Is using “MKE” in your marketing a logical choice for your business? For some it certainly is – for many it is not. Here is why…
Locally, “MKE” is increasingly marketed with meaning,”City of Milwaukee” and less frequently in reference to Mitchell International Airport (MKE.) Brands & organizations that look to grow outside the area should be aware of the risks of using a small market airport code in association with their services & products. I see the word, “Milwaukee” and it conjures up a lovely, midsize community with a rich cultural history and hopefully a bright future. Outside social networks, I generally see the word “MKE”, and I think about airport coffee on the go & waiting in line for the TSA.
So let’s look at both Milwaukee & MKE and if they make the most sense for your business.
The present size (and market share) of our fair city:
Milwaukee is the largest city in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, the 28th most populous city in the United States and 39th most populous region in the United States. [spoiler alert] The city itself is generally sort of a mystery spot for people that live outside of our state & the city of Chicago. Find this hard to believe? Where is Columbus – how big is it, what’s their biggest claim to fame and finally what is their airport code?
Three hints, it’s somewhere in Ohio, they have the largest university in the USA & the airport code is the same at shorthand for the Greater Mountain Time Zone.
I’ve stayed a few nights in Columbus, Ohio, but before I had – I really wasn’t 100% positive if it was in Iowa or Ohio, I’m now familiar with the state & the sheer size of these frankly, midsize American cities all bigger than Milwaukee.
More people know where Columbus is than Milwaukee, much less, MKE.
Independently, Milwaukee itself has more people than say, Cleveland, yet when you look at the area with surrounding suburbs. Milwaukee gets leapfrogged by quite a margin (nearly 1/2 million). Imagine Dallas without Forth Worth, or Miami without Ft. Lauderdale, Starsky without Hutch – you can’t really – because they are woven into the same thing.
My point is that if Columbus businesses started calling themselves, GMT XYZ – their message would fizzle immediately. Even if a large city like, Chicago, called itself or it’s services with ORD – that too would fall flat. (ORD Plumbing, anyone?) Granted, Chicago’s dual airport code is “CHI” – which is fun to play on, but you have to be in the know to get that. I lived there 5 years, so when I post on social networks that “I’m in the CHI” most friends get it – but let’s face it – my friends in MSN, MKL, and CAE don’t know regularly know what I mean when I mention it. See how foreign those airport codes look? I recently asked my well traveled cousin, born and raised in Chicago what he thought MKE meant. He hadn’t a clue. He apparently didn’t get the memo that flying into MKE is the hippest move since the electric slide.
He sure does love visiting Milwaukee however, he’ll drive up to see shows & I know plenty of other friends that have done the same. An old friend & his young wife now living in Northern Illinois accompanied me to both My Morning Jacket & another time to TV on the Radio. I already know 1/3 of these Chicagoans aren’t aware of what MKE means, I suppose it’s likely 50% of the other 2 wouldn’t know either.
So overall, when it comes to branding – I think we should go back to embracing “Mil-wau-kee” for all it’s worth. We don’t live in MKE, we live in “MILWAUKEE!”
Now that we know the relative size of our community, let’s look into the history of MKE branding.
Historically, it hasn’t been that hot. Locally though, that is set to change. I predict MKE’s future in local branding much more prevalent. I feel it’s a safe bet, yet take note that the term will continue to become more homogenized & crowded as time goes on. It will very unlikely break out of local zip codes in terms of recognition for quite some time, if ever. It’s very nature is to be located here, grounded – so thumbs up if you’re staying put. Thumbs down if you even want to market as far as MDW. It just doesn’t have the brand power.
MKE’s branding origins are from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s and now defunct local weekly, MKE, which was aimed at 20/30 somethings. Currently MKE is most prominently being used on the 88.9, Radio Milwaukee weekday morning show radio show (Miss you Jordan!) called, A.MKE (am/mke – get it?!) and of course their are the hip dot commers, RUN-MKE, YoMKE, etc. A variety of brands are using it in their twitter feeds, domain names, and consumer labeling.
Why the explosive branding of”MKE” in our local market?
“MKE” has always been around as a fairly generic branding term in the City of Milwaukee. (salons/contractors/small business) However, it wasn’t until the explosion of Twitter in 2008/2009 that “MKE” really became prevalent. This is because Twitter only allows 15 characters and if you want a good, localize twitter handle – MKE fits the bill. (Similar for a shortened .com)
For Twitter, I think “MKE” works. I use it – but let’s not get carried away. Milwaukee is where I am from, not MKE – heck no, MKE has a recombobulation area and once considered giant blue jean/shirt, thankfully that massive municipal branding mistake was avoided as then County Executive, Scott Walker (shocker!) killed the art project.
If it did go through however – imagine what “MKE” would mean to travelers if that project went through, and imagine what they might say when they returned to their communities. “Ahhhh yes, M-K-E – home of the Canadian Tuxedo! (snickering)” Ouch.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Mitchell International, I’ve been there easily 100 times. however it’s not DEN and it’s not exactly the emerald gem on the fresh coast. It’s the MKE airport – it does the job. – “Milwaukee” if we brand it correctly, is the emerald gem on the fresh coast – and with that – why not as businesses work towards rebranding the city with something creative? “Big Apple” New York City, “The Sweetest Place on Earth” (Hershey, Pennsylvania) and leave it to Nevada to come up with a home run such as they did with Reno, “The biggest little city in the world” Wow – you literally can’t afford publicity that slogan has brought the city. Modern Branding, if effective – has to be organic. Case in point, Snapple’s slogan is “Made from the best stuff on earth.” Grand Slam. It works in scale because it’s instantly recognized by the consumer.
So while MKE seems modern & original for branding – it’s neither.
Granted, I won’t stop using it, nor suggest you do either. I’ll continue to use it with my local pals, on Twitter account handles, or even a domain name. But “Milwaukee” has more swagger – Milwaukee is where I live,
“Milwaukee” is what made this city famous.
Businesses & government should embrace our city’s name and avoid trendy marketing ploys or we’ll be known as the city of Mike.”
There is something much larger and bolder by saying the full word anyhow, Chicago vs. CHI. So why are Milwaukeeans diverting from this built-in marketing tool? Do we really want to be 1 TSA screw up at MKE airport to soil our brand or service?
How about a mishap at the MKE Greyhound bus stop? Could happen anywhere they use “MKE.”
The point is, if you embrace “MKE” it’s still not really yours to use. It’s the IATA code for General Mitchell – which is both unoriginal & bland. Great band name, not good if your selling soap outside the 7 county area.
As a business owner, you usually want to plan for scaled growth. Will a MKE tattoo hurt or help that long term growth? “Why the heck isn’t our product/services hitting forecasted sales projections?” In terms of branding, the answer might be a easy as M-K-E.
So in short, if you’re planning on staying local or have a long name – MKE works great. Additionally, for brands that want to expand outside the 414/262 it works well in the digital space, such as social networks, but severely limits growth as an official brand name – it’s a growth liability and limits comprehension to the consumer outside the local market. I suspect high end specialized products live outside this rule, but generally – this is rule of thumb logic.
Using “MKE” in your branding outside the 414/262 area codes is a high risk move & likely a mistake. Why? Wasted messaging.
Car companies live & breathe in this space. Trust their research, they’ve sold a few cars and have yet to release the “DTW”
Using local jargon in branding to educate a perplexed buyer before they consider your product/service is part failure. Don’t worry about the fluff education – focus on your product & value. Good products usually sell via word of mouth anyhow. Commandeering MKE is an uphill battle both online & offline regardless if you’re local – then lap it up; MKE is a good option in this case, so is 414. Frankly, if you don’t live near Milwaukee or travel a bunch, “MKE – looks as foreign as Product/service as MSN does to a reader in MKE. A product for the average person should promote “Milwaukee” just as it’s citizens do. God bless Milwaukee “Brew City” and thanks for reading.
Feel free to comment or vote for which branding term you prefer below.