Branding is the key to any marketing strategy. A brand is not just a slogan, a logo or a tag line; it is an all-encompassing description of a product that, if successful, is readily recognizable by the consumer. McDonald’s golden arches. The Nike “swoosh.” “Like a good neighbor…” Mickey Mouse. All of these are instantly recognizable, and more importantly, connected with a positive image of their respective companies.
The Peoria area is a product. We sell it to businesses when we pitch them to locate here we sell it to people when we entice them to move here, and we sell it to tourists when we encourage them to visit here. Yet even though there are a lot of unique shops, restaurants, hotels, attractions and sites to visit throughout the eight-county region we serve, I believe it is critical that we all work together as a team to be successful. And that team needs a name. It needs an identity that we can market to the point that it becomes instantly recognizable as a fun destination.
Several years ago, I was watching a broadcast of Monday Night Football. One of the teams playing was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Commentator Al Michaels noted that the game was being broadcast live from Tampa, Florida. But then something strange happened. Michaels went on to explain that the city’s name was not Tampa Bay, but simply Tampa; the Bay referred to the region around Tampa, which involves other communities besides the city. How’s that for branding success?
At a forum I attended recently that involved more than 40 convention and visitors bureau CEOs from all over the U.S., a lot of discussion centered on the critical role branding plays in the success of any region. More and more communities across the country are embracing the concept, to their benefit. In those success cases, everyone got on board: the Chamber, the EDC, the CVB, the county and the city. In cases like ours, multiple cities, chambers and counties subscribed. They all use the same brand, including logo, slogan and story. It will be a difficult challenge getting eight counties, and all of their municipalities, to agree on one name. A lot of the debate will focus on whether communities, especially the smaller towns, will compromise or lose their identities. But I believe it is a debate worth having.
Last month we celebrated the 24th annual National Tourism Week by encouraging those of you who live in the Peoria area to be “tourists in your own backyard.” With gas prices well above three dollars per gallon, I challenge you to get in your car and drive two counties away, instead of two states away the next time you and the family travel. When people from Princeton in Bureau County visit, say, Havana, it has the same effect on that town as if those folks were from Princeton, New Jersey, and vice versa. I think you’ll discover some very rewarding experiences you never realized you could have so close to home. Moreover, my hope is you will be energized by your positive experiences and help us spread the word through the most powerful form of advertising there is: a pleasurable first-hand experience and word of mouth. IBI