What is Hutchinson’s story? That’s the focus behind a city branding initiative that started in September.
Chandlerthink, a Tennessee-based company that received the $75,500 contract to develop the city’s marketing strategy, conducted open forums with members of the public Nov. 12-13. It’s all part of Phase 1 in the four-phase project, which delves into researching the identity of the city.
Steve Chandler, owner of Chandlerthinks, specializes in “place branding.” He and his marketing firm have worked in 50 communities in 26 states during the past eight years. While each community has a different story to tell, he says there is often one thing each project shares in common.
“One of the biggest misperceptions is that it’s about a logo,” he said.
While there will be a new city logo, Chandler says that is only a small part of the entire project. Logos, he says, whether they are for companies or cities, are designed to remind people of the story they represent.
“People talk about Starbucks every single day,” he said. “I bet out of the 300 conversations I’ve had about Starbucks in my life, only three or four have included a discussion about its logo. I don’t talk about the lady in it or whatever the script is, I talk about the coffee, the product. I talk about the service, what they’re doing and where they’re going, the layout of the stores and all kinds of stuff. That’s the story, which includes all kinds of things about Starbucks. The logo simply reminds you of all that stuff.
“The logo for this project is one piece of it. I’m the first person to say, if that’s all we needed, you don’t need to hire us. … This is a much bigger project.”
So how does Chandlerthink help Hutchinson tell its story? Simple. It asks the people who know it best.
“The nature of this project is not to have someone from Tennessee come and tell Hutchinson what they need to do or what they already know,” Chandler said. “It’s to listen objectively.”
As part of the research phase, Chandlerthinks is conducting one-on-one interviews with education, health care, utilities, finance and business leaders of the community, among others. But it also wants to hear from members of the public. That’s why it conducted open meetings a couple weeks ago.
To gather more public input, a Facebook group called “Branding Hutchinson” was created. People are invited to join the group, which is moderated by Chandlerthinks, and participate in discussions and answer questions about the community. There will also be an observational research survey that everyone may participate in. Look for that being advertised by the city and on social media in the next month or two.
“Whatever the story is for Hutchinson, it’s already there,” Chandler said. “Everyone already kind of knows it, but they also know everything else and it gets in the way. One of the most important parts about branding is to own something, not own everything.”
The goal is for the first phase to be complete by the end of January, and then Phase 2, formulating a marketing strategy, will be presented to City Council. The project should be complete and ready for implementation by March or early April.
Skeptics may wonder how residents of the community would benefit from a city marketing plan. Chandler says that if community branding is such a good idea, it should benefit everybody.
“You know why Nashville is Music City? Because it is. … No matter where you go, you get a story about Music City told differently. We have a parking garage where every floor is named after a country music legend. We have bicycle racks that look like treble clef signs or microphone wires. Nashville Technology Council gives out annual awards that look like guitars. Even Coca-Cola, one of the biggest brands in the world, I promise you in most places they don’t have guitars on the side of their Coca-Cola, but they do in Nashville.
“Everyone uses the Nashville story. Why? Because it helps their business. It’s attractive. Hutchinson isn’t music city, but it’s something. And that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
In the end, the goal of the project is to create a story that helps the city build a reputation it can leverage to benefit everyone in the community, from attracting new residents and businesses and lowering property taxes to creating new opportunities and jobs.
“Just like everyone in Nashville uses music, everyone in Hutchinson should be able to use its story. And if they’re all doing it, that’s what it takes to create a strong community identity. That’s the goal.”