Sparks, Nevada – Be The Brand


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This week, the sister city to Reno announced a new brand platform developed by Destination Development of Seattle, Washington.  Amid the excitement of potentially repositioning  “Rail City” into a more focused, engaging position comes a wave of public outcry at the $114,000 expense the effort encumbered.  Attached to this new positioning of “Nevada’s Festival City” comes the rather ingenuous tag line of “It’s Happening Here”.

There is no question that Destination Development has been successful in this specific type of community positioning – with an impressive list of creative applications displayed on their website.  While their work may be routinely successful – this particular effort fails to engage the target market in my opinion.

Although not a surveyed result, I would estimate that if the public were asked where “it is happening” in Nevada, the vast majority of respondents would not defer to Sparks, Nevada.  But rather point immediately to Las Vegas because of the many years of successful (and iconic) “What Happens Here Stays Here” campaigns.  To me, this is a classic example “never pick a fight with the reigning heavyweight champion if you’re in the welterweight division”.  Not only does this tag line invite comparison, it offers confusion – a fact that Sparks cannot afford to attach it’s future image to for very long.

One critical practice I have gained over the years is to be true to your brand, your brand must be truly you.  I can’t conceive of anyone that could make the mental leap to believe that Sparks Nevada has more power to position itself as the leader in Nevada’s festivals over Reno and Las Vegas.  A claim that cannot ring true in time.

Overall, the effort has fallen short of conveying what a true, believable, unique brand position is for our neighboring city.  I’ll point backward in time to a post I wrote late last year that not only questions our region’s brand positioning, but wondered why a more collaborative Reno/Sparks/Tahoe position was not being financially supported given these unprecedented economic times and shrinking visitor dollars.  To me, there is no ultimate purpose or unity in promoting varying brand positions within a geographically interlocked region that does not offer distinct differences between our boundaries.

If, in fact, “the image we are trying to portray is that Sparks is a must-visit destination”, I’m very skeptical that positioning Sparks as Nevada’s Festival City will create that kind of “must-visit” demand.  While festivals in themselves are exciting and engaging for a wide audience, the reality of today’s Sparks is that they are few and far between – with operational overhead that simply is not viable in today’s financial climate or in the near future.

What basic, unique values does Sparks truly offer that would keep visitors coming back for more without engaging the narrowly segmented demographics of festivals and their targeted attendees?  What were the real results of the many community meetings conducted around this effort?  Where is the feedback and recommendations from those who know the Sparks brand best – its residents and community partners?

While I applaud the City of Sparks for taking the initiative to reposition itself in preparation for better economic times, I am saddened by the unfortunately common practice of believing the out-of-town expert over local/regional brand development companies (some of whom are literally world renowned) who not only live the brand, but have a deep understanding of what it’s real values and realistic potential could be.

Those values, that uniqueness that is Sparks, is sorely missing from this newly proposed position – and for the money invested in today’s fiscally challenging times, I’m afraid it may have been money poorly spent.  Time will tell, and quite honestly, I hope I’m wrong.

What do you think about this new brand positioning and execution?

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