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A Future Built On Our Past

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Around this time seven years ago, the idea of The Brandery was just starting to come to life. We didn’t have a building to call home. We didn’t have any funding. We didn’t have any employees. But we had our pitch deck and we were just crazy enough to think we could make this thing happen.

In other words, we were just like the startups that we one day hoped to help.

Seven years later, 66 startups have graduated from The Brandery, raised over $130 million in funding, and we have been consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the country. And in that time, the landscape of entrepreneurship and accelerator programs has changed. And it is time for us to change with it.

Many people do not realize it, but the underlying legal structure of The Brandery is based upon a 501©3, the mission of which is to support entrepreneurship in Cincinnati and the Midwest. Since day one, everyone involved in The Brandery has been involved because of that mission. The equity that we receive from startups in exchange for their participation in The Brandery does not go to investors. Instead, it sits in an endowment that we hope to use in the support of entrepreneurs.

I write that because in 2010, the city that The Brandery calls home was a very different place for entrepreneurs. There was no #StartupCincy as a rallying cry for the region. Aspiring founders didn’t have role models like EBTH, Dotloop, Assurex, or Modulus to show them the way. Cintrifuse did not exist and Union Hall was not the home of our hustle. As such, we viewed The Brandery as the opportunity to be an injection of talent into our ecosystem. It could be a reason for local entrepreneurs like Chris Bergman of FamilyTech to jump into the tech startup world. It could be a reason for entrepreneurs like Jim Fisher of Roadtrippers to move to Cincinnati sight unseen. We wanted it to be a reason to believe that Cincinnati and the Midwest could be a destination for startups – and the Venture Capitalists that invest in them.

We are a long way from ringing the bell and declaring success in that mission. But we have made amazing strides. As we move into 2017, The Brandery is refining the focus of the accelerator program in order to do our part in better helping entrepreneurs. As our announcement stated in early March, we are focusing the 2017 class (and beyond) on digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs) and the retail/marketing tech companies that give these brands a new way to reach consumers.

In many ways, our future is about us doubling down on our past. We are called The Brandery because we believed (and still do) that the skills of building a brand could be as valuable for tech startups as they could be for large consumer packaged goods. We also believed that we could uniquely involve mentors from the halls of large CPG companies who were leading their organization’s efforts in embracing digital marketing and marketing tech. Those two premises still hold true today and even more so as we sharpen our focus.

The other reason that I am excited about this sharpened focus is the impact it will have on the founders as they go through the program and become alumni. Every year, I am asked the question of what helps a company achieve success in The Brandery. And every year, my answer is the same: the companies that help others the most are the ones that succeed the most themselves. This continues after Demo Day where the founders who give the most back to the Brandery community are the ones who continue to shine. With this new focus, every startup in the class will be complementary in same way. They might be able to partner together with a consumer brand serving as a customer to a marketing tech startup. Or they will be able to share best practices on B2B customer acquisition or user retention for digitally native vertical brands.

We have come a long way in seven years, but I look forward to seeing how much further we go thanks to the startups that join The Brandery family in the years to come.

Dave Knox is the co-founder of The Brandery, Managing Director of WPP Ventures, and author of the newly released book Predicting The Turn: The High Stakes Game of Business Between Startups and Blue Chips .

Build Your Best Brand in Cincinnati

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Prior to announcing our sharpened focus for 2017, I spoke with several of our closest mentors, investors, and supporters to share the news with them and get their thoughts. Overwhelmingly, their responses sounded something like the following:

“It’s about time.”
“What took you so long?”
“This is a no-brainer.”

While there are various reasons this focus didn’t happen sooner, we’re all excited about the new direction. In the minds of most everyone in The Brandery network, our decision to recruit and invest in digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs) and the retail/marketing tech companies that support them was a long overdue one. However, a lot of folks outside our network may be wondering why this is; after all, what’s so special about a midwestern city like Cincinnati compared to similar business ecosystems on the west and east coasts?

Cincinnati is BrandHUB USA

More than anywhere else in the country, businesses here are equipped to build better brands. It started with Fortune 500 companies like Procter & Gamble, Kroger, and Macy’s establishing their headquarters in downtown Cincinnati. For a long time, these powerhouses developed incredibly strong internal organizations devoted to understanding their consumers, and thus built tremendous brand loyalty. Over time, these professionals went on to build independent agencies, consulting firms, and think-tanks dedicated to consumer marketing and branding. Today, Greater Cincinnati is home to more than 200 consumer product companies and upwards of 60,000 industry professionals, as well as several globally-renowned agencies. Nowhere else in the country can you find more consumer branding expertise per capita than right here in Cincinnati.

When The Brandery started in 2010, our goal was to leverage this unique and unfair advantage in developing the next great tech-enabled startups. Since 2010, we’ve paired each of our startups with an elite branding agency located here. These are agencies comprised of highly-talented professionals working with globally-recognized brands one day – then working with the young & hungry startups within our cohort the next.

It doesn’t stop with our agency partnerships; data science and analytics firms like Quotient (formerly Coupons.com), 84.51, The Nielsen Company, and others have all chosen to operate in Cincinnati because of the wealth of talent and customers they can find here. Many of our mentors work within these organizations, providing our startups with an intimate, insider’s knowledge of consumer understanding.

To be clear, branding is only one part of the equation. After all, what good is a solid brand and great customers if you can’t reach them? Being located in Cincinnati means easy access to 25 of the largest metro regions, over half of all US manufacturing establishments, and half of the US population. This is a major reason why Amazon is building their $1.5 billion Prime Air hub here, and why major logistics operations are locating here every month. This growth is perfect for small and up-and-coming retailers who may not be selling in brick-and-mortar yet and appreciate the ability to ship their products out quickly and efficiently.

If you’re a startup building the next great consumer brand or tech to support these brands, Cincinnati is the best place you can be. With more than 60,000 branding, marketing, and design experts within reach, The Brandery will help you accelerate your startup to success.

Procter & Gamble To Offer Up To Two Fellowships to Brandery Companies in 2015

As an expansion of P&G’s continued support of the Cincinnati startup ecosystem, two fellowships will be offered to Brandery companies in the 2015 accelerator cohort. As with our other fellowships, any startup that applies will be considered for the fellowship. Here are the benefits:

1. Direct access to P&G mentors & experts who will help the startup better prepare for solution driven engagements with potential large customers.

2. Active connections with P&G brand teams and executives to inform solution design and go-to-market strategy.

3. Pre-commitment to a paid in-market pilot with a P&G brand as part of The Brandery experience.

4. Opportunities to engage with global senior executives on business strategy.

Specifically for this fellowship, The Brandery and P&G are looking for startups that excel in one of three core areas: Connected Products and Platforms, Seamless Brand Building & Commerce, or Big Data & Analytics. You can read more about these three categories here.

“We’re thrilled about Procter & Gamble’s continued support of The Brandery and our startups. If you’re a startup looking to sell to marketers or work with CPG companies, there is not going to be a better opportunity to change the trajectory of your business.”

–Dave Knox, Co-founder, The Brandery

Procter & Gamble has been an active supporter of The Brandery, including hosting startup pitch events at P&G for brand tech companies, participating in Brand Fusion, helping lead workshops (like Growth Hack Day) and mentoring startups.

P&G’s fellowship offering is going to directly impact startups in our accelerator program, adding even more fuel to the fire for #StartupCincy.

The final deadline to apply to The Brandery is April 16. Apply now.

Guest Post: Why Brands Need To Pay Attention To Wearables

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[Editor’s Note: This post, by COO of 2014 Brandery graduate Strap, Patrick Henshaw, originally appeared on Strap’s blog on September 22, 2014.]

With over 10 million wearable devices sold in 2014 alone, should brands start paying more attention to the wearables space?

Based on a recent Forrester report, 25% of American adults plan on buying a wearable within the next year. If Forrester’s data holds true, that would be an estimated 79 million wearables sold within the next year. To put that in perspective, only 64 million smartphones were sold in 2006. This was a year shy of the first iPhone Apple produced and sold beginning June 29th, 2007. (For a cool side story take a look at Time’s interactive timeline of the iPhone.)

We all know that Apple changed the smartphone landscape from being something clunky and difficult to use into something that a 3-year-old can pick up— and find out how to watch Barney on. Will the same hold true for the wearable industry? Will Apple maintain their ability to lead thought and change in the wearable market as they have for years now in the mobile space?

Insiders report that Apple is readying supplies to sell 50 million Apple Watches in 2015. According to another report, Bank of America and Merril Lynch predict Apple will sell 20 million watches. Personally, I think Apple Watch sales are going to be closer to the 10 million unit mark. If Forrester is correct and 25% of the 300 million iPhones users on the market today were to purchase the Apple Watch, they would sell 75 million of these wearables in 2015. Now my prediction that Apple sells 10 million Apple Watches in 2015 doesn’t seem like too daunting of a task.

Inevitably, wearable technology will provide brands an unseen ability to provide content that is of value to their potential (or current) customer.

So why do brands care about this? Or should they? While there has been no clear leader or front runner as a singular wearable device, marketers and brands should still start paying attention to these devices. Inevitably, wearable technology will provide brands an unseen ability to provide content that is of value to their potential (or current) customer. The Content Marketing Association even put out an article with four key opportunities for content marketers to really show true value to their intended consumers. The short version of the article portrays these points: 1) Changing methods of reading, 2) Re-inventing push notifications, 3) Augmented reality, and 4) More content and data creation.

There are a few challenges for marketers who want to start using this new medium for content: adoption, value, and privacy. Providing value is a must in marketing today. Long gone are the days of the one-sided consumer-to-brand relationship. Brands must provide value— and provide it continually— to gain traction and maintain customers while trying to minimize churn. At the forefront, though, privacy will still remain. It is going to be key for the players in the industry to have privacy at the utmost of importance – this will also, in turn, drive adoption.

The Bottom Line

Brands need to pay attention to wearables— because their customers are. If brands and marketers truly want to understand their customers, where to reach them, and how to provide better value to the content they are providing, then wearables and wearable trends are something that need to be at the forefront of their thoughts and decisions.

Read more of Patrick and the rest of the Strap team’s thought leadership on their blog.

Guest Post: 10 Ways To Build A Rock Solid Marketing Engine For Your Startup

When my company, Leap, was in the Brandery class of 2012, we had a “spray and pray” approach to marketing. It was really just pure hustle and a little bit of luck that helped us reach 50,000 downloads for our mobile app in a matter of weeks.

As we started to grow, I marched on out to the Valley thinking a nice chunk of change (a few hundred thousand) was going to fall into our laps and all would be right with the world.

But it didn’t exactly work out like that.

Now there are a lot of reasons why and there are a lot of mistakes that our team made that we can talk about, but today I want to talk marketing. Specifically what mistakes we made (which are also mistakes I see other early stage companies making), what I would have done differently knowing what I know now, and finally a little bit about the approach (and some juicy tips for you) that I use today.

Where I Messed Up

When it came time to raise the big bucks for Leap, I struggled to answer these questions:

  • How do you guys get users long term (beyond press and App Store features)?
  • What’s your revenue model?
  • Who’s your target audience?
  • What’s your unique value proposition?
  • What’s your customer acquisition cost? LTV?
  • How are you focusing on marketing right now?

My answers were weak. Something along the lines of…

“Well, we’re building partnerships with influencers so that they can build communities on Leap and it spreads organically because people share content from the app. Basically, once we build up the user base we’re going to bring brands onto the platform so that they can create challenges on our app. Right now our audience is pretty broad – we’re narrowing down into some of the really active communities we see doing challenges. We’re too early to know our customer acquisition cost.”

Now that I spent time working at a VC firm last year and now help fast growing companies scale their online marketing, I slap my forehead when I think back to those days. And you wouldn’t believe the amount of companies that I talk to that really can’t answer these basic questions and are hoping to raise a $1 million seed round from investors.

What You Can Learn From My Mistakes

When I read the example of my answers above, here’s what I think today:

“Ok, this company doesn’t truly know who their customer is – I think they’re going to have a hard time finding a scalable way to generate growth (PR & features won’t do it). Since they aren’t 100% who they’re going after, how do they find the right channels for their business?

Hmm… if they aren’t really focused on a core audience to start with, then overall their marketing is going to be tough since they can’t really communicate a unique value proposition.

And they don’t really have a revenue model so finding out how to spend money to acquire users at breakeven isn’t going to happen until they figure out how to make money, since ‘going viral’ isn’t how 99.999% of businesses are built.”

Now let’s use that to think about the takeaways for your company, and we’ll drill down into some actionable tips.

Here’s what I want you to think about:

Who is my customer? What problem am I really solving for them?

  • Actionable tip #1: take your most active existing users and put them in a spreadsheet.
  • Actionable tip #2: create columns with their name, email, & Facebook profile page. Then stalk the crap out of them. Go onto Facebook and find out what books they read, how old they are, male or female, where they live, what websites they like, what interests they have, what groups they are a part of, grab everything you think will be useful.
  • Actionable tip #3: then find them on LinkedIn and do the same thing. Look for patterns – this is how you’re going to find out who your customer is. (H/T to Noah Kagan’s Summer of Marketing for this)

How are you going to get people to use your product?

  • Actionable tip #4: use that list above to find out where those people are hanging out online and what their interests are, and what demographics your biggest fans have in common.
  • Actionable tip #5: go build out some Facebook Ad campaigns targeting that same person! (You can check out the Crush Campaigns blog for more tips on how to actually structure your campaigns).
  • Actionable tip #6: next find out what the biggest players in your market are already doing! Spy on their ads using SEMRush. They’ve probably spend a crap-ton of money getting customers, so find out what channels are already working for them. You can get a good guess by filtering out ads and campaigns that have been running for a long time.
  • Actionable tip #7: put all that competitive stuff in a spreadsheet. Find out as much as you can about where they get traffic, what they’re doing on social, etc. Not only will you have a better idea of where you focus your attention, but you’ll know where the gaps you can exploit as a little scrappy startup are.
  • Actionable tip #8: now you have a good idea who your customer is and how to find more of them. Write down 3 things that you can test each week (3 ways you can reach this customer). Validate or invalidate great potential user acquisition channels over time. See how much it costs you to get an email address, a download, or a customer and track the results!
  • Actionable tip #9: And this is how you’re focusing on marketing right now. You’ll sound really smart, like you know what you’re doing :)

What’s your customer acquisition cost? What’s your revenue model, etc.?

  • Actionable tip #10: Hopefully you have a revenue model. But the rest of the stuff will begin falling into place once you start these activities. Trust me, you’ll start to have a MUCH better understanding on marketing.

Final Tip

It’s never too early to start experimenting – so get started on this stuff now. You’ll have a much deeper understanding of your market, your customers, and how you’ll grow. Finally, you won’t have the short term “spray and pray” approach that Leap did – and when you’re ready to pound the pavement and talk to investors, you’ll be ready to answer some of those tough questions.

Author

James Dickerson is the Founder of Crush Campaigns, an online marketing agency that helps innovative companies acquire more customers.

Brand in a Day Recap

Each year, the startups in our accelerator program are paired up with some of the most talented and renowned design firms in Cincinnati for the duration of the program. On Friday, June 28th, our startups were paired up with their agency partners for the first time at the POSSIBLE office for our first-ever Brand in a Day event. The agencies brought between two and five experts in their respective fields, from CMOs and CEOs to User Experience Designers and Copywriters. The teams attempted to revamp whatever it is about the startups’ brand that isn’t clicking, whether that was a logo, company name, brand manifesto, tagline, or mood board. The brands will continue to work with their agencies and evolve up until Demo Day on October 2nd, but Brand in a Day was their accelerator within the accelerator to give them a jumpstart. Here are the startup-agency partnerships (some companies are still operating in “Stealth Mode”):

1. Hyperquake and Stealth #1
2. POSSIBLE and Stealth #2
3. Rockfish and Stealth #3
4. Resource and Stealth #4
5. LPK and Stealth #5
6. Empower MediaMarketing and Dónde
7. Rocket Science + Design and DWLLR
8. GoDutch and Awesomatic
9. We Have Become Vikings and Co-Ed Supply
10. gyro and Accrew

We had a spectacular setting for the entire day at POSSIBLE’S office: sprawling views of the Ohio River and Paul Brown Stadium were framed by a crystal-clear blue sky. And with the conference rooms at POSSIBLE named after inspirations like “Jobs,” “Gandhi,” and “Seinfeld,” Brand in a Day was bound to be a success.

Some of the most astounding visual transformations came in the form of new typefaces, logos, and color schemes, but each team came to a better understanding of their brand identity through the agencies’ expertise and guidance. Some wrote brand manifestos defining who they want to be as a company, some drew hierarchies of need to further define for whom they were building the product, and some talked to create better team dynamics and facilitate agency work in the future. Regardless of the tangible deliverables that the agencies chose to focus on, each team got a solid start on their agency-startup relationship. At noon when they came to present their deliverables, the progress in just four hours was incredible. The collaboration, brainpower, and creativity that our agencies poured into the Brandery companies on Friday were truly remarkable.

After the presentations, the teams’ workspaces were littered with the remnants of their hard work: post-it notes, large and small, whiteboards covered in brainstorming activities, empty coffee cups and soda cans. Feeling exhausted, but accomplished, the teams retreated back to the Brandery to—you guessed it—get back to work.

Company Update: Pingage

COMPANY UPDATE: PINGAGE

As much as we enjoy interacting with our companies during the summer sessions, we especially love watching them succeed post-launch. One of our 2012 graduates, Pingage, has experienced tremendous success since Demo Day and is this week’s featured company!

Here is a blog post written by Pingage President and Co-Founder, Bob Gilbreath:

Celebrating our Launch with Stories and Client Success

We recently announced the official marketing launch of Pingage, our new Pinterest marketing optimization platform. After months of quietly toiling away, we are finally proclaiming to the world that we exist. For some companies this would be a cause for a major celebration and spawn a lavish party. Not at our office. We cracked a few Wohlschlaeger home-brewed Belgians, of course, but what we really celebrate is driving amazing results for our clients. Now we get to start celebrating those results more publicly—and attract companies that are ready for a completely new model of social media marketing.

Michael went back to the basics of how people use Pinterest. He started with great content, adapted it specifically for Pinterest, developed algorithms to time when pins are placed, tweaked landing pages to drive conversion, and created new analytics software that he used to gauge results from daily experiments and make improvements for the next day of pinning.

I joined Michael as co-founder, and we prepared to approach large brand marketers with our new product. We wanted to disrupt the current marketplace and unlock the vast potential of social media marketing by bringing two new benefits: First, we chose to develop a system that reduced the work of brand marketers. Second, we decided to only charge for results—just like a media buy. This combination leads to a powerful win-win loop: The more work we do for clients, the better the results, and the better the results, the more we grow together. Pingage is great service, powered by software, and paid as media. No one in the marketing space offers this combination.

In the past six months we have been quietly working with a handful of companies—ranging from e-commerce startups to billion-dollar CPG brands. Several brands and agencies have reached out to learn more. They are waking up to the possibilities of Pinterest, yet searching for a new model.

We find it incredibly exciting to sell something that solves this challenge, and scale up the technology that Michael developed in his basement to bring great content to millions of consumers’ lives each day. It’s also a blast to be able to add awesome members to our team and brilliant investors to our roster as we prove success.

On we go!

Bob Gilbreath, Pingage

We are extremely proud of the company’s success and look forward to its continued growth.

For more information on Pingage, please visit their website.

Company Update: SocialThreader

Check out what SocialThreader has been up to since Demo Day in October 2012:

As much as we enjoy interacting with our companies during the summer sessions, we especially love watching them succeed post-launch. One of our 2012 graduates, SocialThreader, has experienced tremendous success since Demo Day and is this week’s featured company!

The company’s CEO, Vinay Murthy, describes SocialThreader as a tool that “increases the effectiveness of digital marketing by leveraging social media in ads and websites. It allows seamless integration of a brand’s social content from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and websites as well as consumer and influencer voices from social platforms.”

Quite simply, SocialThreader is a platform that threads all of a brand’s social (earned), web-based (owned) and digital media (paid) together into one seamless experience. It can be embedded on websites and linked to other sites. The tool was initially piloted with Bush Beans and will soon be used by a variety of different brands.

SocialThreader not only threads content, it also allows brands to curate and target specific consumers and measure time on sites, page views and uniques. This enables brands to maximize the acceleration of social engagement for their entire portfolio. The tool is fully customizable and the team continues to add new features.

SocialThreader was recently awarded a “Digital Innovation Project” from Procter & Gamble. Vinay and his team will work with the ethnic marketing group at P&G to roll out social integration of their owned and earned content on their .com site. The company was also selected by Kroger, a major national grocery chain, to promote their organic brand of products and has entered into a partnership with a market leader in commenting platforms for distribution of social content for brands.

We are extremely proud of the company’s success and look forward to its continued growth.

For more information on SocialThreader, please visit their website or email vinay@socialthreader.com!

Consumer marketing execs launch nonprofit startup accelerator

PRESS RELEASE

The Brandery will build businesses:


Consumer marketing execs launch nonprofit startup accelerator

CINCINNATI (July 19, 2010) – Cincinnati digital marketing executive David Knox and serial entrepreneur J.B. Kropp have teamed up to launch the region’s first startup company accelerator, a nonprofit organization called The Brandery that will package funding, mentoring and partnerships around local entrepreneurs to help grow consumer marketing businesses here.
Knox, brand manager of global branded entertainment at Procter & Gamble, and Kropp, vice president of channel development at Vitrue who also has been integral in launching six startup companies, joined with Taft Stettinius & Hollister attorney Rob McDonald to create The Brandery. The name, coined by Brandery mentor and P&G brand manager Bryan Radtke, was designed to convey both the consumer marketing/branding focus as well as the idea of generating new companies.
“The power of The Brandery is the collaboration between people and companies in our community,” says Knox. “Entrepreneurs will benefit from a wide range of talented people in consumer marketing here as well as globally.”
The Brandery is looking for consumer-facing businesses such as consumer Internet, media and entertainment companies, based on technology platforms.
The 12-week program will include a structured curriculum that includes seed investment, industry leader mentors and access to top talent in the industry.
About 30 mentors will participate, ranging from local experts such as Bob Gilbreath, Bridge Worldwide’s chief marketing strategist and Pete Blackshaw, executive vice-president of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services to high-profile entrepreneurs such as Wendy Lea, CEO of Silicon Valley startup Get Satisfaction. (Click here for a full list: http://brandery.org/mentors/)
Each company that is selected through a review process will receive a $20,000 grant in exchange for equity in the company. As part of their participation, each company also will receive brand identity guidance from leading agencies including LPK, Resource Interactive, Barefoot Proximity, Empower MediaMarketing and Ample.
Companies can begin applying immediately at Brandery.org. Deadline for submissions for this first session is Aug. 11, 2010. Five companies will be selected for the first session, which will begin in late August.
The $20,000 company grants will come from CincyTech, a public-private venture development group that invests in high-tech startup companies. CincyTech is using its Imagining Grant funds, which are aimed at growing companies to the point where they are investable. “Our hope is to create a whole new pipeline of startup companies that focus on consumer marketing, to complement our portfolio of companies in information technology, bioscience and advanced manufacturing,” said CincyTech President Bob Coy. “Our mission is to grow jobs in thriving industries.”
In addition to CincyTech and the five creative agencies, support is coming from the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and Xavier University’s Williams College of Business, which donated money for operating capital for The Brandery, a 501c3. The Brandery also is endorsed and supported by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, Queen City Angels, Hamilton County Development Corp., and other local entrepreneurial organizations.
The Brandery was modeled after TechStars in Boulder, CO.; Y: Combinator in Silicon Valley; and Capital Factory in Austin, Texas; among others. However, while most of the others focus on scalable technology and Web-service startups, The Brandery is the first to focus exclusively on consumer marketing, Kropp said.
The strategy fits well with Cincinnati’s positioning as a national Consumer Marketing Hub through the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Agenda 360 regional action plan.
The Brandery will serve as the region’s incubator for consumer marketing companies as promised in the Agenda 360 Consumer Marketing Center and Ohio Hub of Innovation plans, said Rich Kiley, who is serving as head of the Consumer Marketing Center for the Chamber. “The Brandery is an innovative way to leverage the competencies uniquely available in this region,” said Jerry Kathman, CEO of LPK. “This will burnish our region’s reputation for brand-building excellence.”