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The Ultimate Rebranding Challenge: Hamilton, Ontario

Rebranding companies and individuals is one thing. Rebranding an entire city is another.

That’s what a group of citizens of Hamilton, Ontario are hoping to do, though, to their hometown. No fans of the city’s Steeltown moniker, they want Hamilton to be known as “The City of Waterfalls“.

Seems the city is actually home to more than 100 picturesque waterfalls-a fact that’s little known due to Hamilton’s more famous-or infamous-industrial waterfront.

So the city’s rebranding has been launched in an effort led by Ecklund Marketing Group president Chris Ecklund. Their biggest challenge, in my opinion? Unlike people or even companies, cities have flaws and unsavoury bits that can’t easily be ironed out with a bit of corporate coaching or public speaking workshops. Hamilton, warts and all, is there for the judgement once curious nature seekers venture to the waterfall capital for a closer look.

The citizen’s group has done an excellent job of putting Hamilton’s best face forward: its website is full of images of the waterfalls, location maps, and links to City of Waterfalls groups on Facebook and Ning.

The problem with their messaging, though, is it suggests that Hamilton has ALWAYS been the City of Waterfalls. The unfortunate reality is that it hasn’t been, and for the most part, still is not.

It is still known for its massive steel mills that corrode-visually and literally-Hamilton’s waterfront.

While the Waterfalls group understandably doesn’t want to repeat the negative, ignoring this-or that Hamilton does not have a nature-friendly, eco-friendly reputation-does not change the fact that its mills are visible from the moment visitors set foot in the city.

I think the City of Waterfalls message would be far more effective if it acknowledged that Hamilton’s waterfalls are an undiscovered treasure. Or that the city’s reputation isn’t great, but the waterfalls define the city’s true nature better than its industrial waterfront does.

If the group tries that messaging instead, Toronto might find itself losing tourism dollars to the City of Waterfalls one hour west.