Reno’s Flailing Brand

Readers of this blog may recall that Reno’s brand perception is a topic that’s close to my heart (and always on my mind) for a variety of reasons.  As my hometown, the criticism of Reno as a “third class gambling town” is far from reality – but as we all know, “perception is reality” and we are deserving of our low-class status perception among our key target markets (drive and fly-in).

For more than a decade, the Reno Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority (RSCVA) has fought not only a massive recession that has changed the landscape of tourism regionally, but also a financially and strategically flailing infrastructure that has routinely sought out-of-market expertise in ongoing attempts to reposition our City’s image via new slogans (“America’s Adventure Place”, “A Little West of Center”, “Far From Expected”) targeting what I consider to be widely different demographics.  Today, the agency is in process of seeking new leadership – and struggling with a current campaign that is not well received (or understood) by locals.

While early signs of the local economy recovery are now trending, I personally don’t believe we will ever abandon the classic positioning line of “The Biggest Little City In The World” as it’s featured on the City’s most famous representative icon – the Reno Arch.  Tourists have long struggled with two concurrent slogans for the City; this classic and any number of short-lived campaigns that seem to come and go seemingly like the seasons.

Why haven’t these newer campaigns caught fire in the minds of consumers?  I’m sure there are many theories – of which I certainly have my observations.  But the bottom line is – they haven’t, and they aren’t – and our customers are continually underwhelmed by older, repetitive special events and a general lack of civic duty when it comes to maintaining clean, safe, non-gaming activities that attract a younger demographic and families looking for an affordable, memorable escape.

Add to that the general malaise that you experience in many of the service providers in the gaming establishments, and you continue to tell your market that you’re one kind of product (“exciting/unexpected/unique”) and they continue to experience another (“expected/antiquated/bland”).  This “brand disconnect” is at the core of our image problem, and it’s going to take a lot more than a catchy ad campaign to actually change perception.

SO…what CAN Reno do to address this ongoing problem?

I believe the answer truly resides in the many businesses located in downtown Reno that are NOT gaming oriented – and those businesses far outweigh the gaming industry in numbers and grass-roots voices.  As small business entrepreneurs will tell you, they don’t have time for politics or huge budgets for marketing – and their voice is often absent due to their time constraints and self-defeating frustration.

News that several quasi-governmental agencies and Chambers of Commerce are in the early stages of merging into one organization are hopeful signs that our community is beginning to truly collaborate from “one page in the songbook” – but the infrastructure that is tasked with attracting tourism to our town is still driven by tax revenues from major casino properties and hotel/motels.  While those entities may have the most financially at stake – the message of gambling/outdoor adventure has not proven one that resonates with our regional market.

So where do we go from here?  Who will listen to the many small business owners that are investing in our community today with new restaurants, bars, retail outlets and services?  Other than joining their Chamber and mixing with one another, how can they be part of, and help craft a unified message that focuses on Reno’s community pride and physical realities?

Where do we go from here?  How do we integrate the community into our regional messaging?  Is it important that we do, or do we simply continue down the path of promoting ourselves as a “friendly gambling town”?

Your feedback and ideas are what really interests me as this stage of Reno’s development.

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