February 15, 2019
Ashland Town Council
101 Thompson Street
Ashland, VA 23005
RE: Refreshing Ashland’s branding
Dear Council Members,
We write to provide feedback on the Town of Ashland’s efforts to establish a new brand and marketing campaign. Ashland Main Street Association wishes to provide suggestions for the overall effort and specific comments on the proposal from VCU Brand Center presented to Town Council on January 15, 2019.
Main Street is the town government’s partner in branding and marketing. We are committed to working closely now and in the future to present Ashland as a vibrant, inviting community for visitors, businesses, and residents. Further, the Town’s online presence, printed visitor materials, and tourism marketing campaigns are fully intertwined with Main Street. Implementation of any branding or marketing decisions made by Council will affect Main Street’s operations. We submit the following comments in the collaborative spirit of a partner and invested stakeholder.
As Council considers branding and marketing our community, Main Street suggests the following priorities:
- Define the Audience. We are establishing a brand to identify Ashland to those who do not live here. We need a brand that speaks to visitors, customers, and prospective businesses. Put simply, we are branding for an outside audience.
- Market our competitive advantage. Ashland needs a brand and marketing campaign that proclaim our unique strengths—that tell visitors what we do better than every other destination. Main Street suggests that being an historic train town that hosts a vibrant, creative community is our unique story.
- Effective branding cannot be accomplished by committee. Developing a unique brand that speaks to a clearly defined, outside audience is a task best accomplished with an executive model. Successful communities take public input and then make executive decisions to meet well-defined goals.
- Establish an open-source product. We need a brand that can be utilized by local businesses and organizations, in addition to public entities. The RVA Creates campaign is an example of an open-source branding effort that is wildly succesful.
- Government is not the client. Updating the town government’s logo and website is a likely byproduct of undertaking a branding effort, but it should not be the central goal. A brand is developed for community-wide goals, and individual logos and colors can be adapted as a secondary effort.
Best practices can be gleaned from peer communities who have undertaken successful branding campaigns. Virginian examples include Fredericksburg Downtown and Abingdon. Helpful references include the Destination Development Association and Virginia Tourism Corporation’s Statewide Tourism Plan, particularly the Central Virginia Region Section.
Main Street suggests that Council utilize the following principles when establishing a brand for Ashland:
- Branding is more than a logo; it is a projection of what you’ll find here. Ashland’s brand concept, as expressed through design, text, and media, should give outsiders a peek at what they will discover when they arrive.
- You cannot imply something that the audience does not know. So, our brand must clearly reference the unique asset that we wish to leverage, such as the railroad or “Center of the Universe” tagline.
Main Street suggests that Council utilize the following principles when establishing a tourism marketing campaign for Ashland:
- Market Ashland as a destination. Utilize the aspects of a visitor’s experience to attract them. Focus marketing on amenities available to visitors, including history, entertainment, and dining.
- Target an audience between the ages of 35 to 55. Main Street’s recent business survey indicates that downtown businesses profit most from customers in this age range. Additionally, economic data on potential customers within a 30-minute drive time points to this age range as the most plentiful. Targeting customers 35 to 55 years of age is the most profibitable strategy and the most likely to succeed.
- Market Ashland’s authenticity. This town has unique assets that simply cannot be reproduced. Coming to Ashland provides an authentic experience that you feel immediately upon arrival. Communicate that reality in order to entice visitors.
With these goals in mind, we wish to comment on the specifics of VCU Brand Center’s proposal. The branding package rightly captures the dichotomy of Ashland’s history and modern day. However, it misses the opportunity to highlight unique assets of the town.
Main Street suggests that future design work incorporate railroad elements or references into the logo and more of the branded products. Future work could also better develop the hand-drawn feel of the logo to convey greater energy and authenticity.
VCU Brand Center’s proposed marketing campaign is strong, but it does not satisfy Main Street’s goals. The campaign’s strengths are focusing on Ashland as a destination and targeting a young audience. However, the proposed campaign would appeal to an audience younger than our target customer age range of 35-55. Main Street applauds the clear marketing message, but fears that it misses an opportunity to highlight the town’s unique assets.
Main Street would prefer a marketing campaign that focuses on conveying an “all roads lead to Ashland” concept and more closely ties into being an historic railroad town and the “Center of the Universe”. For example, a “Meet Me in Ashland” slogan could bridge the two concepts. The campaign could be phrased as one friend or partner explaining the benefits of Ashland to the other. It would allow the Town to directly advertise one-of-a-kind experiences available to Ashland visitors.
If Council elects to utilize the VCU Brand Center’s marketing campaign, we suggest removing all references to online dating and instead focusing on romance. For instance, the tagline could be “Make a Date with Ashland”. Ad text could tie Ashland’s assets into how the town will romance visitors, and it could convey that you will find your perfect match here.
It would be valuable, as suggested by VCU Brand Center, to create a link to Virginia Tourism Corporation’s ongoing “Virginia is for Lovers” promotions and the agency’s programs to support local tourism efforts. Leveraging this relationship would stretch our small marketing budget.
Ashland Main Street Association is pleased to partner with the Town of Ashland on branding and marketing efforts. We are committed to continuing promotional efforts, and we hope to continue working in concert with the Town to refresh Ashland’s brand portfolio.
Thanks for your consideration,
Executive Director, Ashland Main Street Association