Make Your Small Town’s Historic District Your Most Valuable Marketing Asset

by Joanne Steele on December 18, 2009

Historic Districts are a dime a dozen. Drive down any freeway in any part of the United States and you’ll see the sign “Historic Downtown” sign preceding most of the small town off ramps.

The question is, how do you make your historic district stand above the rest and encourage people to stop and experience it.

The answer is to remember that people aren’t visiting your historic downtown because of the old buildings. They are stopping because of how your history can make them FEEL.

The Bailey Family of the mythical Bedford Falls

The Bailey Family of mythical Bedford Falls

Check out how Seneca Falls, New York, US is successfully marketing their history as The Real Bedford Falls, of “It’s a Wonderful Life” fame.

What makes this 62 year old tradition so successful for Seneca Falls? Because we all want to experience that FEELING that our lives really matter.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is such a popular old movie because that is its message, and Seneca Falls has adopted it as their own.

“If you want to feel like your life really matters, come to Seneca Falls,” is the message.  “Frank Capra loved us so much he used us as his model for his best loved movie!”

How can you create just as compelling a message for your town’s historic district?

Look at all the things that made your town great. That’s your history, not your old buildings.

What did your hard working people do for good ol’ family fun? Remember, in the “olden days” people took their kids along to events and barn dances and shopping.

Who was famous in your area and what was he/she famous or notorious for? Local fame is all that is necessary. It is the FEELING you need to capture as you market your history.

In Yreka, CA, US, during the Gold Rush era, there was a dance hall girl, who was such a good performer, miners made her rich by tossing her gold nuggets as she danced. There is a FEELING to be marketed.

Forget all the worn out words and phrases: bonding, reconnecting, experiencing, “bring your family together”, nostalgia.

Discover new more descriptive words to describe the special FEELINGS your history can evoke in visitors.

Those feelings don’t have to all be squishy and nostalgic. They might be “rugged”, “spirited” or “entrepreneurial”. The feelings that made your town what it is today!

Use those FEELINGS words as part of your marketing message for your town.

Scrap talk about your historic district. Talk about experiencing the FEELINGS that made your town a success. That built its history.

Create an event or events that remind locals about how great your town was and is, and invites visitors to share those FEELINGS.

It’s simple, it’s powerful, it’s authentic. It is what small rural towns are all about.

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