There’s been a bit of controversy over the recent brand positioning developments for the City of Sparks – just a stone’s throw (literally) from my hometown of Reno, Nevada. What some would find interesting is that Reno-Sparks is actually one geographic region – with nothing more than a invisible city boundary line between them. We are, for all intensive purposes, “Siamese Cities” – yet we approach the marketing of each entirely differently. When the results of Sparks’ campaign was released for public review, a somewhat heated debate ensued, with a fundamental difference arising in how the process occurred, what its basic intent was, and most importantly, the results of an expensive re-branding effort.
That unpopular exercise aside, the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority is about to embark on a similar mission – and a daunting task at that. Recently, agency officials held a very casual, unstructured gathering of some of this region’s marketing/advertising and brand stakeholders to engage them early in the process. This was also an opportunity to introduce the company charged with helping this effort – Mortar, based in San Francisco, CA. As promoted, the agency was selected after an “extensive RFP process” – although I (and none of my colleagues) were aware of the process itself. This isn’t surprising as it seems the trend to choose larger agencies from out-of-market to position our region (i.e. Nevada’s Festival City). To a degree, I’m still baffled by the lack of confidence in our own community to express the values we live daily.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on many of the past campaigns to position our region. And like many who have lived here, we’ve seen themes come and go. For example, this campaign from the 90’s. As you’ll see, that campaign was specifically targeted at the Portland, Oregon market – then thought a major feeder into our tourism economy. Yet it was engaging and successful in it’s time – but the times have changed dramatically in today’s economy.
Over the years, there have been many creative approaches to branding the Reno-Tahoe region … some more memorable than others. Do you recall the “Reno-Reno Twice As Friendly” campaign? None of them have achieved the instant recognition of the long-lived “The Biggest Little City In The World” positioning. I believe this is because of a fundamental difference between what consultants have said about Sparks needing to “earn the brand”, and my belief that is our charge to take full advantage of the reality of our brand today – without attempting to alter perception by creative positioning that cannot be achieved when experienced by the public at large (i.e. “America’s Adventure Place“).
What has been missing in past campaigns is simple in my mind – a hard look at reality, and making the best of what we truly offer. Combine that honest perspective with the need to fully engage regional stakeholders before positioning, and you have the makings for failure before you begin.
Today’s city branding is often approached like today’s fashion brands. Regional and local place, much like fashion products, begin to define traits like distinctiveness, uniqueness and most importantly, individuality to the market. When done correctly, a city’s brand helps facilitate self-expression and status that residents, tourists and (most importantly) businesses can truly believe in.
Ultimately, a region’s brand must communicate messages about who we are to others in the attempt to create an emotional connection that actually transforms the place’s experience. For this to really work well, it must also be functional with easily experienced benefits from infrastructure, weather, employment and education. Distinct characteristics that help the consumer make a clear differentiation between our product from similar regions. None of the characteristics live alone – are are viewed in totality as a whole.
With the daunting task ahead for the RSCVA to make our regional brand truly effective this time, consider these top 50 cities (with a nod to #37) as compiled by Alfredo Andia in his article “Branding the Generic City”:
The Top 50 U.S. City Slogans:
1. What Happens Here, Stays Here. Las Vegas, NV
2. So Very Virginia. Charlottesville, VA
3. Always Turned On. Atlantic City, NJ
4. Cleveland Rocks! Cleveland, OH
5. The Sweetest Place on Earth. Hershey, PA
6. Rare. Well Done. Omaha, NE
7. The City Different. Santa Fe, NM
8. Where Yee-Ha Meets Olé. Eagle Pass, TX
9. City with Sol. San Diego, CA
10. Where the Odds Are With You. Peculiar, MO
11. Where Your Ship Comes In. Gulfport, MS
12. Soul of the Southwest. Taos, NM
13. Experience Our Sense of Yuma. Yuma, AZ
14. The City Was So Nice They Named It Twice. Walla Walla, WA
15. There’s More Than Meets the Arch. St. Louis, MO
16. Keep Austin Weird. Austin, TX
17. Where Chiefs Meet. Meeteetse, WY
18. City with a Mission. San Gabriel, CA
19. Where the Trails Start and the Buck Stops. Independence, MO
20. The City That Never Sleeps. New York City, NY
21. The Aliens Aren’t the Only Reason to Visit. Roswell, NM
22. Lose Your Heart to the Hills. Kerrville, TX
23. Take Me to the River. Vicksburg, MS
24. We’ve Got All the Civilization You Need. Riverton, WY
25. The Town Without a Frown. Happy, TX
26. The Town Too Tough to Die. Tombstone, AZ
27. Where the Stars Come Out to Play. Fort Davis, TX
28. Rollin’ on the River. Manchester, OH
29. Named for the Turn of a Card. Show Low, AZ
30. More Than Just a Song. Shenandoah, TX
31. Where Horses Have the Right of Way. McKinleyville, CA
32. Only in San Francisco. San Francisco, CA
33. It’s Not the End of the Earth, But You Can See It From Here. Bushnell, SD
34. Where Nature Smiles for Seven Miles. Spring Lake, MI
35. Live Large. Think Big. Dallas,TX
36. Real. America. Up Close. Rapid City, ND
37. The Richest Place on Earth. Virginia City, NV
38. With Time for You. Richmond, MI
39. Newark, on a Roll. Newark, NJ
40. Where the Trout Leap in Main Street. Saratoga, WY
41. Life, Celebrated Daily. Norfolk, VA
42. The Natural Place to Visit. Sitka, AK
43. People Say We’re Old-Fashioned. We Hope So. Virginia City, MT
44. Where the People Are Warm Even When the Weather Isn’t. Andover, KS
45. Where the Bald Eagle Soars and the Carp Drops! Prairie du Chien, WI
46. Where History Never Gets Old.Fredericksburg, VA
47. The Town That Made Tulsa Famous. Glenpool, OK
48. Get ‘Er Done. Havre, MT
49. Town Without a Toothache. Hereford, TX
50. Livable, Lovable Lodi. Lodi, CA
Our region’s brand is YOUR brand. I hope this post might begin some dialogue about what and how we could approach this important task with constructive input and collaboration. It’s time we believed in our region again in order to elevate it past the “Reno 911” popularity of today.
So what’s your stance on this task? What would you offer to those that are challenged with developing the next phase of our regional brand? How can we better communicate the real values of living and visiting northern Nevada to the world?
I hope you take a moment to think about the possibilities and offer your constructive opinion. We need to get it right this time.