Branding effort gets under way

 by John Kenyon
LINN COUNTY – No matter what comes of a consultant’s efforts to create a brand identity for the Corridor, all parties agree that it won’t be limited to a logo and a tagline.

The Corridor Business Alliance (CBA), a coalition of 12 economic development-focused organizations, hired North Star Destination Strategies of Nashville, Tenn., to create a brand for the Corridor.

North Star President and CEO Don McEachern was in the Corridor last week to meet with several area stakeholders. That kicks off a three- to four-month period of research during which he and his staff will determine what is relevant and distinct about the region and then produce a platform and strategy for branding and marketing.

“The goal is for this region to be more competitive and when it’s appropriate, to work together as a region,” he said.

He said the area already has a strong identity.

“You have a lot of assets to wield and talk about,” he said. “There is also a lot of desire to work together, and the Corridor Business Alliance is illustrative of that.”

That organization was formed in 2009 and was publicly unveiled at the Path to Regional Excellence breakfast in November. Dee Baird, executive vice president of continuing education and training services at CBA member Kirkwood Community College, said the group didn’t want to not do anything with the information shared by speaker Michael Langley.

Instead, the group brought him back in December for a strategic planning session. From that, three imperatives for the Corridor were conceived:

— To develop and implement a regional brand.
— To develop a regional economic development plan
— To achieve full flood recovery regionally

“The one that is off and running is the regional brand,” she said.
Curt Nelson, President and CEO of the Entrepreneurial Development Center, another CBA member, was placed in charge of recommending firms that help with the branding effort.

“We needed to find firms that really had a deep experience set in what we have done,” he said. “There is no question the Corridor is filled with ad agencies that have branding experience. But (North Star) is really the only firm that we could find that actually only specializes in regional branding. They don’t do products. They just do the kind of work we need done, and they’ve done it for years.”

Another reason to contract with an outside company, he said, is to gain independent input. A local firm, depending on its location, might have a bias toward the north or south end of the Corridor, while North Star will provide a “third-party view.”

Mr. McEachern said that once his company’s research into the area is complete, his team will present its findings to the CBA. If the strategy proposed by North Star is approved, the team then would share details about how to put that strategy to work.

“It’s not about a logo and a line,” he said. “No slick logo is going to make someone move their business here, but it can warrant more investigation.”

That strategy will be different depending on the constituency. While governmental agencies and member organizations in the CBA might do one thing, general businesses in the Corridor would do another.

“For businesses, it’s not about using the logo, but more about thinking how that platform that is distinguishing this region can connect to what they do.”

Mr. Nelson said that while the CBA expects the effort to result in a logo and tagline, the real important product of North Star’s work will be in identifying what the Corridor’s brand is and what it can be.

“The end result will be for us to understand what the outside world believes (about us), and for us to be able to determine what can be used to make everybody’s boat float higher,” he said.  “They will help us to create greater vitality and sustainability.”

Mr. McEachern said there will be suggestions for how the private sector can implement whatever is proposed. Mr. Nelson likened it to the Intel logo that is found on the computer products made by several different manufacturers. Each has a different individual brand and market goal, but they use a universally recognized logo that indicates shared qualities.

Ms. Baird agreed that the research conducted by North Star will be a valuable product of this effort.

“All this research that we are going to get will help us to truly define what the region is,” she said. “This is about truly understanding the uniqueness and the competitive advantage we have as a region. We have never done research like this, gathered data like this, and we will be stronger as a result of it.”

North Star has considerable experience in this arena, having helped more than 100 communities and regions to rebrand and market themselves. Mr. McEachern pointed to efforts like those in Providence, R.I., as particularly successful.

North Star’s branding campaign there revolved around the “P” in Providence and the tagline “Providence: The Creative Capital.” While there were skeptics – a former mayor complained to the Wall Street Journal that “they had to go to Nashville to let them tell us that we are creative” – it seems to have paid dividends. Travel + Leisure magazine recently named Providence one of America’s favorite cities.