By Dave Ongie
It’s been said a picture is worth a thousand words, and Ed Barlow came close to using that many to paint a word picture of Johnson City during a branding presentation attended by city commissioners and local business leaders last Thursday at City Hall.
While a photo of Downtown Johnson City hovered on a screen in the front of the conference room, Barlow – the executive vice president of strategic planning at North Star Destination Strategies – read a brand narrative his company wrote to sum up the traits that make Johnson City unique. Barlow then distilled that narrative down to just three words.
Go. All. Out.
“There’s a sense of energy to it,” Barlow said during the teleconference. “It speaks directly to outdoors and recreation, which are key assets and advantages, but it also supports a wide range of interests throughout Johnson City. It suggests Johnson City is a place that encourages people to do their best and does its best.”The new tagline was introduced last Thursday along with a new city logo. Just over a year ago, city commissioners agreed to pay North Star – a Nashville-based company – just short of $100,000 to help the city distinguish itself through a comprehensive branding campaign. While the new logo and tag line will be the most visible part of the city’s branding effort, Barlow reminded those in attendance a consistent, concerted effort will be required to help develop the city’s distinctive brand.
“You don’t want to make a project like this about a logo and a line,” Barlow said. “It’s a very important tool, but we don’t make decisions on taking business somewhere or visiting somewhere based on that.”
With that said, discussion among the city’s elected officials, members of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, representatives from the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership and the Johnson City Development Authority as well as employees of the city’s school system turned toward building a unified marketing message around the new logo and tag line.
Materials produced by North Star will allow the city to wrap public vehicles with graphics that reflect the new logo, develop advertising with a consistent message and create wayfinding signage that fits in with the new marketing effort.
“I remember when we did that study with Destination Marketing, when they came in and looked at our city,” said Dianna Cantler, Downtown Development Director with the JCDA. “The big takeaway they had about downtown was that it was very industrial. The big thing they hit on was all of the signage. There was no consistency with look or feel.”
Barlow also presented the city with many ways it could partner with local businesses to create merchandise that reflects the city’s new branding efforts. North Star mocked up a wide array of merchandise that could carry the new logo and tagline, as well as marketing materials for use in advertising.
Of course, implementing the new marketing initiative will be a slow process. Due to financial constraints, all of the city vehicles and signage can’t be changed overnight, so the new logo will be phased in over time.
But those around the table last Thursday seemed invigorated by the opportunity to cooperate in an effort to broadcast a shared image of the city to perspective residents and those who may be inclined to stop by and visit. Mitch Miller, CEO of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, said a concerted, consistent branding effort may help the city bolster its workforce by attracting new residents who enjoy the mountains but are growing tired of the hustle and bustle found in places like Asheville.
“In order to improve businesses, we have to recruit people,” Miller said. “I think this is what this branding can do if you target it at Asheville, which is growing at about 6, 7 percent a year. There are people that may not know all about Johnson City and what we offer, and targeting areas like that I think offers a great opportunity to some of those folks that may be fed up with the way Asheville is being overpopulated.”