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The problem with marketing campaigns for cities

By CJ Maurer @cjmaurer:

I moved to Buffalo almost six years ago. I’m probably never leaving.

I’m also a jerk because I’m a marketing guy that kind of hates the marketing industry. Nothing like biting the hand that feeds you, right?

Buffalo has seen it’s fair share of marketing campaigns lately. They’ve drawn a lot of criticism, but I don’t want to go there. Actually, I think they’re pretty good. (Yes, even “Buffalo. For Real.”)

The campaigns themselves aren’t the problem. The problem lies less in the execution of a particular logo or campaign and more in the role we expect “marketing” to play.

What is marketing? Is it a brand? Is it YouTube videos? Is it TV ads? Is it any one of roughly 97 other things?


The industry needs to stop defining marketing by its component parts and instead define it for what it really is. Marketing is an attempt to influence people. That’s it. Anything that attempts to influences people can be considered marketing.

The ability to influence people is the most sought-after thing in the world. Even more so than money.

These campaigns? They’re just attempts to influence people to visit our website(s), to visit Buffalo and perhaps move here. And they do a better job of that than nothing at all. But once again, that’s not the problem.

The problem is that we’ve grown to believe that we’re resigned to these traditional marketing tactics to carry out the inherent purpose of marketing. That’s where we’re really selling ourselves short.

Traditional marketing tactics aim to tell a remarkable story. And they often do. But the best way to tell a remarkable story is to have a remarkable story.

Zappos doesn’t make you wait on the phone. They offer a joke of the day. They have all these awesome videos that give you a closer look at the product before you buy it. They could have just told you they provide great customer service but they don’t. In stead they show you. And because it truly is a remarkable (literally – able to remark about) story, we tell all our friends about it.

When Vera Pizzeria makes you a tricked-out cocktail you’ve never seen before, you tell someone about it. And ultimately you influence them to try it for themselves. That’s marketing! And guess what? It works a lot better than merely running a traditional marketing campaign.

Cities are no different. If we want people to think of Buffalo as __________, we could certainly create more marketing pieces. But we could also gain the support from local government and volunteer organizations to push for the integration of our ideas into the fabric of our city. Because when you actually deliver on those promises – and be more of the thing you’re telling people you are – they’ll see it for themselves. And the influence that generates is far more powerful than anything that can come out of a marketing agency or visitor’s bureau.

What if more shopping districts hung lights on their trees? What if the whole city had free Wi-Fi? What if every electrical box was painted? What if we became a city in which all business owners left a bowl of water out front for your dog to drink? I could go on for days. (See lead images for inspiration)

What’s the best way to “market” yourself as an honest person? Would it be to tell everyone you meet how honest you are? Or would you be better off only doing things that an honest person would do?

I’m not going to pretend that accomplishing any of that I speak of is easy.

But I’m also not going to pretend that simply creating better marketing campaigns (as we traditionally know them) ultimately does what we expect “marketing” to do for us. If we hire “marketing” people to influence more people about Buffalo, we should be demanding that they do more than come up with new ways to tell others how great it is here. They should realize the best marketing strategy is a good product and work to make Buffalo more remarkable. For example, what can we do to make Buffalo more “real”? That’s our best chance of attracting new people.

The downside to this approach is it isn’t easy. A twelve-step plan simply doesn’t exist. But the upside is that our resources to see this through are almost unlimited.

If we want more people to know Buffalo the way we know it, we need to stop just telling people about it and simply do more of it. We need to do less of the things that’ll make “them” believe we’re something else and more of the things that’ll make them know exactly who we are.

And why they should want to know us, too.


Lead photos (L-R): West side chicken coop | grain elevators – Chris Kameck | The Tabernacle – Prish Moran


Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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