. We The People determine who we are, not anyone else.

  • April 28, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Quibble points w/ Jim and EPM:
    1) You aren’t as far apart as it might seem. You both don’t like the blue horse. Jim thinks the blue horse may be as much as we’ve earned. Not sure I agree, but I understand the sentiment – we haven’t done enough yet. EPM thinks we need to strive to earn more. I absolutely agree, but we haven’t earned more yet.
    2) Not sure if I disagree with either of you on this point, but I wanted to clarify my perspective in case there was misunderstanding: Brands aren’t something we can “decide”. They are the long-term outcomes of many decisions. But our city’s brand will reside in the perceptions of our residents and our visitors, not in what we hope / say / decide.
    3) Finally, our brand isn’t one unified thing. It is a messy composite of what people think of Lexington.
    Just my thoughts. But please, keep the friendly debate and discussion going. It is what we need more of in Lexington’s civic life.

  • May 3, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    LOL. I was merely using Rob’s logic to say the Blue Horse is an expected outcome when one drives forward using the rear view mirror. I don’t agree that you don’t choose your brand, and in fact, argue that branding is the result of actions (conscious or not) and starts with a clear vision. That vision becomes reality (and brand) when it is linked to strategies and tactics that move the current state towards the vision.
    Rob, you are bang on, constructive discussions are the only way to move forward, to the point of engaging “Old Lex” to create the New Lex. Snarky swipes at old institutions is not only counter productive but way too easy and not worthy of the talents of New Lex. I look forward to meeting you some day and sitting down to discuss this and other topics. Your blog is engaging and thoughtful. Thanks!
    Start with the end in mind….to quote a great thinker.


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