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.
“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.