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A Hidden Treasure

Branding a town is a lot like following a treasure map. At the beginning, you’re lost and unsure about what to do and where to start. You know you’re looking for something, but you aren’t quite sure what, and you aren’t quite sure how to figure it out. It takes a lot of searching and digging before you can finally uncover what it is you’re looking for. When you figure it out, though, you’ll realize that you have uncovered the town’s hidden treasure, the thing that sets it apart. 

Branding a town is no easy task. It isn’t the brander’s job to create a place’s brand; it’s their job to uncover it. All towns, big and small, have a unique characteristic or “hidden treasure” that sets them apart. When that characteristic is discovered, then lies the task of deciding what that town needs to gain by this process, how to exemplify that hidden treasure and most importantly, what type of place brand to implement. There are five common types place brands to choose from: destination brand, economic development brand, community brand, thematic brand and overarching place brand. 

Each type of place brand is different and creates a different type of buzz in the area. When choosing a brand for Whitesville, W.Va, it probably won’t be very clear at a first glance. While it will be essential to take a good look at what that town has to offer and what they need to gain, it is also helpful to see examples of what each of these brand types are and how they have worked in other towns to get a clear understanding of how they can be applied. 

Destination BrandGrants Pass Logo

Destination brands have often been called tourism brands because they are used to attract tourists to that location. 

Destination brands have transformed thousands of cities around the world, one example being the town of Grants Pass, Oregon. Grants Pass is a small community settled upon the famous Rogue River. At one point, this destination attracted people from all over who enjoyed the picturesque scenery and extreme water sports. Over the years though, the city spent less time and money promoting the river, and the interest in the river died down. Eventually, access to the river became very limited for not only visitors, but residents of the area as well, causing the town to essentially lose its identity.

During the rebranding efforts of Grants Pass, the Visitor and Convention Bureau decided to reposition the town, putting a light on the river once more. The town began hosting events around the river and promoted activities such as fishing, rafting, kayaking and jet boat excursions that residents and visitors could participate in.

After the initial launching of the new destination brand, many stakeholders around the town joined together to form the branding team. They helped keep the brand alive, which eventually led to greater developments around the town, including new buildings, a wildlife park, public art events and a riverfront restaurant and fishing lodge.

Danville LogoEconomic Development Brand

An economic development brand deals with business relocation, expansion and investment. These are used for towns that have the ability to hold businesses, but for one reason or another, lack them.

A fine example of an economic development brand would be Danville,Virginia. This town, much like Whitesville, was founded and grew up on an industry that did not withstand the test of time. Danville was an old mill town that lost not only the mill, but also the jobs and economy that were associated with it.

During the rebranding process, the tagline “Reimagine That” was created and used as a key point throughout the process. While the brand stayed true to its roots by highlighting the old mill buildings, they announced that they were open to “reimagining” things and allowing their town to become more innovative.

After the launch of the new brand, Danville became a more attractive place for high-tech businesses. The rebranding led to the refurbishment of the old mill and factory buildings, new business opportunities and new ideas about educational opportunities in that area. 

Community BrandLake Bluff Logo

Unlike the first two, a community brand has to deal less with the involvement of people outside the town and more with the involvement of the people that are already living there. This type of brand is used to increase pride among residents, increase local patronage and just create a sense of place and an identity for a town.

An example of a town that underwent a community brand is Lake Bluff, Illinois. This community is one of many that surround Chicago’s North Shore. While it and surrounding neighboring towns are very attractive and prestigious places to live, Lake Bluff is one of the smallest of the Chicago suburbs. For a long time, this tiny town was lost in the shadows of its larger, better known neighbors.

The goal of Lake Bluff’s branding initiative was to give the town its own identity. The town embodied all of the characteristics of the other distinguished North Shore towns: charm, elegance, education and affluence, but the residents of Lake Bluff also expressed a great sense of humor and a need for a good time. 

The new brand set them apart as the North Shore community that always believed there was time for a laugh and a party. Lake Bluff adopted the tagline “North Shore Life. Lake Bluff Style.” This tagline not only welcomed a warm feel for families and friends, but also showed that they were different than the other nearby communities, and Lake Bluff had it’s own personal “twist.”

Lodi LogoThematic Brand 

Thematic brands are often founded upon historical, wine, cultural, culinary or sporting themes. These brands can be for one specific town, like the other types of branding discussed, or they could spread throughout a region. One example of a town that would be part of a thematic brand is Lodi,California

Lodi is part of California’s famous wine region, which is an area visited by wine enthusiasts from all over the world. Lodi is specifically known for having the most wine grape acreage in all of California-- over 90,000 acres.

While this town was branded as being part of a larger region, they also positioned their specific town as being a very ‘down-to-earth’ and adventurous place to visit. The tagline for Lodi is “Behind the Wine.” This shows how they are part of the larger California wine region.

Overarching Place BrandLas Vegas Logo

An overarching place brand is like the umbrella of brands; it encompasses aspects of the entire town. This brand is used to capture a town’s distinct personality. One of the most famous examples of overarching place branding would be Las Vegas, Nevada.

Known for their iconic tagline, “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” Las Vegas underwent one of the most successful place branding efforts to ever happen. While Las Vegas has been seen as a tourist destination for a long time, it wasn’t until the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when it really took off.

The city wanted to separate themselves by creating an emotional connection to visitors. Las Vegas had a goal to brand their entire town as a place for “Adult Freedom,” which they most certainly accomplished.

In 1990, Las Vegas had only 74,000 hotel rooms. By 2000, they had just fewer than 125,000, and they are still growing today. Las Vegas has been an attractive place for new businesses and tourists alike ever since their rebranding initiative. 

Whitesville may not be on this list of successful rebranding towns yet, but they certainly have a shot. First though, one of these types of branding  will have to be chosen and implemented. While all of these examples are different, they work towards a common goal. When choosing a type of place brand for Whitesville, it’s important to select one that would most benefit the area and that will show off what Whitesville has to offer- their hidden treasure

My name is Courtney Gatto, and I am enrolled in the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University, majoring in strategic communications with an emphasis in public relations. I am the teaching assistant for the #BrandWhitesville community-branding capstone course.