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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Brookings Misses Economic Development Point, Buys into Branding

When it comes to economic and cultural development, Brookings makes Madison look like pikers. Sometimes I wonder if Brookings sends its Dwaine Chapel to work at our economic development corporation as a spy just to keep us from catching up.

Alas, Brookings's pre-eminence may be crashing to an end, as our neighbors to the northeast drink the same marketing Kool-Aid that makes Madison look so silly. The city is trotting out a new logo and "branding" campaign, despite clear evidence that they don't need one:

The new logo and strapline are important, but there’s so much more to branding, says Victoria Blatchford, chair of the city’s Visitor Promotions Committee and member of the branding task force.

“A brand is something that can stand the test of time. It continues to be an experience. It’s a unified voice, and we just didn’t have that unified voice to promote Brookings" [Jill Fier, "New City Brand Tells Visitors, Residents to 'Bring Your Dreams,'" Brookings Register, 2010.05.22].

To preserve their sanity, marketing people must have to not listen to themselves. Blatchford says Brookings hasn't had a unified "branding" voice. Yet the absence of that unified voice hasn't stopped Brookings from kicking butt on the economic development front. SDSU, Innovation Campus, downtown Brookings, commercial development by the I-29 exit... all trucking right along with momentum built in those awful dark years when there was no unified branding.

More marketing-speak:

“When we looked at all the avenues of how Brookings is seen,” Blatchford said, “our looks and our sounds and how people look at us were just so different. … We have to define who we are, and we have so many different assets that are wonderful in Brookings, how do you culminate that into one feel, one statement, one look?" [Fier, 2010]

Maybe you don't. Maybe Brookings's success lies precisely in being many different things to many different people (or target markets). Maybe the effort to cram your entire city's character into one silly, focus-grouped, expensive ($84,000!!!) slogan disguises your successful diversity. Look at Madison: we go slapping our cute sailboat logo on everything. But how many sailboat owners are there in Madison? How many sailboat regattas take place here? Most importantly, what does that sailboat say about 99.9% of the businesses and events taking place in Madison? Zip.

The Brookings marketers also buy into contradictory thinking on the nature of a town slogan. Fier notes at the top of her article past slogans that have come and gone. Blatchford seems to think the new slogan is somehow different, that the new branding will "stand the test of time." Yet City Manager Jeff Weldon says in the same article, "Every organization, public or private, needs to refresh its image, update how it wants to market and sell itself to the public." In a few years, this new slogan and branding campaign will go stale and need refreshing as well.

And the marketing firms will be back to score another $84,000 contract.

For towns, slogans and branding just don't matter... at least not nearly as much as actual performance. Brookings is proof of that. Brookings could have had "Liver and Onions!" on its Chamber flyers and billboards for the last ten years, and people still would have come to Brookings for work and school and culture and groceries.

What makes economic development happen is more than any clever advertiser can slap on a banner. Madison hasn't learned that lesson... and now Brookings is unlearning it.


  1. "It continues to be an experience." That sentence really appeals to my sense of absurdist humor. It does, indeed, continue to be an experience.

    Brett Hoffman

  2. The price for that logo really gets me, was it 84,000, really, and the slogan too? I love great marketing, but sometimes the best marketing is the simplest, and the least costly. Surprised the SDSU kids didn't design it, be a great project for sure!

    Yes, the Madison sailboat motif is quite a bit off, really, who does own a sailboat in Madison, lets count em', if you own a sailboat, and actually reside in Madison, voice up!

    If we're going to promote the sailboat theme, we need to really embrace it, especially downtown. Sailing inspired all around, everyone has to wear a wristwatch and those dock shoes too!

    So what should our community image/motif be? History based, like chautauqua, maybe excitement based, like an !, or activities based, like the sailboat or basketball, or do we need the logo at all, maybe we'll go with 'Madison ?'

  3. Michael Black5/25/2010 9:49 AM

    I study marketing every day. There are a HUGE number of blogs out there that promote the idea of consistent branding across your products, services, and marketing.

    Given Brookings proven track record, they will do just fine.

  4. Mike,

    Huge difference between marketing a town over a product.

    What is the goal of Brookings and Madison with their clever logos? Tourism? Relocation?

    From what I gather, Madison's main goal is to gain new business in town.

    Now the $10,000 question is does a fancy logo and motto make or break a business the decision to open that business or not? I sure hope not.

    The town we moved to had no fancy slogan or logo. Our local economic development group is a private organization with funds derived from it's shareholders, which we belong to.

    Before we left Madison we thought very hard about starting a business there. After several months of thought and research, we decided on our current community mostly based on logic and research that led us here. Of course quality of life played a role into that decision, and so far we can't complain (having a cup of coffee on my deck every morning with a view of the Rocky Mountains does the soul wonders). Plus, the Wyoming legislature actually cares about children and education.

    When you market someone to hire you to take photos for them, it isn't a life changing event. When you market someone to pack their bags and move across the country, it is a little different.

    Our area is expecting 4 million tourists this summer. No logo, no fancy marketing campaign. We're just who we are, take it or leave it.

    Rather than portray itself as something it isn't, Madison needs to simplify it's approach. Overmarketing and clever propaganda does not work.

    While the role of the LAIC is important to promote the community, I think a new approach is in order. And it needs to get back to the basics and involve the ENTIRE community.

  5. Michael Black5/25/2010 12:50 PM

    Mark, if I don't market correctly, my family doesn't eat. Remember that my business is located in am unincorporated village of less than 25 people. We are one of the very few families in the state that successfully support themselves from just photography.

  6. Is the Brookings exclamation point to symbolize you rising from the dead or falling to the ground?

  7. Granted logos are great, I love shameless promotion as much as the next, I'm an artsy type afterall.

    We can do better than 'Discover the Unexpected' too, it's says something, by saying nothing.

    I do enjoy the little catch-phrases communities use, but sometimes they go terribly wrong, like Iowa's 'You make me smile!' which has been replaced with 'Fields of Opportunities', two bad examples there.

    My own hometown, for a complete lack of reason has 'Clinton-On the River', that's about right, it's on the river, I've said that for years, ask me where I aged, I say 'it's on the river'

    I'll give credit to Madison making use of the logo on everything, from public works to tourism, to signage and t-shirts. At least they have the package together, I appreciate that, you gotta look the part.

    The question I have is if this is 1) a successful campaign, 2) does it convey the image of Madison we want, or deserve, 3) What should a logo/motif/image say about us?

    This Madison community summit looks like it has legs here, first topic, boat or no boat, discuss amongst yourselves.

  8. Ok, I'll bring the Hobie to Lake Herman, but not the Hunter.

  9. Sheer serendipity: Jon Hunter speaks at IgniteSD tonight about how much he enjoys sailing.

    Larry, you're welcome to bring whatever sports gear will fit on our little lake!

  10. Oh, and Thad, like all art, the meaning of that exclamation is open to interpretation. :-)

    Michael, I don't dispute that marketing can do some good in business, but Mark's experience in Wyoming, as well as Brookings's apparent success, demonstrate that fancy unified marketing is not a prerequisite to community development. As Mark says, there is a difference between a product and a community.

  11. Mike, we as small business owners use marketing to draw customers. You're selling photos, I'm selling burgers and fries. We buy ads in local newspapers, radio stations, and use the internet to try to convince someone to patronize our businesses.

    There is a huge difference between me marketing someone to spend an hour in my restuarant compared to Madison targeting new business and industry.

    The problem with Madison's campaign is that it is trying to make something bigger and better than what it actually is. In my humble opinion, if the organizers sat back and let Madison sell itself, I think the results would be beyond satisfaction.

    There is a lot of potential in Madison. It is sad that the people making the decisions think they are the best asset to the communinty, rather than the community itself.

  12. Online Sailboat Vote:

    Sailboat Owners 1
    Non-Sailboat Owners 6,499

    Organic Worm Farm Owners? More since igniteSD last night! And Jon did give a great talk, might have to get a sailboat myself someday.

  13. Maybe each letter should be a different symbol. The A can remain jon's sailboat. The S can be a compost worm. The M can be my blog-reporter's hat.... As I said above, maybe the best branding for a town isn't a unified message, but a multiplicity of voices representing everything that the town is to different people.

  14. And Mark, wow! You so get it! "Let Madison sell itself." Perfect!

  15. All kidding aside about sailboats, I like the idea of Madison selling the community, especially everything we have already going, from organizations, to rec and parks, to the people itself.

    Here's my pitch: "Madison is.."

    So Madison is diverse, exciting, people of all walks, beliefs, and ideas, let's promote that. I'd like to us have a campaign whereabouts we feature our community happening.

    Madison is...followed by things like music, theatre, arts, volunteers, prairie village, habitat, rotary, almost home canine, DSU, John Green, Madison Gymnastics, B-Ball, green building, beer drinking, even blogging and Mary Hart, feel free to add here.

    Let's replace those banners around town with this fresh campaign, each banner featuring something else, with the tagline, Madison is...

    Even those print ads we run, commercials too, lets promote what we have going on, which is already cool.

    I'll even volunteer my services to make it happen, free work offered, any takers? Join in!


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