Friday, November 17, 2017

Cabarrus County New Brand Gains Attention

Avant Marketing Group conducted the branding research and developed the new brand platform and positioning for Cabarrus County, North Carolina.

Cabarrus County rebrands, gets new logo

By Erin Weeks 704-789-9131 Nov 10, 2017 (1)

Family. Faith. Collaboration. Tradition.

Four pillars that epitomize Cabarrus County culture, both as it was, as it is and as it hopes to be.

These four core values, derived over months of research by an outside marketing firm, form the basis for the new Cabarrus County brand and led not only to a new logo but a powerful new slogan, as well: “America thrives here.”

“This is the first brand we’ve had significant research put into,” county Communications and Outreach Manager Kasia Thompson said. “We used a tagline back in 2005 that was ‘Home of American motorsports,’ and we’ve used the seal since then, but we’ve not had a county identity until now.”

The county hired Avant Marketing Group and Walker Marketing Inc. companies to conduct brand research and develop a logo. Avant headed up the research portion, hitting the ground running with information from the county’s community survey.

“It is really important in order for a brand to be authentic and a brand to live up to its brand promise that the brand be based in detailed research, not just a couple of folks sitting around coming up with a slogan,” Paul VandenElzen with Avant said.

The company formed five focus groups comprising residents, business leaders and county officials. Interviews with county leaders gave the company an idea of where the direction the county wanted to go, and meetings with high school students gave a base for the thoughts of the generation that would lead that future. They asked what people thought was both good and bad about the place they lived.

Through a brand audit, Avant took a look at Cabarrus’ five municipalities to verify what they found lined up with cities and towns. They also looked at past county messaging.

All that information combined into a brand platform, which is based on values rather than certain attributes, characteristics or attractions in the county.

“The reason why we do that is we want to be sure that it’s a brand that is sustainable, and, as you know, anything can change and sometimes dramatically change in terms of what a county offers,” Mark Vogel with Avant said. When you focus on values, you’re focusing on the people that live there, that reside within the area, and by doing so you learn their values, the shared values of the community. And our values don’t change quickly over a period of time.”

Values, Vogel said, tend to form at a young age and stick with people as they grow.

“They become basically the compass point of our behavior,” he said. “It really makes up the texture and fabric of any type or organization as well as a municipality or in this case a county.”

The core values Avant found formed the basis of Cabarrus County culture were family, faith, collaboration and tradition. No one value is greater than the other, Vogel said; instead all four sit in what the company calls an equilibrium, defining what makes Cabarrus County.

“Cabarrus County respects tradition while focusing on progress with a strong collaboration in their business, which is extremely critical,” Vogel said. “When we began our research earlier this year, there was one profound perspective that Cabarrus County has that we do not find in many communities throughout the country, and that is collaboration.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Wrong Way to Brand a City

Municipal brand development can be either extremely beneficial or frustrating for a community. Here is an example of what NOT to do when conducting brand development.

A Midwestern city (population 78,000) determined that they needed support to encourage business for its downtown commercial district. Seen as the “heart” of the community, council members sought a brand identity that would be communicated through destination marketing as well as be applied to a much-needed wayfinding signage plan.

In May of 2015, the city approved funding and gathered an “ad hoc” committee to manage the branding process. The committee was given a six-month timeline to complete the project. The city released an RFP for “Branding & Wayfinding Signage” for the downtown area. Several firms responded and the committee selected a reputable sign design company to complete the entire task for $62,000.

The design firm engaged in the process which included gaining feedback from the community, municipal leadership, and downtown merchants. The firm came back to the committee with no less than seven options for the brand identity. The committee was not satisfied with the work, rejected all provided options, and asked the firm to come back with another round of recommendations.

The design firm provided an additional four brand logos, of which, the committee selected their favored option. The recommendation featured a generic motivational slogan that could be easily applied to the wayfinding signage. No Brand Platform or rationale based on research was provided with the recommendation.

After 47 meetings and 24 months beyond the original timeline, the committee brought their recommendation to the city council for approval. This would be the first time that either the council or the public would see the recommended brand identity.

Receiving a high level of negative feedback from both citizens and businesses, the council rejected the recommendation. Criticism was raised concerning the generic motivational statement as well as for the graphic representation.

Not wanting to dismiss the amount of time invested by committee members, the council commended the committee for its efforts while rejecting the recommendation. It was stated that the design firm had exhausted the original $62,000 in funding. The council approved a change order for the project which provided an additional $10,000 and asked for additional options for the slogan and logo. Though they were highly critical of the recommendation, they could not provide specific input that could be used by the design firm for its additional work.

Now the branding project is top-of-mind in the community and negativity continues to rise through social media, communications to the council and in the community’s newspaper that published and editorial criticizing the effort.

What has thirty months of effort and $72,000 provided the city? Basically nothing – apart from having a frustrated city council, committee, and design firm who probably wishes they never won the account.

Here is what can be learned from this project:
1. Ensure that there is consensus among municipal leadership of the objectives and deliverables for your project. With this city, it is obvious that council members were not in agreement. Some were merely seeking wayfinding signage for the downtown district. Others were seeking a brand identity for downtown while others wanted a brand identity for the entire community. As the Mayor Pro-Tem stated, “This is an important project. It will define who we are.”

Define the assignment with clarity. If you only need wayfinding signage, do you really need to go through a branding process? If you do need branding, define specifically what is being branded. Is it only the downtown district or is it the entire community?
The better the input, the better the output.

2. Hire the right experience and expertise. Though a reputable signage design firm is highly qualified to provide wayfinding signage, the branding is normally supplied to them and the brand development process is very foreign to them. A qualified brand development firm will have the experience and expertise in municipal branding. This not only ensures a quality end-product, but assists in maintaining an efficient approach and proven process to assist the city in its efforts.

Most branding assignments are organized through a committee that includes both citizens and government officials. Though they have expertise in other areas, this may be the first (and hopefully the last) time they go through this process. Having an experienced branding firm to assist and direct the effort will keep it on track.

3. Provide a transparent process. Over the thirty-month history of this project, only the final recommendation was exposed to the public. A branding committee should seek input from both residents and businesses throughout the process on the identity that will eventually represent them. Gaining feedback throughout the process, and well as conducting validation research on proposed recommendations, engages the community in the process and allows them to have “authorship” on the final product.

4. Remember that branding is more than a logo. True branding is supported by a formal Brand Platform that includes the brand’s mission, vision, values, and positioning. Then the positioning is translated into the Brand Essence which can be used as a slogan. The logo is only a translation of the Brand Platform that also conveys the personality and culture of the community. When done properly, a municipal brand will represent the sustainable shared values of the community which resonate with both residents and businesses. It should be engaging, providing a “propulsive energy” which will assist the city in obtaining its future objectives.

5. Be good stewards of your municipal resources. Time and money are valuable to any municipality and must be well-managed with branding projects. The above example reflects several “red flags” throughout the process. Why were all the initial recommendations rejected? Was the proper research conducted? Was the research incorporated into the recommendations? Was it apparent that the skill set of the selected design firm wasn’t adequate? Or was the design firm receiving ambiguous input from a dysfunctional committee? Is the committee as much at fault as the design firm and changes should have been made there also?

When any project begins to exhaust resources without a positive outcome, good stewardship will direct changes. Throwing good money after bad normally doesn’t solve problems.

Municipal branding is both a science and art. Proper brand development includes input and research, analysis, defining a Brand Platform, validation of the Brand Positioning, exposure and testing of any logo development, and brand recommendations based on this thorough process.

Branding should be the “voice” of the community and resonate with all internal stakeholders. It should be an open invitation to anyone (future residents, businesses, or visitors) that share the community’s Brand Values to enjoy the Brand Experience of the community. If the branding is done properly, it will become the “rallying cry” for future advancement of the quality of life and economic development for the entire community.

Monday, April 3, 2017

New Brand For Florence, South Carolina

FLORENCE, S.C. — The city of Florence introduced its new brand "Florence — Full Life. Full Forward." to the public during a press conference Friday morning at the Waters Building downtown.

Council members, community leaders and others attended the brand launch event, which featured a performance by the Wilson High School marching band and the cheerleaders from Wilson, West Florence and South Florence high schools.

Tim Norwood, chairman of the Downtown Development Corporation, said the last time Florence created a new brand was 10 years ago. At that time, the branding wasn't readily publicized but Norwood said he wants this rebranding to be different.

"We're taking this into the community," Norwood said. "This is a cultural difference we're making."

Mayor Stephen Wukela described the brand as a "distillation of the spirit, the strength, the essence of this community."

"It's altogether an appropriate time for us to do this," Wukela said. "We have made incredible progress over just a few years and we want to celebrate those accomplishments and look into the future. Our brand speaks to that progress."

Not only does the brand speak to the vast strides the city has made in recent past, but Wukela said it also captures the nature of the Florence population as kind, hardworking people who live enriched lives in the Florence area.

"There is a richness of life in this community that I think rivals any other," Wukela said. "The progress and success that we are having and that we continue to have and the richness and fullness of life that is experienced here. 'Full Life. Full Forward.' encapsulates that."

Avant Marketing Group and MPA Strategies both aided the city with the rebranding. The groups formed a branding committee and met with council members, city staff, community leaders and hundreds of Florence residents to determine the perception of Florence and after much consideration a new brand was created.

The new logo will be featured throughout the city as the branding committee plans to introduce new directional and venue signs, lamp post and display banners, city vehicle decals, among others.

To further introduce the new brand to local residents, the city of Florence organized a brand launch block party held at 6 p.m. in downtown Florence. The street festival included performances by The Holiday Band, which played a mix of old and new hits plus a special song written specifically for the city of Florence and its new brand.

Food and drink vendors lined South Dargan Street as hundreds of Florence residents came to enjoy the street festival. White T-shirts printed with the new logo and tag line were distributed during the block party so the community could get its first look at the brand.

Florence resident Joan Billheimer was among the first to get her T-shirt and she said she is both happy and excited about Florence’s rebranding.

“I love it,” Billheimer said. “It’s simple. Downtown is coming to life and we’re moving forward.”

Paul MacDonald, another longtime Florence resident, said this rebranding comes at an appropriate time for the city as downtown Florence has seen many improvements in recent years and is moving Florence in a positive direction.

“I like what they’re doing with the new logo. It’s a fresh look on what we hope to be a great future for the city,” MacDonald said. “We’re pretty excited about the future and it’s nice to see considering how far we’ve had to come.”

“If enough people see it, they’ll see what a great job we’re doing and where we’re going.”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How to Kill Good Creative with Bad Research

You may be familiar with the following scenario:

Your Creative Team has developed the ultimate campaign for your client. It’s right on to the approved creative blueprint, promotes the brand, can be produced within budget, and uniquely communicates the product attributes in an inviting and clever way.

The campaign is presented to the client who comments, “That’s really exciting and impactful.” He goes on to say that the dealer network “will love it!”

Then the client drops the bomb.

“Before we spend anything on production, we better get the concept in front of some consumers for feedback,” asserts the client. “I’m sure a quick and simple ‘disaster check’ won’t interfere with our production schedule.”

The concept quickly goes into research – consumers interested in the category are recruited and a focus group is held with the client, creative team and account management observing. It turns out that the focus group was the real disaster!

Several of the focus group participants took the illustrations literally and felt that the execution cheapened the brand. Others couldn’t relate to the actor/model that portrayed the user of the product. Another simply didn’t like the color scheme selected for the advertising. All-in-all, the concepts did not fare well with the group and the client decides that the creative team needed to go back to the drawing board.

This scenario points out a total misuse of qualitative creative research, and both the agency and the client is at fault in letting this happen.

Just this week we received a focus group request from a government entity in Ohio. The client was developing new brand logos and wanted to conduct two focus groups among the agency’s customers to select the winning logo.

Rather than making a small group of consumers “amateur art directors” for an hour or so, we submitted a research plan that would serve them and their agency well:
1. Conduct qualitative research prior to developing the creative blueprint.
2. Gain input on several positioning and messaging statements to determine what resonates highest among participants.
3. Also test personality and tone of the messaging – a great insight for the creative team.
4. Based on the research input, set mandatory metrics in terms of brand positioning, messaging, tone, and personality.
5. Use the research to support and justify your creative effort – a perfect mix of art and analytics.

When market research is used incorrectly, it only opens the door to creative criticism versus providing valuable input. No wonder many creative teams cringe when they hear market research is going to be used to test their concepts.

Avant Marketing Group has been supporting agency and client marketing communications for over 12 years. Our substantial experience as clients, as well as agency planners, provides us with a unique perspective. We know how to do research right – which means many times, developing methodology that is uniquely designed to meet your communications objectives.

And as market planners, we also have the expertise to assist your agency in expanding its client approach to include the entire marketing mix – specifically: channel management, pricing, and promotional strategies – all developed by gaining a true customer perspective through proper market research.