Thursday, June 28, 2007

Some branding talk

As has been discussed earlier, some folks weren't terribly thrilled with the new logo and brand rolled out by the Athens CVB. One of the original ideas during this process, which began three years ago, was this one pitched by Snowden Tatarski. I think it was a pretty strong proposal, but it was passed over and a firm from outside of Athens-Clarke County was chosen to craft the new branding process.

Snowden Tatarski puts together a newsletter, and there most recent offering included their thoughts on the entire process. Here's an interesting excerpt ...

The concept and drive behind 'Only in Athens' was to develop a brand that could be used to attract both visitors and relocatees of an individual and organizational nature. We marketed the idea that our seemingly paradoxical existences indicate our unique spirit that is desirable to businesses and individuals alike. For example, in an ad we showed two restaurants on our main drag in downtown. To the first restaurant pointed an arrow which said “Chateau D’ Pomerol, $198 a bottle” to the second restaurant pointed an arrow which said “Chateau D’ Milwaukee, $3.50 a pitcher. The ad then went on to explain that Athens’ biggest selling point is great diversity peacefully existing in one area. Diversity of geography, business, entertainment and lifestyle make Athens what it is. This approach is in opposition to the too often bullet point laden junk that so typifies destination marketing. We told the relocating businesses that our unique offerings were something that they needed and that they could only find in Athens. Similarly, we told the prospective visitors that unique cultural and enriching experiences also exist to make Athens a fine destination.

Walking out of the meeting, I knew we nailed it. You could see the glimmer in the attendee’s eyes as they imagined all the other seemingly paradoxical relationships that exist in Athens. We had struck a cord and were awaiting a flood of new and even better ideas to emerge from within the strategy. It took only days to get the e-mail.

And we were crestfallen. The head of the Conventions and Visitors Bureau dispatched an e-mail to the mayor calling for the group that had convened to reconvene for a more expansive study of which he would happily be in charge of. He powder puffed our efforts and vacuumed all the momentum we had created in pursuit of his ambitions.


In the three years it took the CVB to craft a brand for the city there was enough tomfoolery to upstage the Benny Hill show. The first firm considered promised to do a full review of operational effectiveness of the CVB and other brand entities. That firm was promptly dismissed because this effort was about the CVB trying to make itself relevant, not to let everyone see how the sausage is made.

The second firm was ousted for giving several communities the same brand. All of the smoke and mirrors that the CVB director had used to persuade the stakeholders towards and out-of-town firm ended up being just smoke and mirrors. The dismissal of the second firm was kept quite as to not wake those asleep at the wheel. The third and final effort used a professor from a college a state away, the bountiful resource of about ten thousand dollars and came up with something profound. Athens: Life Unleashed!

The effort landed with such a resounding thud that even some of the stakeholders would not sign their name to it. The newspaper called foul and conducted an online poll where two thirds of the respondents said they hated the concept. The CVB staff ran around like a battalion of keystone cops trying to cover their actions. When I attended their board meeting soon after the supposed launch they cowered from the subject and barely mentioned their three years in the making masterpiece.

I was asked my opinion because we had been summarily dismissed from the CVB because they could not gain political power from our continued efforts; the Economic Development Foundation loved our materials. So did the ADDY judges. The material was named “Best in Show” by the local ADDYs. A major market research company who studied the branding efforts of the State of Georgia said the work was “The best municipal marketing materials I have ever seen.” So what was my opinion?

My critique is simple. That’s not a brand.

It’s a campy slogan. It’s a poorly designed logo. It’s a group of ads that continue to perpetuate the undesirable concept that Athens is a place of excesses. Honestly, when was the last time anyone typified anything positive as being “unleashed?”

I blame the CVB for putting their own attainment of power and influence above the needs of the town but I don’t fully blame them for the brand screw up. It is a common problem to equate the idea of a brand with so much that it is not.


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