Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marketing the City

This past week Duluth Mayor Don Ness released a 78-page report about the Duluth Creative Corridor that assesses the city and outlines steps the city can take as it envisions its future. Friday I shared here some of the findings with regard to creating a sense of place. This morning I wanted to share some of the suggestions that the panel of experts proposed with regard to the marketing of our city. They offered some really good insights.

Actually, what was intriguing about their ideas was they stemmed from a serious assessment by fresh eyes. For what it's worth, this region really might be ready for prime time.

Duluth has done a remarkable job re-positioning itself among residents of the upper Midwest as a family vacation spot and destination for outdoor enthusiasts. With its spectacular shoreline, unusual hilly topography, tourist-centered Canal Park area, and burgeoning downtown nightlife and arts scene, Duluth could become a national destination for vacationers and new residents – if the city is able to use both creative marketing and authentic place-making. As Mayor Don Ness told the editorial board of the Duluth News Tribune, Duluth should aim to join cities like Boulder, Colorado, and Asheville, North Carolina, as a nationally known mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and young creatives.

A critical piece when it comes to marketing any product is branding. In the case of a city, it involves clearly identifying who or what we really are. 

Most of us who have been immersed in Duluth culture for any amount of time have pre-conceived notions about who we are that prevent us from really seeing. We know the names of our neighborhood, our creeks and parks, etc. But what is Duluth today? The report stated that answering this question will be a vital part of how we market ourselves to the wider world.

What is the Duluth brand? The team stressed that a brand is not the same as a slogan. Nor is identifying who we are going to be something that one person or constituency does alone, expecting everyone else to buy in.

The city boasts 3.5 million tourist visitors a year, so clearly its marketing team has done its job well. But the city’s messaging could be better grounded through a more unified strategy. That does not mean one big slogan for all marketing messages. It means that the many agencies and people who help shape the city’s marketing must work together with a common understanding of their purpose. Studying the motivations and profiles of the many different types of people and groups attracted to Duluth and determining the appropriate branding for places within the city, the downtown, and the Duluth Creative Corridor will take time and intellectual rigor.

The report offers too many ideas for such a brief space here, so I recommend reading it for yourselves, but here's one that jumped out at me.

Clarify what downtown is: Downtown, Old Downtown, and Canal Park appear to have different visions of whether they are one place or three. The downtown place-brand beyond Canal Park is at best unclear, and there is limited consensus about what the community wants it to be. Survey results clearly indicate that the marketplace sees Canal Park as a distinct place and stakeholders clearly market it as such. Efforts to similarly position the rest of downtown or the Duluth Creative Corridor are limited, although the Fitger’s Brewery Complex/ Downtown Waterfront area and increasingly the entertainment district near the Sheraton Duluth Hotel have some presence. Coming up with a shared marketing vision and simple, unified marketing message is all the more difficult because of the long linear form and diversity of the downtown. The overarching Duluth Creative Corridor provides a mechanism for achieving the shared definition of place needed for effective marketing. In that approach, the corridor umbrella is punctuated with distinctive districts and corridors that reflect their unique assets and appeal. Denver, for example, has an expansive downtown, but visitors and residents alike all know about “LoDo” (Lower Downtown) and the dining, entertainment, and nighttime activity associated with that section of the downtown.

In other words, the various pieces have been developing beautifully, but they are not as yet working in concert. The charrette suggested we can be strengthened by linking these into a complete district. It's certainly something to think about.

Ultimately, here were the Top Five Recommendations for marketing Duluth and the Creative Corridor.

Brand ≠ Slogan. 
Convene all groups with a role in marketing Duluth (the GDC, Downtown Council, Visit Duluth, Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, Duluth Economic Development Authority, Visit Duluth, etc.) to (A) determine Duluth’s “brand” or “essence” and (B) devise the best strategies to capitalize on or, if necessary, change that brand.

Downtown Is Downtown, Old or New. 
 Begin treating downtown, Canal Park, and the lower Hillside areas as all part of one “downtown.”

By the Numbers. 
Begin to quantify successes (or lack of) in attracting residents to downtown and in dollars reinvested in the charrette area. That gives heft to marketing and points to areas in need of attention.

Authenticity Matters.  
After creating the Duluth Creative Corridor, use it to illustrate and market Duluth’s future as a home for young creatives, families, and empty-nesters in search of city life.

Capitalize on the Big Mo.  
Act quickly, before the energy generated by the charrette team’s return visit dissipates.   

The city has momentum. You can hear it in the amplified buzz in the arts sector especially. Let's keep it going.

No comments: