Part 4 – Building your Small Town Primary Vision into a Brand

by Joanne Steele on October 2, 2009

People in urban areas think that we rural folks are living in Mayberry RFD. NOT!


This series is about branding your town. When you and your team limp off the consensus building battlefield so common for small town decision making, you’re ready for the next step.

It is tempting to rush into development of a cutsie slogan. I ran across a few tries that made it to the front of visitors’ guides. Sayings like “In the HEART of Recreation Country”, or “Escape, Relax, Enrich.” These are nice sayings, but they’re not the workhorses you need to define a Brand.

A Brand is something you earn with hard work, not something you create on paper. Think about how many years Ashland OR worked to build itself as the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. They don’t have a cute saying around that. Their NAME is the brand.

Say Ashland, Oregon in New York City or Portland or San Francisco or Salt Lake City and people will say “theater”. That is a successful brand created by years and years of hard work.

So, what is the hard work you need to do next?

Build your primary vision into your brand.

Look with a critical eye at what is standing between your town achieving brand recognition around your primary vision and its current situation.

  • Empty rundown storefronts?
  • No central gathering place for visitors and locals?
  • Need for shoulder season activities to extend your primary vision?
  • A need for additional services to round out your visitor experience?

It’s time to get creative.

We are in a recession that will continue to create hardship in small towns for years. Building on your primary vision is a good bet right now – you’re going to be making what you already have better.

Identify a number of specific projects that will move you along that could qualify for federal rural development money. Get grant applications filled in and filed. It will put local people to work making their own town better.

Senator Mary Landrieu sponsored the amendment designating money for rural tourism businesses! Check out my post on this: Federal Money Proposed for Rural Tourism Businesses

It’s happening already. Greenville, TN just landed $10,000 for a new web site. Rural Alabama is getting money for their Agri-tourism trail.

To expand visitor services, involve the towns around you.

We’re in a recession. The likelihood of attracting additional services to YOUR TOWN right now is dim.

In a workshop for small towns in our area a few years ago, Roger Brooks of Destination Development International told participants that for every hour a visitor travels they expect to be entertained for half a day.

Southern Siskiyou County, California’s small towns realized that working alone, they each could retain visitors for about half a day. Together they became a multiple day destination.

If you are too small to expand your primary vision into a destination brand right now, join with your neighbors.

Remember, Disneyland is fabulously successful because it had Adventure Land, Tomorrow Land, Fantasy Land, Frontier Land and more.

Don’t let old rivalries keep you from collaborating with your neighbors. Each can have your own primary vision, and together you have a regional flavor destination.

Marketing comes next. Catch you on Monday.

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