I have a deep passion and regard for Reno, and I know that’s not an wildly common or popular value. True, I’m a native of this city, and my views can only be seen through rose-colored glasses, partly tinted by the years I’ve spent growing up in the parks and communities in my hometown. But lately, I’ve become more and more frustrated with our fair region’s brand statement, and the ongoing misperceptions that are not only fostered by media – but by our own regional repositioning as “America’s Adventure Place”.
Many visitors to our area are somewhat surprised that Reno proper blurs directly into its sister city – Sparks. The only way you may know this is by driving over one of the many bridges spanning the Truckee River, and a sign that notes “Welcome to Sparks”. Beyond civic lines – we are one community, in one beautiful valley tucked against the eastern side of the magnificent Sierra. More importantly, our crown jewel must be Lake Tahoe – a mere 45 minute drive from nearly every point in Reno. Lake Tahoe needs no introduction – or brand positioning (although there have been wonderful campaigns) – because Lake Tahoe speaks for itself. And as Mark Twain aptly called it in 1861 – “…the fairest picture the whole world affords”. Twain was known for his thought-provoking insights, and chose his words well; and Tahoe’s brand position remains as it has always been – a natural wonder.
And so, the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority has long struggled with an inherent brand image problem – in part fueled by popular culture such as “Reno 911”, and more difficult to wrangle – the obvious disparity of representing two cities (Reno + Sparks, and in part Lake Tahoe) to a public that has a much better brand perception of “The Big Blue” (Lake Tahoe). Much like Las Vegas’ Convention & Visitors Authority, the RSVCA’s main focus is to “put visitor’s heads on pillows” here in our community, and help keep our brand image thriving in today’s ever-more-difficult economy. This is, by no means, a task for the weak or faint hearted, as you can imagine. Given what the RSVCA is faced with today, I think they’re doing a great job.
As a brand marketing strategist with a passion for my hometown, I can’t understand why our collective cities and regional advocates cannot simply convene to collaborate on, and develop a singular brand image and positioning that the entire world can embrace and clearly understand. No…we are not “America’s Adventure Place” – although we have great adventures of many types awaiting our visitors. But really…does anyone think “America’s Adventure Place” when they think of Reno, Sparks or Tahoe? Are there not other places that honestly provide “adventure” equal to our own (brothels aside)? Do the recognize or care that we have a sister city and the west’s greatest natural wonder attached to us like a Siamese Twin? Are they even aware that Tahoe is quite literally our backyard? Most people I’ve encountered think of Reno as an “ugly-sister” to the fabulous Las Vegas – who’s positioning of “Only Vegas“, and “What Happens In Vegas, Stays In Vegas” are nothing short of cultural icons. True…cultural icons may require huge budgets to administer – but they often come from a great idea or perception, and not necessarily constant advertising repetition. A truly great brand position can sell itself – no matter how many times you’ve broadcast it. Brand positioning is communicating honest brand values that are rooted in reality. Anything else is simply advertising. We’re still playing the old ad game, and not working toward an inbound strategy of brand positioning regionally.
This brings me to my fellow blogger-in-arms, Downtownmakeover.com. Here is a viewpoint at the core values of our city – one that has been an advocate of Reno, Sparks, Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area for years. A view that is at times controversial, while soothing to many (like me). The blog’s author loves this city as much as I do – and we often collaborate on projects beyond our blogs. More importantly, we find ourselves defending our town on other venues too public and many to mention. We’ve had a discussion about this very topic, and collectively decided it was time to say something publically about our feelings to our town, and how it’s being positioned and percieved versus how we’re positioning it to the public.
Both of our viewpoints are different – yet they are united. I feel that a need to revisit and redefine Reno’s well known brand positioning of “The Biggest Little City In The World” is long overdue. There’s real brand value in the statement that appears on our city’s icon – the Reno arch. There is history, and positive meaning in that positioning. Most importantly – it’s honest and timeless. Let’s stop manufacturing brand positions for our town, and abandoning our historical value for some ad agency’s “slogan-of-the-day”. Let’s return to being unique – and showing that although our town may be small in size – it’s huge in adventure, excitement, and culture. Let’s take a step back – so we can move forward.
Granted, noone has ever asked me for this opinion, and in fact, the City of Sparks just undertook a $126,000 branding initiative of its own. And like many local clients, they sought “the out-of-town-expert” to help them reposition our sister city. My concern is further fractioning that local and regional brand at a time when unity and cohesive messaging is more important to attract the ever shrinking visitor dollar. We have to get together on this, or risk fractioning our messaging to the point of oblivion. We can’t risk that today – or tomorrow. We can’t leave our image to the public to define for us – we have to develop messaging that’s based in reality, by locals that know our brand well and can clearly communicate it.
But that would take a miracle of putting egos and agendas aside – in order to put our region first.