sept 2015

Branding Albuquerque Through Stories

 

Everybody living in Albuquerque knows we need to do a better job of telling the world what makes our city special rather than frantically trying to create an image in anticipation of what we hope others might like. We’re all familiar with the negative perceptions out there and most of us are guilty of adding fuel to the fire on occasion, but there seems to be some buzz and awareness lately in how we would benefit from branding Albuquerque in a real and meaningful way. The fact is we live in a wonderfully idiosyncratic place which, let’s face it, is not for everyone so we shouldn’t put lipstick where it doesn’t belong trying to appeal to everyone. What a focused branding initiative can provide is a solid foundation to put realistic expectations in place for companies looking to relocate and tourists thinking about visiting. Or, even better, giving the companies and tourists who never think of Albuquerque a reason to consider us.

 

A professional branding firm will be instrumental in making this happen but a branding firm alone cannot achieve the results we need, even with volumes of research and data collection to back them up. We need you! 

 

In order to legitimately express Albuquerque's true self we need to collect the tales and stories that make our city the rich tapestry it is. Stories from people whose roots were established before European settlement. Stories from people whose families built this city and who’ve lived here for generations. Stories from people who chose Albuquerque to build their new life. And stories from people who were chosen by Albuquerque to discover their sense of purpose; yes, Albuquerque does this on a regular basis. And from those stories we would expose and extract the essential elements.

  

From a branding perspective, the most important elements in each of these, as yet untold, stories are the emotional connections to Albuquerque. The “why” and “how” of we.

 

For instance, there is no doubt that Albuquerque chose me. I was just riding my bike in Utah when it happened. I'll throw my story in the pot first to illustrate the meaning of this article. In the summer of 1994, a few months after Kurt Cobain’s final birthday, my then girlfriend – now wife – and I decided to sell everything that couldn’t fit into our ten year old Nissan Stanza and hit the road in search of new adventures and a new life. The one rule we set firmly in place to find our new home was that we would not choose it based on career prospects alone. The next city, town, or village listed on our phone bill would have to, first and foremost, “feel” right. We were looking for inspiration, we were looking for a place with soul, we were looking for a place that would draw us close and not let go. This rule, we hoped, would open up new possibilities and prevent us from defaulting into the same career paths we’d been shuffling through back East.

 

 

 

 

Branding Albuquerque. Stories. Ripe Inc. Map  from 1992 Rand McNally World Atlas
Len Romano is Nissan Stanza, moving across country. Appalachian Mountains, Summer 1994
Len riding a Specialized Stumpjumper on the Slickrock Trail, Moab UT, 1994

So, car stuffed with everything we owned, mountain bikes on the roof, limited funds in the bank, and a huge road map on the passenger side, we made a clean break. We drove slowly and lingered longer in the places that had good vibes, cheap motels, and good trails. We met tons of interesting people in the cities, campgrounds, and boonies where we laid our heads. During those months on the road we partied hard at night and mountain biked even harder during the day. Our bikes picked up trail dirt in every state we crossed. 

 

A couple of months in we had an unforgettable life experience. We'd finally made it to the mountain bike mecca of Moab, UT, which lays claim to one of the most famous mountain bike trails on the planet, the Slickrock Trail. Just looking at Slickrock gives you a creeping sense of “bail, or you’ll die”; it has incredibly steep climbs and descents over tacky, smooth rock, which can be unforgiving. 

 

We arrived at the trailhead in the early morning and chanced upon a group of four young guys who had ridden the trail the day before. They were back for more, which was encouraging. After they heard about our journey across the states, one of the guys, Scott, recommended we visit his part of the country, and to seal the deal he offered us a free bike tune-up if we made it there, “I’m the mechanic at Two Wheel Drive in Albuquerque. Ask any bike rider in town, they’ll tell you where we are”. I had a good feeling about these guys; their warmth, humor and generosity planted the Albuquerque seed for us that grew into something remarkable.

 

Before we left for the main trail Scott gave us a snippet of wisdom that helped us complete the challenging ten-mile ride, leaving only a minimum of skin and blood behind. He said, “some of the climbs are so steep they look impossible, but keep pedaling. Don’t think, just pedal”. A few minutes later, faced with incredibly steep climbs, his words were ringing in my ears. My heart overruled my brain, and I continued to pedal even though brain was saying, “bail, or you’ll die”. Time after time I made it to the top. As long as I found the nerve and strength to pedal another uphill stroke, my back wheel kept complete traction. It was the most liberating and freeing experience I’d ever had on two wheels; I was defying gravity and suddenly feeling the gift of “anything is possible”. Thanks, Scott! Without knowing it, Scott was one of the finest brand ambassadors a city could wish for.  

 

A couple of weeks later we rolled into town and found a cheap run-down motel on Central to call home for the week. Needless to say, Two Wheel Drive was one of our first stops, and after receiving the warmest of welcomes we got our bikes tuned up, but, more importantly, over the next few days we tuned in to this amazing city. Sure, people were friendly, and even more refreshing was the fact that nobody asked us the East Coast assessment standard, “So what do you do?” in the first 3 minutes of conversation, but Albuquerque doesn’t reveal its most precious elements right off the bat. Just like the Slickrock Trail, it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend, or see a way past the obstacles, and our obstacles are the kind that many neither understand nor forgive, but the rest of us know that if we put the effort in and push upwards and onwards with an open mind and heart, the rewards are plentiful. Albuquerque has soul and beats its own tempo in unusual time signatures that throw us off now and then but when we figure out how to get back in rhythm Albuquerque has an uncanny ability to make those of us it chose feel like we truly belong, and home is where the heart is. 

 

Collecting stories that provide a view into the emotional connection we have with Albuquerque will help us articulate the reality of its nucleus, without trying to put lipstick where it doesn’t belong. This is the foundation of branding – whether for a global corporation, a small business, or a city – the process is the same, only the scale differs. True branding functions from the inside-out, not superficially (outside-in) which is just an ad campaign and often mistaken for branding. The essential key to successfully developing Albuquerque as a brand is to truly express what we are and who we are so that we appeal to those attracted by our honesty. Once that particular audience (they are everywhere) is engaged and tempted to try us out Albuquerque is guaranteed to blow minds and exceed all expectations. The closest, I think, anyone’s come to expressing the soul of Albuquerque is (2012-2014) Poet Laureate, Hakim Bellamy in his brilliant tribute to what we TRULY be. We Are This City! 

So, car stuffed with everything we owned, mountain bikes on the roof, limited funds in the bank, and a huge road map on the passenger side, we made a clean break. We drove slowly and lingered longer in the places that had good vibes, cheap motels, and good trails. We met tons of interesting people in the cities, campgrounds, and boonies where we laid our heads, and during those months on the road we partied hard at night and mountain biked even harder during the day. Our bikes picked up trail dirt in every state we crossed.

 

A couple of months in we had an unforgettable life experience. We'd finally made it to the mountain bike mecca of Moab, UT, which lays claim to one of the most famous mountain bike trails on the planet, the Slickrock Trail. Just looking at Slickrock gives you a creeping sense of “bail, or you’ll die”; it has incredibly steep climbs and descents over tacky, smooth rock, which can be terrifying. 

 

We arrived at the trailhead in the early morning and chanced upon a group of four young guys who had ridden the trail the day before. They were back for more, which was encouraging. After they heard about our journey across the states, one of the guys, Scott, recommended we visit his part of the country, and to seal the deal he offered us a free bike tune-up if we made it there, “I’m the mechanic at Two Wheel Drive in Albuquerque. Ask any bike rider in town, they’ll tell you where we are”. I had a good feeling about these guys; their warmth, humor and generosity planted the Albuquerque seed for us that grew into something remarkable.

 

Before we left for the main trail Scott gave us a snippet of wisdom that helped us complete the challenging ten-mile ride, leaving only a minimum of skin and blood behind. He said, “some of the climbs are so steep they look impossible, but keep pedaling. Don’t think, just pedal”. A few minutes later, faced with incredibly steep climbs, his words were ringing in my ears. My heart overruled my brain, and I continued to pedal even though brain was saying, “bail, or you’ll die”. Time after time I made it to the top. As long as I found the nerve and strength to pedal another uphill stroke, my back wheel kept complete traction. It was the most liberating and freeing experience I’d ever had on two wheels; I was defying gravity and suddenly feeling the gift of “anything is possible”. Thanks, Scott, from Albuquerque! Without knowing it, Scott was one of the finest brand ambassadors a city could wish for.  

 

A couple of weeks later we rolled into town and found a cheap, run-down motel on Rt. 66 to call home for the week. Needless to say, Two Wheel Drive was one of our first stops, and after receiving the warmest of welcomes we got our bikes tuned up but more importantly, over the next few days, we tuned in to this amazing city. Sure, people were friendly, and even more refreshing was the fact that they didn't seem to ask the standard, “So what do you do?” in the first few minutes of conversation. Our interactions were more about connection than assessment. Even though our first impressions were strong, Albuquerque doesn’t reveal its most precious elements right off the bat. Just like the Slickrock Trail, it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend, or see a way past the obstacles, and our obstacles are the kind that many neither understand nor forgive, but the rest of us know that if we put the effort in and push upwards and onwards with an open mind and heart, the rewards are plentiful. Albuquerque hides buried treasures and keeps its own tempo in unusual time signatures that may throw us off now and then, but when we figure out how to get back in rhythm this city has an uncanny ability to make those of us it chose feel like we truly belong. Home is where the heart is, as they say.

 

Collecting stories that provide a view into the emotional connections we have with Albuquerque will help us articulate the reality of its nucleus, without trying to put lipstick where it doesn’t belong. This is foundation branding – whether for a global corporation, a small business, or a city – the process is the same, only the scale differs. True branding functions from the inside-out. The outside-in stuff like ad campaigns can be effective too but must come after the brand foundation is set. The essential key to successfully developing Albuquerque as a brand is to truly, not boastfully, bare our soul so that we appeal to those attracted by this honesty. Once that particular audience (and they are everywhere) is engaged and tempted, Albuquerque is guaranteed to blow minds and exceed expectations. The closest, I think, anyone to date has come to expressing the soul of Albuquerque is (2012-2014) Poet Laureate, Hakim Bellamy in his brilliant tribute to what we TRULY be. We Are This City! 

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