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Friday, Jun 9, 2023

Got Lancaster? Cities Embrace Branding Ideas

Lacking a cohesive image to present to the world, the City of Thousand Oaks has turned to a decades-old strategy found successful in selling shoes, colas, electronic devices and many other consumer goods. A branding campaign goes beyond traditional marketing of a physical good and instead strives to create a bond with the user through ideas and concepts such as the anything is physically possible mantra of Nike or the sleek cutting edge technology of Apple. For Thousand Oaks, the goal is to create a common theme; to take the 10 or so city departments that have developed their own unique images and make it one. “To the resident or visitor or potential business owner you want to see a clear and consistent image coming out of all of those,” said Andrew Powers, the city’s public information officer. It’s a path taken by other cities across the country, including in the Antelope Valley where Lancaster is implementing its branding campaign centered around “It’s Positively Clear.” Thousand Oaks includes a branding campaign within an overall strategy to centralize communications and improve the city website that went active in November. Twelve companies submitted proposals for how the city can improve its image, with North Star Destination Strategies in Nashville coming out the choice of an eight-member committee. But that choice rankled some in the Conejo Valley city and raised the question of why wasn’t a local company hired for the job. The issue was tossed to a city council subcommittee for review although North Star remains in the running. Lancaster Economic Development Director Vern Lawson understands the reaction in Thousand Oaks of an out-of-state company doing its branding campaign but his city couldn’t have been happier with the results of the company’s work. The insights gathered by North Star during multiple visits to Lancaster amazed Lawson. “Where do you get somebody from your town who has done this for 90 cities?” Lawson said. Not just a logo A city branding campaign includes a logo but takes in more than just mere words. As with building any brand it is about expressing an idea, creating an attachment to that idea and doing it in a way that makes it stand out from the competition. “There is a science behind this built on a foundation of market research,” Powers said. The Lancaster campaign, for instance, was built around the idea of clear the clear skies, clear air, clear roads that make it different from Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. The background research involves online and phone interviews, talking with stakeholders inside the community and those from outside and other tools the private sector has long used to determine perceptions, said North Star CEO Don McEachern. The areas the company looks at are a community’s vision, its competitive advantage, and its perception among those trying to be influenced, be it business owners, residents, or visitors. While a logo becomes part of a branding campaign it is only the starting off point for a strategy to promote a city through its distinct culture and advantages. There have been times when a North Star campaign didn’t even change a city logo. “No one moves a business or visits a city because they had a great logo,” McEachern said. Criticism of hiring an out-of-state company for a branding campaign can be understood if the campaign was just about a new logo that a local artist can do, McEachern continued. But with a North Star campaign a logo is merely symbolic of the project as a whole and the way it connects the community together. For instance, the northern California town of Santa Rosa used the strapline “California Cornucopia” in its campaign. An area group that hosts food drives would later adopt that image of abundance to make itself part of the campaign. Lancaster starts with “It’s Positively Clear” but branding itself to the outside world doesn’t end there. The city rolled out this month a convention and tourism bureau to promote itself as a destination point. Filling hotel rooms in the city is not a problem during the week what with the military installations and aerospace companies in the Antelope Valley. It’s on the weekends that Lawson wants to bring in visitors drawn to the area for outdoor activities in the desert and the mountains, to activities in its developing downtown area, or attending softball and soccer tournaments. “There are already options now and we expect that to expand,” Lawson said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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