Columbus’ Creative Energy Helps Build City’s Brand, Nationwide Notoriety


UPDATED: Wednesday January 30, 2013 7:53 PM

Six years ago, the City of Columbus came to a crossroads about its identity.

Mayor Michael Coleman formed a committee that sparked the process to explore the capital city’s image – or lack thereof.
 
More than just a branding message came out of the effort, though.
 
Ryan Lang and his business partner Brady Konya are great examples of the “spirit” that arose from the city’s branding talks.
 
“In about three hours, this is going to be filled with vodka that we’re going to be bottling this week,” said Lang, co-owner of Middle West Spirits, producer of OYO vodka and whisky. “It’s old-world style vodka. It’s the way things were done hundreds of years ago.”
 
Lang said that the secret to the company’s success is Ohio’s red winter wheat and its unique flavor.
 
“We started testing it, and we found out pretty quickly, and that’s how we created the OYO,” Lang said.
 
The OYO brand was derived from the Iroquois word referring to the Ohio River Valley region.
 
“We’re really proud of this idea of owning the flavor from the ground – all the way to the bottle,” Konya said. “We mash and ferment, distill, bottle, package, distribute and market our spirits from Columbus nationally.”
 
Both Lang and Konya are transplants to the city and have gladly adopted it.
 
“There’s a youthful energy that we were drawn to, a progressiveness not only in politics but in the way people think about creativity,” Konya said.
 
Konya said that he appreciates Columbus’ diversity and education level.
 
“There’s an appetite for world-class goods and services,” Konya said. “For people just like us who have flown in from all over the world and the country to relocate here, it has become a core part of our imperative as a company -  not only to advocate why we came here but why we stay here.”
 
Doug Kridler, the president of The Columbus Foundation, a non-profit corporation that manages millions of donated dollars for the central Ohio region, said that Columbus’ growth and evolution has come a lot later than many other communities.
 
Because of that, he said, the city is in a great position to regenerate itself by being connected and ready to embrace the world’s commerce and development.
 
“We really are part of helping a community define itself and become something great,” Kridler said. “Maybe some communities are smart, maybe some are open, but you put the smart and open together, and it is a unique value proposition and description of this community.”
 
Alex Fischer, president and chief executive officer of The Columbus Partnership, whose primary goal is to improve economic vitality in the Columbus region, said that he believes people are just beginning to recognize Columbus as an undersold asset.
 
“We are open to many types of businesses, open to many types of lifestyles. Smart, obviously, because we have 150,000 college students in Columbus,” Fischer said.

Columbus also features the No. 1 zoo, library, science center and ballpark. The Battelle Memorial Institute, six Fortune 500 companies and other smaller companies make themselves known on a national stage.
 
Six years ago, city leaders decided that they needed something more to tie the city together.
 
The mayor formed a group to use the city’s bicentennial celebration to capture and catalyze a common theme.
 
To do that, they hit the streets, talking to thousands of people living and doing business in the city.
 
“We said the wise ones were the ones who were those who are living in this community, engaged in this community, and we distilled their thoughts and their inputs and we built from that.”
 
Kridler said that the branding is more about values than one image or one slogan.
 
“What’s unique about this effort is everybody’s commitment across very different organizations to try to sell collectively in a common way,” Fischer said.
 
The smart and open theme transformed into a visual brand for the city in 2011. The consistent city brand features the word “Columbus,” with a star on top of the “US” in the word.
 
“If a visitor lands at the airport, they have a common perception of our community,” Fischer said.
 
The Columbus Jazz Arts Group was the first outside organization to incorporate the brand into its logo.
 
Now, the brand can be seen almost everywhere, including on city vehicles.
 
The logo also was featured at halftime at Ohio Stadium this past football season.
 
“Nobody’s mandating it, but people are adopting it, because they like it,” Fischer said.
 
Middle West’s Lang said that there is something more about his story in Columbus. The community gathered to help him and his business partner start their business.
 
“A hundred restaurants signed up in Columbus,” Lang said. “They all signed on the dotted line and they all gave us what we needed to speak to the bank to put this facility here, so, nowhere would that have happened but Columbus.”
 
If not for that, Lang said, their dream may never have come true.
 
“I truly believe in 10 to 15 years, people are going to come here seeking things like that – a distillery, a brewery, a charcuterie, things like that,” Lang said. “I think people are going to come here for that, and it’s just starting.”
 
More and more businesses are starting to use the new Columbus logo as the word gets out.
 
The owners of Middle West said that they even are working to incorporate the logo on their bottles as they continue to roll out new products in 2013.

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