Today’s headline in the Reno-Gazette Journal was not surprising. This blog has been discussing it for months, with a heated debate over factions of our local positioning that has produced interesting comment and suggestions from a variety of savvy marketing and advertising professionals in our community and beyond.
Northern Nevada has long focused its efforts on a wide variety of special events that have long been rooted in our community. From the start of the season with this week’s Cinco de Mayo, through a summer jam-packed with great events like The Great Reno Balloon Race, The National Championship Air Races, Hot August Nights, and Artown – to name just a very few of the over 55 events we now host. Our region produces amazing events that have helped bring locals and tourism out together for good reason. But those days, along with a stable economy, are over, and we now find event producers “begging” from funding resources that can no longer afford to support them. What’s worse is that those resources are dwindling in numbers and size – and there’s no short or long-term projection that it will reverse course soon.
But today’s public reckoning in our local paper is indicative of a much larger problem – and in my opinion, one that’s not entirely driven by today’s challenging economic climate. As we jokingly say around our office – “It’s the brand, stupid!”.
None of us can pretend that getting our community leaders, businesses and general public around a single concept and positioning that embraces all that northern Nevada can be is a simple task. In fact, it may be entirely impossible. But without a community based effort to engage us all, we’ll continue to fall victim to yesterday’s thinking and efforts. Add that to the confusion that brand positioning like “Reno Is Artown” delivers to the public, and we’re facing a stream of divergent messages about the same product that are not connected in any way or form.
I wholeheartedly agree with Councilman Dave Aiazzi’s assessment that special events increase our quality of life here. Personally, I believe this is the “double edged sword” of beliefs. Many of our residents attend special events throughout the year – and for very good reason. Some of us actually plan our vacations around these same events to avoid the public crowds that develop during the dates in our our own neighborhoods. I wonder what the real perception of special events is in our community as I’ve never experienced a survey as a lifetime resident. We all love events – but many of them have become “tired and stale” to the local community, if not a general annoyance when going about daily life in the downtown core.
The RSVCA publicly states special events are our “top draw” for visitors – in combination with conventions and general tourism. My question to them is, if special events leave our economy, can those conventions and “general tourists” maintain (and grow) our level of economy? If not – what might? And exactly WHAT are the “general tourists” coming here for to begin with? Do they functionally believe we are “America’s Adventure Place”? Or was that simply a catchy advertising campaign slogan not rooted in reality? One that we may never be able to attain in the public’s mind – the place where brands really exist. Obviously, I believe we need to focus our collective efforts on the latter target (our audience’s beliefs), and quit seeking outside opinions about how we SHOULD be perceived.
Take a look at what the RSCVA promotes as “The Region” – it includes Truckee, California – certainly not part of our tax base, although it certainly may be the “gateway” to our area for visitors from California. But I wonder – does Lake Tahoe deserve such a prominent positioning in our brand messaging? Do we have the infrastructure to support the Reno-Tahoe area as “America’s Adventure Place”? While I do believe associating what is perceived as a negative brand view of Reno-Sparks with the more positive image of Lake Tahoe, I wonder if it confuses those more when our target marketing is not in alignment between the two agencies that represent these regions. And in fact, if Tahoe isn’t a very different and unique brand from ours that is not a “siamese twin” in concept.
Perhaps the outcry over this is well founded, and long overdue. Let’s get back to basics – promoting our locale to the world for its unique values and quit pandering to the dwindling 1-80 corridor tourist. I realize that market sector represent a vast majority of “heads on pillows” in our community, but I also believe that, in part, this is the kind of “small thinking” that has positioned us where we are today – without a believable, engaging brand in the consumer’s mind.
Add this to the longstanding “feud” between Sparks and the RSVCA, and you have the disasterous new positioning suggestion for Sparks to be known as “Nevada’s Festival City”. Here’s yet another unbelievable, unfounded brand position. Unfortunately, this one cost $114,000 in funds to an outside agency who would, without doubt, help us all “earn” Sparks’ brand. Ridiculous. From our online surveys, this was not only not believable – but unfathomable that our own local government would waste such funds when the talent and ability to help position the city’s brand resides within its own borders.
Now comes the time when casinos can no longer deliver on their promise of supporting our economy. This isn’t news to anyone, and smarter people than I could have shown you the exact rate of projected decline years ago during the beginnings of Native American gaming facilities throughout the nation. The gaming well is dry – and we don’t have hope for rain in that sector of our economy. It’s time we accepted that fact, and got to work on developing a message strategy for what we have that IS unique – and there’s plenty of supporting facts to give that message real meaning and life.
So we’re fractioned. And in that void comes the culturally popular national appeal of Reno 911 – which at first was literally applauded by many locals when it first aired as helping “put Reno on the map”. And so it did. It added to our quirkyness – our uniqueness…and it stuck in the minds of consumers, many of whom were actually convinced the series was produced locally.
We no longer can rely on an gaming economic base that we have known for the history of this region, and now find that lack of stability causing our leaders to debate over the need for new brand positioning slogans and citywide attempts. This must end. To that point, Councilman Aiazzi put it best:
“We should all get together and say, ‘Here’s what we are going to do as a community,’ and not just let the RSCVA do their own events and us do ours and Sparks do theirs,” Aiazzi said. “We would get a lot more bang for our buck if we pooled our money and not just point fingers and say this is the RSCVA’s fault or this is Reno’s fault.”
Music to my ears. I’ve longed to hear a public servant speak-out in such a way, and risk the political backing of so many constituents and agencies.
We have incredibly talented people in our region – and not just at the stakeholder agencies. We have the insight and understanding to help position our area to old and new audiences in a way that is honest and engaging. And most importantly, we have the product to back our claims.
Is it time to think anew about positioning Reno with Tahoe? Should Sparks be mentioned in our brand message? What is unique about northern Nevada that will engage the public and visitors alike now, and for years to come? Can we finally spend some time and invest in the great minds that reside here instead of calling on the “out-of-town expert” to tell us what we value and who we are?
And most importantly in all this dialogue is the question that very few have asked:
What do YOU think should be done now?