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Why the Atlanta brand matters


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Cities are the most important and recognizable brands in the world. More than consumer brands, states, provinces and even countries, cities dominate the global mindshare of brands. You may want to go to France, but Paris is the destination. No one travels to New York State, it's NYC. And so on.

We live in a city-region, "Atlanta," that is a "giga-brand." The Atlanta brand has been etched into the cellular membranes of billions of people. Atlanta is not just the name of a city; it is a biological plaque holder in the brains of the most important people in the world – economic, political and religious – and it is associated with powerful images, ideals and symbols. It is an economic brand of optimism and hope, with a social foundation for inclusion, tolerance and human rights. Atlanta is one of a few cities that dominate in this category.

For this reason, the Atlanta brand is the most important nonpeople asset in our state. It is pure gold, Olympic and otherwise. Competitor cities like Dallas, Richmond, Va., and even Miami would die to have the reach and depth of the Atlanta brand. They understand brand creation is painfully slow, expensive and illusive.

The great opportunity for Georgia is to leverage the Atlanta brand to accelerate economic growth, especially global expansion. Many of our leading corporations – UPS, Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot – are creating their growth and profits from international expansion. They are top global brands. When the value of these brands is associated with the value of the Atlanta brand, everyone wins.

Here's an example of how Atlanta can work for Atlanta: In 2003, the Georgia China Alliance was formed. Our goal was to advance the idea that we could double our exports to China – especially agricultural exports. It was clear to me that this was going to happen, but by promoting the economic connection between Georgia and China, we would be able to use our "brand" as a selling point to the Chinese.

Since that time, the Georgia China Alliance has met with hundreds of political and business leaders from China. There are four things that the Chinese know about Georgia. They know about the Olympics, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., CNN and Margaret Mitchell. On a recent visit from the No. 2 leader of the Communist Party of China, the request was to see the King Center and then the Margaret Mitchell House. Brand is about stories and the lives of people.

Our brand works well with the Chinese, as is clear from the announcement in late September that we now have a direct flight from Atlanta to Shanghai. The next step with the Chinese is to open a consulate here in Atlanta to represent the Southeast. When they do, they will speak about the Atlanta brand. In the end, our brand equals economic opportunity.

Branding is not lost on Gov. Sonny Perdue. His real name is George Ervin Perdue. He adopted the name "Sonny," a happy Southern brand that has served him well. In spite of the governor's current understanding of branding, he remains committed to his own early 20th-century approach to the 21st century. Some of his key initiatives and messages include branding Georgia around bass fishing, suppressing voter participation with the voter ID, criminalizing stem cell research and promoting congestion. Little that he does is an asset to Atlanta or to our city's world-renowned brand.

When you add it all up, this governor has created a brand of his own; it is a "wedge brand." It is not a brand designed to promote, it is designed to repress. It is not a brand of unity, it is a brand of silos with clear winners and losers. Perdue has squandered the opportunities offered by Atlanta's brand, preferring to create a political fortress built around a wedge philosophy. He is not alone in this undertaking.

The irony of this wedge-brand strategy is that the Atlanta brand is founded on just the opposite. It embraces our hometown prophet, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. This brand is a timeless blend of universal religious philosophy and ethics and the language of business leaders who believe in diversity, inclusion and progress.

Does this mean we should secede from the state, I don't think so. The good news is that George Ervin Perdue's term will pass, the Atlanta brand will be as strong as ever, and we can elect someone who will pick up the brand, inspire the people and lead our state out of the 20th century.

What should Atlanta, as the economic engine and the brand of the state, do? Embrace the worldwide goodwill stemming from the legacy of MLK and the Olympic Games in 1996. Leverage the Atlanta brand and blend it with all that is good about our state. Unite our business leadership – one of the most potent in the world – to build an international economy here.

Do that, and we won't need to secede. We'll reassert our leadership of the state and the South – and we'll be one of the most powerful brands on the planet.

Sam Zamarripa is a banker and a former state senator.


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