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Local Business Groups Define the Burlington "Brand"

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City slogans are generally good-natured, alluring boasts. Think Cleveland Rocks, or Always Turned On (Atlantic City, NJ). Some slogans are quaintly self-deprecating, such as It's Not the End of the Earth, But You Can See It From Here (Bushnell, SD). Or fanciful: Where the Trout Leap on Main Street (Saratoga, WY). Or even a little defensive: The Aliens Aren't the Only Reason to Visit Roswell (NM).

Whether silly or serious, a slogan's objective is to help brand a place, make it seem a little more special. And to lure visitors. Or, as Tim Shea, director of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, puts it, to "help tell the story" of a place in a shorthand, easy-to-grasp manner. That might be simple in a town known for one iconic thing, such as Omaha steaks (Rare. Well Done.) But Burlington, Shea points out, has the lake, the mountains, the Church Street Marketplace - and, not least, its association with the already well-branded State of Vermont.

So, how to tell that story in a few words? Coming up with a slogan for the Queen City is one objective of the Burlington Region Branding Project, a collaborative effort of the LCRCC and the Burlington Business Association. At a BBA membership meeting on May 10 in the city's new Courtyard by Marriott hotel, a panel of presenters gave a "progress report" on the project, which began about a year ago. It grew out of discussions at both organizations about how to market the area more effectively to tourists as a four-season destination.

"If you were to put an ad in The Boston Globe, what would it say?" relates Shea. "We realized we needed a brand to convey the idea of Burlington."

The Chamber and BBA hired Lexington, Mass.-based consultant Bill Wilkie to figure that out. Through research and focus-group feedback in Burlington, Boston and Montréal, Wilkie came up with a definition of "the attributes of the Burlington region as others see us." Some things that turned up: the lake and mountains, duh. A green reputation. "Colorful, bohemian culture." Entrepreneurial ventures such as Ben & Jerry's, Magic Hat and Burton Snowboards. And what is Burlington's brand personality? "Quirky-hip, friendly-inclusive, optimistic-creative, surprisingly diverse, relaxed but never staid."

The target audience of branding, explains Wilkie's "creative brief," is "couples and families that live in the city and suburbs who crave a getaway." And the people who would be attracted to Burlington, he found, want a stimulating change of scenery, enjoy nature but don't want to "retreat to the wilderness," and prefer a day "filled with fun activities." He sums up: "Their ideal is to 'chillax' without an agenda . . . They like the clean glow they get and can take home."

From this information, the Branding Project participants aim to develop a marketing infrastructure that will enable Greater Burlington businesses and nonprofits to get on the same page with their marketing efforts. Helpful elements of its "toolbox" will include a logo, a slogan, images of the area and useful FAQs - all downloadable from a new website. Ultimately, the site will offer additional resources, including a calendar of events, a best-practices guide, and coupons for local activities.

As Branding Project panelists concluded their progress report earlier this month, they took questions and comments, nearly all of which concerned the slogan. In fact, the debate became a little heated.

A panelist had mentioned that the group was considering a list of about 30 suggestions, but hadn't yet "fallen in love." What were the suggestions? The panel seemed reluctant to say. Peppered with more questions - Who was going to decide? Why wasn't it open to the public? What if Burlingtonians found the slogan lame and embarrassing? - the panelists got a little defensive. They assured the audience they were still open to suggestions. And they reiterated that the slogan was for visitors, not necessarily for residents.

The following week, BBA Executive Director Nancy Wood issued an email release titled "Branding the Burlington Region - Request for Slogans!" Those who wish to contribute should consider four criteria, she suggested: Does the slogan express a city's brand character, affinity, style and personality? Does it tell a story in a clever, fun and memorable way? Is it unique and original? And does it inspire you to visit or live there, or learn more?

Wordsmiths can send their suggestions to BBAVT@aol.com. With or without their contributions, however, the Branding Project is expected to launch July 1. Curiously, as of this week, neither the Chamber's nor the BBA's website mentions it.

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