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.

8 Responses to “Reno’s Flailing Brand”

  1. J. Brandon Says:

    “Where do we go from here?” That’s the question, isn’t it?
    One definition of a brand is “what your customers say about you.” So slogans, and logos, and other creative stuff are merely tools we use to encourage our customers to say good things about us.

    We all know there are great things going on in Reno and the surrounding communities. Nice people running strong businesses, and delivering a good customer experience.

    Can we tell that story better? Certainly. Do we need, or want, someone else to tell it for us? I’d like to think that we are not all waiting around for the local bureau-authority-agency-commission to tell the world how fabulous we are. If so, shame on us.

    Today, each of us has the tools to tell a compelling story to an immense audience at very low cost. Social media vehicles such as Facebook and Twitter have enabled a completely new landscape. This ability to immediately share a great experience in our community with people elsewhere is unprecedented.

    When you meet a friend for a midday coffee at a local café, do you mention it and share a photo of the view on your business’s Facebook page? When you enjoy an exceptional day of skiing, do you tweet about it? These tiny messages, this individual microblogging, all meshes together into the fabric of our story.

    Each of can contribute to the message that our community is a great place to live, to work, and to visit. And if we are not contributing, then we have earned the story that our customers are telling to one another.

  2. Larry DeVincenzi Says:

    Spot on J. Brandon! Now…how should that effort be organized? Who pays for the launch (and maybe some training) for the public? How do we recreate that “We Love This Place” stir in the community that actually mobilizes? And my favorite question… who is going to lead it?

    • J. Brandon Says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Larry.

      This will work best as an individual effort. Each of us contributing our own stories to the much larger whole. And it has already begun. Anyone who mentions our community in their outgoing media stream is already a part of that story.

      So the question becomes “What are we saying?” Are we talking about the good things in our community? Or the stuff we wish weren’t true?

      That said, there is clearly a place for an organization to lead the effort. Here in Douglas County, where I live, our local government has launched a forward-thinking social media initiative to help tell our story. The audience is employers who might be thinking about expanding or relocating their facilities. Initially, that target is further refined to be manufacturers in the outdoor recreation industry that would appreciate the natural beauty and lifestyle that our community has to offer.

      You can learn more about the program, Ascent Douglas, at:

  3. Jeremy J Aragon Says:

    This post describes a lot of what I have experienced as far as perception of Reno. I too grew up in Reno and then moved away in 2001 to Minnesota. When ever I was asked where I came from and I said Reno, nine out of ten times the response was the same, ” Like Reno 911, Reno?” And I would stare at them clueless because I had never seen the show until THEY mentioned it. Anyways, I moved back to Reno about a year and a half ago and must say, this city is dying fast! A majority of the people I know that have been out here for a significant amount of time are all losing everything they have worked so hard for, houses, businesses, cars, boats etc…

    So I have been working on some ideas to stimulate the local economy and its ironic that J. Brandon said this,”Can we tell that story better? Certainly. Do we need, or want, someone else to tell it for us? I’d like to think that we are not all waiting around for the local bureau-authority-agency-commission to tell the world how fabulous we are. If so, shame on us.”

    My team and I have a vision to truly represent Reno by exposing all that is GREAT out here, I have created a site called renoplaces . com and it has been a great success but now we are rolling out version 2 which is going to show the world OUR version of Reno, from interviews with local biz owners to random clips of the nightlife festivities, heres a secret link to the beta site, would love to hear any ideas and we are always interested in collaborating with other like minded pro-Reno folks!

    Thanks for the great blog post Larry, its nice to know I’m not alone with these thoughts and aspirations!

    Jeremy Aragon

  4. Fred McCandless Says:

    Flailing brand captures the root of the problem. Something to keep in mind is a great observation by Maya Angelou: “People will forget almost everything you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

    Reinventing Reno is a great goal for the next 10 years, but begin with the end in mind: What do you want to people to feel about their Reno experience? For the locals, perhaps a renewed sense of pride instead of flagging hope and growing despair. Without local enthusiasm, the tourists will feel the growing sense of desperation and lack of identity and eventually lose their DESIRE to visit.

    As a previous Reno resident and Reno High grad in the 1970s, I remember Reno as vibrant and filled with civic pride. The schools were outstanding and the entertainment/gaming industry thriving. Instead of trying to revive the “old Reno”, what is the new vision? Where is the greatest need for the community?

    Build a campfire for people to gather around and create the new story. One worth telling. Capture the soul of Reno and light the candle of enthusiasm. If you build it, they will come!


    • Jeffrey Dow Jones Says:

      I’ll admit that I’m totally clueless when it comes to things like “brand” and marketing, but I’d like to underscore Fred’s point about beginning with the end in mind. I fancy myself a fairly adept strategic thinker and that concept is the linchpin principle of developing any strategy. It’s about backwards induction, figuring out the outcome that’s optimal for you and then reasoning backwards through the decision tree, trying to anticipate your opponent’s reactions along the way — “opponent” in this context could be the tourists we’re trying to bring into the area.

      Does Reno know where it wants to be in ten years? What it wants to be known for? As someone who was born and raised in Reno (RHS ’97) and then spent six years living and working in Los Angeles, I’m a little sensitive to the “Biggest Little City” and “Reno 911” stereotypes too. I’d actually contend that there is a third stereotype that’s been developing, this one of economic wreckage from the over-construction we had here during the housing bubble. Nine people out of ten in my industry think of Reno only as a wasteland with vacant houses and the nation’s highest unemployment rate. That is, of course, unless they’ve actually visited the area.

      In any case, addressing that problem is another part of repairing Reno’s brand. It’s not the biggest part, but it’s an important part.

      We get asked all the time by clients why our business is based in Reno and not Wall Street or Greenwich. When people think of hedge funds they think of those places, not Reno. It’s a good topic for our weekly investment newsletter. “Why our Business is based in Reno” or something like that. In our case, it turns out there is one massively important reason and it isn’t just because we love the area: by basing our business here, we escape the groupthink present in the world’s financial centers and have an easier time thinking about things in creative, unconventional ways. This is, of course, how one gets an edge when it comes to finance and investment.

      So where DOES Reno want to be in 5 or 10 years? I’m with Larry — it’s all about the businesses that are developing downtown that aren’t casino related. This is the difference between Reno and Las Vegas. People think of Vegas and they think of The Strip. When people think of Reno they think of a smaller version of The Strip and what they SHOULD be thinking of is an ALTERNATIVE version of the Strip. One of the biggest themes in this strategy will be a choice between Nevada and Northern Nevada. Each has elements in its brand that need repair.

      In any case, we won’t ever be able to escape the gaming stereotypes and those will certainly be important businesses for the next decade so they do need to be embraced as a part of any strategy the region adopts. But as we all know there’s a lot going on around here that the world may be interested in knowing about. Getting everybody’s incentives aligned in that direction is the first part of putting that strategy into effect.

  5. Reno 911 Renos Says:

    […] Reno's Flailing Brand « smartbrandblog I too grew up in Reno and then moved away in 2001 to Minnesota. When ever I was asked where I came from and I said Reno, nine out of ten times the response was the same, ” Like Reno 911 Reno?” And I would stare at them clueless because . […]

  6. The “Why I Love Reno” Campaign « Holistic Marketing Concepts for Business Says:

    […] “The Biggest Little City,” there have been a variety of other re-branding attempts (as outlined in this post by local Reno branding expert Larry DeVincenzi) including “America’s Adventure Place,” “Far From Expected,” the […]

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