BURLINGTON - The greater Burlington area may one day be known by the slogan, "Vermont's Gold Coast," "Green and Clean Living" or "Gateway to the Good Life."
In the next few weeks, a coalition of local business groups will unveil its new Burlington-area "brand," part of an ongoing effort to help area businesses, colleges, nonprofits and other institutions market themselves and the region under a consistent banner.
The Burlington Region Branding Project is privately funded by the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Burlington Business Association. The campaign's goal, according to Chamber Vice President Tim Shea, is to help the area maintain its competitive edge and attract more tourism, new businesses and other investments.
"Place branding," as marketing experts call it, is designed to create a sense of place and spread a positive public image about a region. The most famous place-branding effort was probably the one launched in the 1970s by the Empire State. The "I Love New York" campaign, which was so effective that it's still in use today, was meant to boost tourism during the recession. Other cities, such as Pittsburgh, have used place branding to improve a neutral or negative public perception.
Burlington isn't facing a recession, and it doesn't need a major makeover or a new identity. "We're not trying to create a brand," Shea explains. "We're trying to identify a brand."
The process began in the fall of 2005, when the Chamber and the BBA conducted a survey of their members to review how they market themselves. They found that although there's a lot of good marketing information available on the greater Burlington region, it's not very focused or consistent, and it lacks a common theme, explains BBA Executive Director Nancy Wood.
Although Burlington typically ranks high on annual quality-of-life surveys, its fuzzy brand image may be costing jobs and money. Charlotte, North Carolina, also ranks as one of the nation's most livable cities. But after spearheading its "Charlotte USA" campaign, the city experienced a 30 percent increase in businesses relocating or expanding there, a 64 percent increase in jobs and a 77 percent increase in regional investment, according to research by Gail Shampnois at the University of Vermont.
Last spring, the BBA convened two marketing summits, attended by about 100 people, to launch a new branding initiative. A contract for the project was awarded to Bill Wilkie of Charism Advisors. Wilkie is a design and brand specialist who directed brand and design strategy for Burlington's Jager DiPaola Kemp Design before launching his own company. He's worked with such local clients as Seventh Generation and ECHO at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, as well as national companies including Amazon, Bank of America, General Motors, Microsoft and Levi Strauss and Company.
In the last several months, Wilkie has conducted a series of focus groups and one-on-one interviews in Burlington, Boston and Montréal to find out how people identify this region. The results of those surveys, which will be made public in the next few weeks, should include proposals for a copyrighted logo and slogan, Shea says. Eventually, that "brand platform" will be available for use at no cost to members of the Chamber, the BBA or the city itself.
The choice of Wilkie ruffled a few feathers, as his firm is based in Boston. "It doesn't seem right," complains Chamber member Ted Kohn of the Moondyne Agency, a small, Burlington-based marketing and design firm that tried - and failed - to get the contract. "Here's an organization whose sole purpose is to support local commerce and they're sending the branding of our identity out of state. It's kind of ridiculous."
Wood points out, however, that Wilkie lived and worked in the Burlington area for many years and was still in the area when his company was awarded the contract. She notes that Wilkie relocated to Boston because his wife is now attending school there.
For his part, Shea won't reveal much about how the new Burlington brand will look and sound, except to say that it will encompass many of the positive attributes that make this area a desirable place to live and work. Nor will the privately funded campaign - at a cost of about $35,000 - be a radical departure from the way the city is currently marketed, he says. "It's not as though it's going to be a Disneyworld with our logos plastered all over town."