Engineering a Small Town’s Image, Branding a Small Town Community

Many small cities and small towns just LET things happen. They aren’t in control of the image they present, nor of the amount of traffic they generate for their downtown area and the businesses there.

Yet, we can design, or engineer, the image we want to leave with the community, how fast we grow that downtown, and how much business that downtown does by marketing that downtown.

As a matter of fact, I was reading another article where the author said that image, or brand, of a small town “just happens.” Yes, that might be how some cities do it. Just maybe they’ve got some theme that the downtown seemed to naturally move toward. And that might even be where we may want to go… for the image… but active marketing is the way we MAKE it happen the way we want to and at the rate we want it to versus passive marketing… letting the downtown image happen. I want to design the results I want in the time frame I want..

Once we know where we want to go, we can carefully craft the new business traffic and measurable outcomes to what we want. We don’t have to live with what’s being dealt. In fact, frequently what’s being dealt is THE problem. Some downtowns may be dying off because of what’s going on now. Or it might be happening because of what some one business is doing that is actively doing it which may not be the image you want.

A lot of older downtowns suddenly discover that most of the community is shopping either in a larger nearby city, or on the outskirts that just happen to be nearer to a freeway than the downtown area.

Starting to design what happens in that downtown area and the image or brand can start from one of several perspectives.

  • One is from the perspective of the businesses already there.
  • Another is from the perspective of those living nearby and their interests
  • Another might be from a historic perspective, or some other perspective of something already going on in the surrounding area.
  • And, yet another is from a broader, possibly a regional perspective, based on how many people around the region are actually LOOKING for something to do. Frequently there are 10’s of thousands looking for some activity, and then we’ll design the downtown to deliver that for the community.

In fact, keep in mind that we can design what the downtown, or the businesses want, OR we can design what your community, your customers, want. The latter will result in a quick response where the first may not get you a response. We have to be aware of what the customer wants first.

So, we can start with “the brand” we want to create, or we can start from a perspective of ‘what does the community want and need” and then tie that back together with what’s already in the downtown area.

We can define a new theme that will drive traffic into that downtown area, actively market that new theme. And, just like with small business marketing we can have people walking in our doors (or into our downtown) at the rate we wanted them to.

If we just “let it happen” then we usually get what that kind of “planning” delivers, haphazard results.

If you remember Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland where Alice met the Cheshire cat on the road, and Alice asked the cat for directions.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? asked Alice”That depends a good deal on where you want to get to” said the Cat

“I don’t much care where.. so long as I get SOMEWHERE” said Alice.

Then it doesn’t matter which way you go”, you’ll get somewhere.. “if only you walk long enough,” said the Cat

There’s two key points in there. The first is that if you don’t know where you are going it doesn’t much matter which way you go to get there. But, the other is, if you MUST get SOMEWHERE, in other words, not just wander, but must end up SOMEWHERE rather than nowhere, the cat pointed out that if you walk LONG ENOUGH, you’re wandering will eventually land you somewhere, probably quite by accident, but you EVENTUALLY will land somewhere. It might not have been where you’d LIKE to be but you’ll end up somewhere.

When it comes to CREATING the IMAGE or BRAND, and finally the RESULTS you want for your small town downtown then you just might have to start off with these three things that will tell you where you WANT to be first.

Creating the New Vision for Downtown

As with a small business, we may have an idea of what we want to create, but what we create must be in demand, OR we have to find where it is in demand and then get in front of enough of those that are interested to make our new downtown image work.

Besides creating an overall image of what we want people to think of our downtown, we must create a series of events to drive traffic into that area consistently. And, here’s where some downtown’s get into trouble. Do we create the downtown image and events around the businesses and what they want, or do we create what the community wants and help the downtown businesses move into alignment with that image?

Make Sure to Support the Community

I’ve seen downtowns that had a going thing, 10’s of thousands of people attending and supporting events. Then when the committee in charge decided to do something new they pulled the plug on the old event, and pulled the rug out from under the community that had supported them.

If you want to “test the waters” with another type of event, great! I believe in trying out new events. Think along the lines of BUILDING more and different followers. One month do a carnival, festival, another month do an art show, another month music festival.

But when you find something that the community is excited about and has supported you for years don’t pull the plug in the name of trying something new. Build on that original concept further, get more people coming, get more vendors supporting the event. Build your results bigger. Build that image.

What Kind of Image Do You Want to Build?

Make it exciting. Challenge the whole community to reach for super star, exciting events.

I’ve seen communities that believed that they were small so they didn’t reach for large events, nor a super star type of image. Yet, 10 miles away an even smaller community has 50,000 people at one of their major events, and are WELL KNOWN for tha. The whole community could almost live the whole rest of the year on the income from that event… but do they quit there… No. They have something going almost every weekend, and at least a bigger one once a month. People actually look them up on the internet to see what’s going on there this coming weekend. There’s at least 10,000 people in that downtown area several days of every weekend. The community thrives.

The restaurants have their own events that support the bigger community. Musicals, murder mystery weekends, tours of the haunted houses in the area, or history tours starting right at the restaurant.

A Saturday night sing along on the square. This community knows what it wants to be known for and delivers. It has worked on being known for something, actively marketing, not passive marketing.

These particular activities may not be what you want your community to be known for, but that doesn’t matter. It’s designing your future, what you do want to be known for, and how much traffic and business you want in your community, and making it happen that way.

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