Posted in: Community News Work

Forging a future-facing brand Boro can be proud of

When the brief landed on our desks for the development of Middlesbrough's new place brand strategy, we knew this was not just another job.

12th August 2021

Mark Easby

Mark Easby

Mark Easby

Written by Mark Easby,
Managing Director

Although we manage a diverse portfolio of local, national and international brands, this was a project that couldn’t be closer to our hearts.

Our studio is based in the home of Bolckow & Vaughan, the grandfathers of steel. From our window, we can see the world-famous Transporter Bridge. We spend our lunchtimes in the town centre and have sampled all the diverse delights Middlesbrough has to offer. We’re deeply devoted to the mighty Boro and, come rain or shine, our Saturday afternoons are spent on the terraces at the Riverside.

As an agency, we’re proud of our Teesside roots, we’re a passionate local team, and we’re brimming with local talent. We worked on Middlesbrough’s place brand campaign as if it was our own because, in many respects, it is. It represents the town we’re part of, our friends, our family, who we are and how we want to be seen by the world.


One town, many stories

A place brand has to engage with so many different people and audiences, from chiming with locals to attracting international investors. That’s why storytelling is such a vital part. It needs to inspire ownership and be adopted by everyone, something that the previous ‘Can do people, Can do place’ struggled to do.

The process starts with engagement, from understanding the strategic vision of the town to asking its people what Middlesbrough means to them. It must align with both Mayoral and Council strategies for the coming years. In our case that meant ensuring that our ideas can easily translate across the three strategic pillars of People, Place and Business. However, getting input and ideas from the people of Middlesbrough is also vital. Business leaders and residents alike helped us see what Middlesbrough means to them and how we should tell its story.

Middlesbrough may be one town, but that town is made up of many people, places and businesses. People who are diverse, multicultural, young and old, quiet and outspoken all at once. Places that are surprising, cultured, vibrant and ever-changing. Businesses that are traditional, groundbreaking, local and global, industrial and independent.

We are Middlesbrough - One Town, Many Stories

We heard stories that charm, stories that surprise, stories that make people think again. Stories that would make visitors, locals, investors and businesses see Middlesbrough in a new light.

This was no surprise to us, it simply reinforced what we already knew, what we feel and what we see in our everyday lives. Middlesbrough isn’t one story because it’s a story lived, and told, by many voices.

Telling the town’s story

At its core, the purpose of a place brand is to change the perception of a place by telling its story and we’ve got plenty of stories to tell. Not just of what we used to be, but of what we are today and what we will be tomorrow.

Our new version of the story goes like this:

Over a hundred years ago we transformed iron ore from the Cleveland Hills into cities of steel across the globe. Grit, determination and transformation are part of our DNA, qualities passed on from generation to generation.

We’ve built bridges, forged new connections and welcomed strangers. Now we’re pushing boundaries like never before. Once upon a time, we built the world, now we’re shaping our future. Middlesbrough is a place where opportunity and creativity collide, igniting ideas, helping us to thrive.

We’re adaptive, agile, down to earth and proud. We’re good laughers, hard grafters and fine crafters. We’re creators and entrepreneurs, key workers and volunteers. We’re artists and musicians, designers and engineers. We’re family and friends, community and we’re a place to call home.


We make this place and this place makes us

We are not just one thing, we are so much more. So, when it came to developing a strapline, it was clear that a one-dimensional strapline just wouldn’t cut it. We are a rich tapestry of vibrancy and diversity. A place built on hard graft and innovation and shaped by different cultures. Try saying all that in a one-liner.

So, rather than one line, we created a dynamic and inclusive strapline to reflect this; a line that builds on powerful themes like ambition, invention, determination and unity. It is flexible enough to work for places and business; a way to include and represent what makes Middlesbrough great — its people.

We are Middlesbrough

The new campaign is framed around the concept that ‘We make Middlesbrough, and Middlesbrough makes us’. At its core is a diverse toolkit of positive and wide-ranging ‘We are…’ messages, aimed at celebrating the heritage, people, places, and businesses that make up the town.

We are hard grafters, we are history-makers and we are pioneers. We are bold, we are fearless and we are unstoppable. We are united, we are proud and we are surprising. We are ready, we are back in business and we are open to all.

We are not just one thing; we are all of these things. Together.

“We are Middlesbrough is designed to build local pride and support businesses all around town. We’re going to tell the stories of our thriving businesses, community stalwarts and fearless young people. The team at the council that worked alongside Better care passionately about Middlesbrough. We love it for what it is and are excited for what the future holds."

Andrew Glover

Head of Marketing and Communications, Middlesbrough Council

Andrew continued: “Having the space to tell uplifting stories from all walks of life is brilliant for us. One of’s biggest strengths is the exposure it gives to businesses. We want people to feel positive about our town. Ultimately that will help put money in the pockets of local families.

“I’m dead proud that this brand is made in Middlesbrough. Better’s design and development work has been top class.”

A strong sense of identity

This multi-stranded sense of identity — many voices telling the story of Middlesbrough — adds further depth and meaning to the logo. The ‘M’ symbolises many people coming together to a collective, unified story.

Using the logo as a visual base, we extended and rationalised the design system to create a versatile grid of dynamic dots. This grid now provides a cohesive element that unites every visual touchpoint, helping to build recognition. When combined with the new photography shot by local photographers Mike Brown and Cathal Carey, the brand system becomes modern, engaging and remains visually consistent while offering plenty of flexibility to say everything it needs to say and still leave room to grow.

We Are Middlesbrough - Assets Poster

The future is ours to shape and tell

The ‘We are Middlesbrough’ campaign allows us to celebrate our culture, character and colloquialisms while providing a foundation to promote much, much more. Telling these diverse stories is what empowers the campaign and the wider brand. Stories that inspire, stories that unite, stories that fill people with pride. From Debi to Latifa and AV Dawson to Big Bite, these stories have been brought to life online in an immersive and dedicated section of the website.

And while we’re proud of our past and all we’ve achieved, this brand is not a retro-flavoured nostalgia trip. It’s about changing minds in the here and now, in a visually sophisticated and striking way. It’s about shining a light on the powerful, surprising and ground-breaking stories happening in Middlesbrough today.

Excitingly, there are still many more stories to come. Stories that are yet to be written about Middlesbrough’s future. The people, places and businesses that will shape our next chapter. All of which make Middlesbrough unique. And all of which have in some way been shaped by Middlesbrough.

Ultimately, we make Middlesbrough, and Middlesbrough makes us.

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