Marketing a town

Tourism consultant Brooks says
Madison has ‘traditional lifestyles’

He unveils suggested brand
with tips for merchant community

By Don Ward

(January 2009) – When you think of pickup trucks, you may think Ford. When you think of peanut butter, you may think JIF. When you think of toilet paper, you may think Charmin.

Broadway Service Station

Photo by Cristina Evans

Tourism consultant Roger Brooks
suggested the city "do whatever is
necessary" to help relocate the
Broadway Service Station elsewhere
and use the corner of Broadway and
Main streets for an open air farmers
market and gathering plaza for
live music and events.

So when you think of small town America, do you think Madison, Ind.?
Branding is an effort to create an indelible image that others have of you when they hear your name. The idea of branding a city has become a growing trend across the country in recent years as these cities and small towns compete for tourists who increasingly want more value for their money and time.
Madison has joined the fray, hiring Seattle tourism consultant Roger Brooks for $50,000 to develop a brand for the small, southern Indiana town. Brooks and assistant Monica Dixon made their much-heralded arrival in mid-December to research the downtown merchant community, Main Street, local tourism attractions and hospitality. But when the duo made their final brand recommendations to the community during a three-hour Powerpoint presentation at the Brown Gym, only 40 people showed up. Among those were only four merchants – owners of Madison Mercantile, Whimsy, Antiquity Furniture Restoration, and The Attic Coffee Mill Cafe – and two hoteliers.
The weak turnout for what had been hailed as the best solution to spurring economic vitality to the downtown shopping district was seen as distressing to Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong, who sat through the entire presentation.
“I am hopeful that this branding process will become an important step in giving us what we need to compete in the market, both regionally and nationally,” Armstrong said. “The investment is substantial, but we believe it is that important to help keep our downtown viable.”

Roger Brooks
Branding is...
• Branding is the art of differentiation.
• Brands are specific.
• Brands are built on product, not marketing. They must deliver on the promise.
• Brands are earned; they are never “rolled out.”
• Brands must be experiential; they are based on activity, not things to look at.
• Logos and slogans are not brands; they are the marketing messages used to support the brand.
• Politics is the killer of any branding effort (and not necessarily politics by governmental agencies, but by the myriad of local organizations bickering with one another).
Source: Roger Brooks, Destination Development Inc.

Brooks presented the results of his team’s three-day mission to take the pulse of the community’s tourism and retail marketing base. He declared Madison’s “brand” to be “America’s Traditional Lifestyle.” The basis for this brand is to promote Madison’s traditional American hometown appeal. Brooks referenced such businesses as Roger’s Corner and the Ohio Theatre as representative of this brand. But it is more than old-fashioned values of yesteryear. He says the real brand are the shopping experiences of visitors to what he calls Madison’s “anchor stores.” These anchors are one-of-a-kind quaint shops that provide originality and value.
In the end, however, Brooks placed the make-or-break burden on the merchants themselves for whether his recommendations will succeed or fail. For branding is about profit, not logos and slogans and signs and banners. It’s about bringing in dollars, he said.
“The biggest problem of all in Madison is the attitude of local merchants,” Brooks said. “This attitude is dangerously close to killing the downtown. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, that if you think you are going to go out business, then sooner or later you will.
“We are about to build your brand around your businesses, but if the merchants don’t buy into this, then we are just wasting our time,” he told the crowd.
He urged the merchants to adopt the mall mentality, which is essentially a formula for establishing consistent hours and days of operation, staying open late, and grouping similar types of businesses together.
“In 25 years in this business and working in 740 towns, I have never seen a town with such a mish-mash of hours when stores are open,” he said.
Dubbing them “hobby businesses,” Brooks said this sort of inconsistency “is the biggest danger for Madison.”

Getting our share

Brooks said tourism is the nation’s fastest growing industry in the United States and in every state. Citing statistics on tourism income, Brooks said Jefferson County is earning only a small share of Indiana’s $9 billion a year in tourism spending. The state ranks as the fifth most popular to visit among tourists.
Indianapolis alone accounts for $3.6 billion, with the rest of the state making up $4.5 billion. “There are 67 counties and most of them have nothing (for tourists). Your tourism spending is $50 million a year when it should be $200 million,” he said.
He cited Fredericksburg, Texas, a town of 12,000 population, same as Madison’s, as earning $210 million a year, and it is located 3.5 hours from Dallas. “The reason is, they have done such a good job with their downtown shopping district.”
Brooks said Madison earns most of its tourism revenue over nine “event days” a year during its annual festivals. “What about the other 355 days?” he asked. “That leaves 732 visitors a day, and the majority of them come here on Saturdays.”
Brooks said Madison’s goal should be to extend the days of the week that visitors come and to extend their length of stay. “Overnight visitors spend three times more than day visitors,” he reminded the crowd.
Brooks’ second major point focused on store hours. He cited statistics showing that visitors spend three times more money after 6 p.m. “Are your shops open that late?” he asked rhetorically.
Brooks told of his experience of walking down Main Street at 2 p.m. Wednesday only to find six stores closed or vacant, 15 existing businesses closed, and several closed when the sign on the door said they were supposed to be open.

Attracting the locals

Perhaps Brooks’ third major point was not about tourism at all, but rather, local residents. He said the downtown needs to develop a central location for locals to hang out. He cited the farmers’ market or open air market or plaza where live music can be performed and people can sit down to eat at outdoor tables.
“Get the locals to come downtown to shop and hang out, then the tourists will follow. Because if your locals won’t hang out in downtown Madison, neither will visitors. That’s why you start out with the residents.”
To further illustrate his point, he cited Steve’s Broadway Service Station at the corner of Main and Broadway streets as being an excellent location for the farmers’ market and plaza. “I would get the city leaders together and do whatever is necessary to relocate that business elsewhere. It’s just in the wrong place.” He said the view from the city’s showpiece, the Broadway Fountain, down toward the Ohio River is blocked by the sight of U-Hauls parked along Broadway. Steve’s Broadway Service Station rents those trucks to customers.

Brooks other recommendations were:
• Extend the length of the downtown shopping district to extend from Walnut Street, a block east of the Jefferson County Courthouse, and west to Cragmont Street. He suggested this stretch of Main Street be dubbed “The Madison Mile” and marketed as such. “When entering ‘The Madison Mile,’ people should be transported into another era. Create a gateway to give visitors a sense that they have arrived. I would like to see decorative streetlights running all the way down to the Red Pepper Deli.”
Brooks said he had heard of an effort to promote retirement communities as a way of attracting new residents to Madison. “Retirement communities are fine, but don’t make it your focus.” The target market should include aging Baby Boomers, now in their 40s, and younger people who would want to hang out where there is activity, such as live music.
• He strongly recommended that a soup kitchen not be established inside the vacant building at 602 W. Main St. A plan was recently announced by a local church group to establish one there. Brooks said that is not an image you want in the heart of your downtown shopping district. He suggested it could be put in the back of the building or elsewhere.
• Brooks suggested the new benches recently placed along Main Street be repositioned against the walls of the buildings facing out toward the street so those sitting can watch people walking by. He also said the bench design does not fit the architecture of the town.
• Brooks said the Good Samaritan Church is in the wrong place. The enormous structure towers over the 100 block of East Main Street and in its heydey was a three-story department store.
• Brooks said local politics and bickering among the 60-some local merchant, civic and governmental groups in Madison could be the overriding obstacle for the branding initiative to work. Members of these groups must pull together and move in the same direction.

Local reaction

Reaction to Brooks’ presentation was mixed. Linda Lytle, executive director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, described the presentation to her board at its December meeting, since only two of the nine board members attended Brooks’ session. She said the various local government and nonprofit agencies that pooled their funds to pay for Brooks’ services “seemed to be satisfied that they got their money’s worth when they met with him at our wrap-up meeting. And I was pleased with what they told us.”
Lytle continued, “Everything they said for us to do is do-able, and he has assured us that he will do whatever it takes to guide us through it. He wants to see us succeed.”
Lytle added that Brooks and Dixon were wanting to discuss marketing ideas to implement the brand, but they were not paid to do the marketing. That would have cost another $25,000. The local partners have not yet decided who will do the marketing of the new brand or how it will be funded.
Madison Bicentennial Committee Chairwoman Jan Vetrhus said the recommended brand fits nicely with the Bicentennial theme “because we want people to come home; it’s America’s hometown.” She said she didn’t understand why developers are building fake downtowns “when we have a real one right here. But there is something to be said for consistent hours and access to parking.” She also said store hours on weekends is important for those local residents who work out of town during the week.
Judy George, who owns The Attic Coffee Mill Cafe, said she was impressed with Brooks’ assessment and recommendations. “I think what he’s saying is all the truth, and we need get behind him and make this work. We think it is do-able; we just need to get more merchants involved, and I think there are many who will.”
George was especially happy to hear Brooks suggest that Madison should market the west end of Main Street all the way to Cragmont Street, since her coffee shop is located in that area of town. She was disappointed when the recent Christmas Parade stopped at Broadway Street.
Gerry Reilly, president of the Madison Main Street Program board, said he likes the brand that was presented, adding, “I think we can come with traditional things that can fit in with that theme. A lot of the things he said, I agree with, I’m think the challenge will be getting other merchants to go along with it, but I think it’s worth a try.”
Brooks and Dixon are scheduled to return to Madison on Feb. 9-10 to present their final brand for the city. At that time, they will announce their short list of “anchor stores” around which they believe the brand should be built. They also want to build a “Brand Leadership Team” to implement the plan. They also want to hold a free workshop to help train local merchants.
Brooks’ visit was funded by the city and contributions from several local agencies, dubbed the “partners.” These include the city of Madison, Madison Main Street Program, Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Jefferson County Board of Tourism, Economic Development Partners of Jefferson County, Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, Community Foundation of Jefferson County, Historic Madison Inc., and the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site. But when Brooks and Dixon return to Madison in February, they have asked that at least seven local merchants be added to the partners group, said Lytle.
“They want the merchants to be involved,” she said. “In the end, it’s all about the merchants.”

• For more information about Roger Brooks and his tourism formula for success, visit his company’s website: www.DestinationDevelopment.com.

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