Monday, June 1, 2009

The City That Needs A Brand, Not A Slogan

The headline in the May 27 edition of the Johnson County Sun says it all: "Overland Park Seeks Identity with City Slogan, New Logo." I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into this one!

Let me begin by saying I'm a fan of Overland Park. I live nearby. I shop and dine there. The schools are good. It has a quaint downtown with a farmers market. It has Botanical Gardens and the Deanna Rose Children's Farm. It's a well maintained, safe place to raise a family. These are all assets for sure. But they don't exactly light your hair on fire, nor scream: Above and Beyond. By Design. Well, that's Overland Park's new slogan, and it hopes, the answer to making it a "well-known commodity instead of a rather well-kept secret."

From my perspective, it's flawed thinking on many levels. Most important of them being the idea that "branding" creates brands. The act of "branding" implies applying or affixing something to something. Do not confuse labeling with building a brand.

To further demonstrate my point, here's a test: What cities instantly come to mind when you hear: What Happens Here, Stays Here, The City That Never Sleeps and The Aliens Aren't the Only Reason to Visit? I suspect you said, Vegas, NYC and Roswell, N.M. You'd be correct. Now, if I say, Always Turned On, Soul of the Southwest and City with Sol, what cities come to mind? Not quite as easy it it? It's Atlantic City, Taos, N.M. and San Diego, respectively.

You could argue that Vegas, NYC and Roswell are better known than the other three examples because they spend more money advertising and get their slogan out there more. True or not, I'd argue these cities are brands, which I define as a unique ideal, a concept or an approach. Note that I said "a," which is singular. They stand for one thing: Sin, entertainment/arts/culture and (space) aliens, respectively. Their reputations preceded their slogans, and were created organically and built over time, not penned.

Vegas, NYC and Roswell also pass my logo litmus test: Their slogans only fit them. While I'm not privy to the Overland Park research, I wonder if it asked in some way the critical question, "when you hear Above and Beyond. By Design. What city do you think of?" This is important because if someone already owns that image in the mind, you won't be able to take it away from them. Or, it simply might not be a good fit, as Hyundai automotive found out a few years ago. It found a slogan that really resonated with consumers. But when it took it a step further and asked the "fit" question, it found it actually would work against Hyundai, potentially creating even more confusion about the Korean giant and costing it millions of dollars in brand damage.

With the Power & Light District and Sprint Center for sports and concerts, Crossroads Art and River Market districts, new HQs for H&R Block and HOK Sports architects, new condos and downtown living options (some offering decades-long tax abatement), I'd say that neighbor Kansas City already has a leg up on the claim Above and Beyond. By Design. While it's busy building a reputation, what is Overland Park really doing other than bringing awareness to a collection of nice little assets? Overland Park does acknowledge in the article it faces many challenges like lacking a central gathering place and significant entertainment venues. It's essentially acknowledging, without realizing it, that it doesn't have a brand yet.

Overland Park needs to first define and create real distinction, and walk-the-walk before it talks the walk. While that's much harder than launching a slogan, it's the only way to create a truly authentic brand.

That's my Guts feelings.

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