Check out this brand: ‘Minneapolis Saint Paul — More to life’

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, as it turns out. We live in a world of brand names and brand identities. “Harvard” means far more than the obvious, as does “Wal-Mart” and “Fox News” and “Northwest Airlines.” (Or is it Delta?)

Yet we who occupy this cosmic coordinate — 44.97 north, 93.27 west, or thereabouts — don’t quite know what to call our hometown. We lack a strong brand. If we’re from Hopkins and we’re traveling and someone asks where we’re from, there’s an awkward pause. Do we say Hopkins, Minnesota, and then launch into an explanation? Do we say Minneapolis? The Twin Cities? The Seven-County Mosquito Control District? Or do we get vague and just say Minnesota? Our answers tend to vary. But if we aren’t quite sure what to call this place, then how can others be sure? And that raises the ultimate existential marketing question: Are we really here?

Apparently we are. Two mayors and three influential public relations executives held a press conference Tuesday to affirm our existence and to announce that there’s “more to life in Minneapolis Saint Paul.”

Removing the hyphen suggests a singular place and a stronger brand. “More to life” is meant to promote our greatest asset: you can do more quality things here with less hassle than anywhere else. As Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said, “You can live a sophisticated life in New York and enjoy a great outdoors experience in Bend, Ore., but you can do both in Minneapolis Saint Paul.”

It’s easy to lampoon a boosterish marketing campaign, but this one is deadly serious. The global economy is busy sorting metropolitan economies into winners and losers. Our area has pretty much drained the surrounding states of young talent over the years and now, in order to keep up with more aggressive competitors, we must stretch our recruiting arms far wider. That’s why name and image matter.

Folksy image
For years it has been apparent that this market has two problems: an identity crisis and a negative national image. A survey launched three years ago by the Minneapolis convention bureau found us absent from most peoples’ geographic consciousness. People knew about Seattle and Denver and Austin. But we got lost in the crease of the map. Those who do know our name — whatever it is — have a bad opinion of us: cold, primitive and boring. Some of that is true, but most of it isn’t. People have no notion that we’re relatively upscale, that we have a strong corporate base and that we offer an enviable cultural landscape.

The survey results came as a shock to many civic leaders still breathing the vapors of the 1970s, a time when the region was routinely venerated. But a younger generation knows only the DVD “Fargo” and the folksy tales they overhear from Garrison Keillor, often taken as an accurate depiction of life today. Outsiders take literally our habit of making fun of ourselves, said Kathy Tunheim, CEO of the public relations firm Tunheim Partners. But our self-deprecation tends to backfire, she said.

Clarifying our identity is harder than it sounds. Rybak had no trouble Tuesday describing this market in a singular way. “It’s time to bury the term ‘Twin Cities,” he said, explaining that there are a lot of those, like Buda and Pest, and Omaha and Council Bluffs. “There’s only one Minneapolis Saint Paul.”

Those words came harder from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who admitted “a little trepidation on the St. Paul side” because his city wants so badly to cling to its special identity. Still, he made the point that the two cities, indeed the whole metro area, must think of itself — and market itself — as one.

The foggy notion of who we are came up again last summer with the bridge disaster. Some reports had the bridge falling in Minneapolis. Others had it falling between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Those who weren’t sure retreated to saying that it fell in Minnesota. Indeed, “Minnesota” seems increasingly the default preference for naming our metro area. An NFL player said on TV recently that “Minnesota is one of my favorite cities.” I can’t recall the player, but I don’t think he was talking about Duluth or Pipestone.

Convention confusion
There’s similar confusion over the Republican Convention. Formal sessions will be in St. Paul, although some events will be in Minneapolis and a lot of delegates will stay in Bloomington. Already you’re hearing about the Republicans gathering in Minnesota. But the Democrats aren’t gathering in Colorado; they’re in Denver, the mile-high city.

That’s the strong brand we lack. Everyone knows that San Francisco is the city by the bay and the place you left your heart. People know Chicago is that tottlin’ town, and that New York is the city that never sleeps — although you can also go sleepless in Seattle. People associate Austin (Texas), Nashville and New Orleans with music, and Memphis, Kansas City and St. Louis with barbecued ribs. There’s brotherly love in Philadelphia, charm in Baltimore, roses in Portland, rock ‘n’ roll in Cleveland and a hub in Boston, directing you perhaps to the baked beans.

Suburbanites in most of those places identify with their central city, not their state. Ask someone from Smyrna, Ga., or Bellevue, Wash., where they’re from, and you’ll likely hear Atlanta or Seattle, not Georgia or Washington state. One object of the marketing campaign here is to condition those of us from Orono to Woodbury, from Lakeville to Coon Rapids to answer that we’re from Minneapolis Saint Paul.

That’s a lot to ask, and the notion will be roundly ridiculed. But it’s not an unimportant matter for a market trying to scratch out an identity and build a high-wage economy. On a recent trip, the gate agent announced that my flight to “Minnianapolis” was in the final boarding process. Duly corrected, she replied, “Whatever.”

What do you think about the “More to life” brand? Make a comment below.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 01/23/2008 - 08:27 pm.

    I have long noticed that when we’re traveling and meet new people, my husband says we’re from “Minnesota.” I’ve taken to challenging him on this: “Why do you say we’re from Minnesota? Why not say we’re from Minneapolis? Other people identify what
    city they’re from, not what state!” He doesn’t really have an answer to this, but your article suggests that he’s not the only one with this habit.

    I think the root causes are many and varied, and as someone “not from here” (having lived in Minnesota a mere 31 3/4 years), perhaps I’m not qualified to opine. But I think it’s partly that Minnesotans identify themselves more closely with their state than most Americans do. (There are others; Texas comes to mind).
    I’m from Pennsylvania, but I can’t conceive of a book and hit musical called “How to Talk Pennsylvanian.” There is no commonly-accepted constellation of traits, tics, and quirks that define Pennsylvanians–or the residents of most other states. Not so Minnesota! Even though a lot of it is myth rather than reality, we all recognize the taciturn, self-deprecating, “Yah, you betcha” consumer of bland white food that popular folkore calls the “typical Minnesotan.”

    I also think that the Twin Cities is (are?) deeply ambivalent about selling itself (themselves?) to the outside world. There’s a strong strain of isolationism here—remember the old line about the cold weather “keeping the riffraff out?” We are both
    anxious to declare our superiority to other metro areas (particularly New York and similar “sophisticated” places)and panting for recognition and attention from those places. Witness the near-hysterical media reaction to the Minnesota angle in the recent Academy Award nominations. Heard enough about Diablo Cody and the Coen brothers to last you awhile? I know I have.

    Finally, I think we have a paradoxical tendency to both sell ourselves short and exaggerate our wonderfulness. Yes, on the one hand we consider it bad form to “brag” and therefore tend to play into some of the negative stereotypes about the Twin Cities. At the other extreme, I’ve heard Twin Cities residents talk to those from elsewhere as if we’re an oasis in the desert, the ONLY place to raise a family, with the BEST quality of life, the CLEANEST government, most EXTENSIVE park system, and on and on. This attitude can come off as arrogant, provincial, defensive, and even as “protesting too much.” Neither extreme is helpful.

    So I wish the mayors luck with the rebranding campaign. I find the psychology of my adopted home endlessly fascinating, and I will be watching with great interest.

  2. Submitted by Justin Templin on 01/23/2008 - 01:40 pm.

    I think branding is a necessary step, though I think “Minneapolis Saint Paul” is a bit of a mouthful. We have a more difficult task here because we have two separate major cities (some would argue we have three, including Bloomington in the mix) surrounded by suburbs rather than a single entity (i.e. like Seattle, Denver, or Atlanta) ringed by suburbs. I always liked “Twin Cities.” I don’t think one has to worry about anybody confusing us with Budapest and, I may be ignorant, but I’ve never heard anybody use the moniker for another major metro area in America. Omaha and Council Bluffs, if it is used there, simply doesn’t qualify as major.

    Also, athletes can be forgiven for failing to draw the distinction between our and our state when we have some of the only professional teams named after a state rather than the City in which they play. There are a few others (e.g. Florida Marlins, Arizona Cardinals), but they are certainly the exception not the rule.

  3. Submitted by Matty Lang on 01/23/2008 - 02:01 pm.

    Steve, excellent work as usual. I agree that we have an identity crisis in our region and that we’ll be best served by thinking of ourselves (as well as presenting ourselves) as a top notch metropolitan region, rather than separated sub communities clinging to (and fighting over) parochial short-sighted interests.

    As you well know, however, this marketing campaign will not bear results if we don’t invest in the amenities that make us a top notch metro area (education, the arts, health care, etc.) along with the amenities that will allow us to stay a top notch metro area, namely a comprehensive multi-modal transportation system along with more sustainable land use patterns. Hopefully, our state legislature will be able to overcome the last hurdle to this essential piece–the Governor who has his political career as top priority.

    I’m a young professional who has lived in Paris, France and who has spent significant time in New York City, Chicago, Portland, and Seattle to name just a few of Minneapolis St. Paul’s competitors for young talent that I’m very familiar with. I was indeed tempted to stay at each location as these communities are far ahead of Minneapolis St. Paul when it comes to basic quality of live investments like a comprehensive public transit system. Alas, I returned home each time in order to help Minneapolis St. Paul do what it should have started doing in the 70’s when I was just a wee one–rebuild itself for the post oil-dominated world.

  4. Submitted by Rod Haenke on 01/25/2008 - 10:29 pm.

    There are only two brands that will work:
    1. Minneapolis
    2. Twin Cities

    The sports teams have done the area a disfavor by calling themselves the Minnesota _______.

    People would better comprehend the area if our teams were called:

    Minneapolis Twins, Viking, Timberwolves
    or
    Twin City Twins, Twin City Vikings, Twin City Timberwolves

    Minnesota Wild is probably ok as is as hockey is a minor sport and doesn’t impact PR nationally that much.

  5. Submitted by Susan Lesch on 02/04/2008 - 07:36 pm.

    You asked–you got me started. “More to life” could be any product in a grocery store, from beer to mayonnaise. Dropping a hyphen is only the beginning of the problems here. My suggestion is that those concerned talk to the US Census Bureau who names metro et al. areas instead of talking to the press. Use real names. I think marketing people have a different purview than to decide this name. I don’t think it is their job. And dummber yet if anybody in the media allows them to do it–either paid or as another so-called, and poorly targeted “volunteer” project. We don’t need another new name. Thank you, anyway.

  6. Submitted by Susan Lesch on 02/12/2008 - 12:03 pm.

    Whois says mspmoretolife.com was registered in September 2007. I believe the US census already connects urban areas reaching from “Minneapolis Saint Paul” to Wisconsin and St. Cloud and near Rochester (not yet Duluth). Perhaps the names of these areas were taken into account.

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