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Music City provides branding inspiration for Tallahassee leaders

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If I say the word, “Nashville,” what’s the first thought that comes to your mind? Most likely, it’s music. Maybe Johnny Cash, the Country Music Hall of Fame or the Grand Ole Opry.

Perhaps you think of hopeful musicians playing in late-night clubs. You might think of possibilities and get a feeling of optimism. Nashville is a place for dreamers, and sometimes they make it big. Nashville is a place you want to be.

I visited the Music City this week as part of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce InterCity trip with more than 80 Tallahassee business and community leaders to see firsthand the exciting progress occurring in Nashville. Construction on nearly every corner in downtown was inspiring, and we were eager to identify approaches to economic development that could be applied here.

The biggest takeaway for many of us was that Tallahassee needs a brand that encompasses everything that makes us unique. And what an opportunity we have to build that brand as the capital city prepares for its 200th anniversary in 2024.

But branding is easy for Nashville, you might say. Music was a no-brainer. It’s true. Music has always been synonymous with Nashville, but the city’s approach to branding wasn’t happenstance, and in it, we find a model that could serve Tallahassee well.

A collaborative effort, led by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, and involving buy-in from businesses and the community, is to credit for the Music City brand, which is everywhere from street signs to store windows.

A hotel designing its front counter to include guitar picks, for example, might seem insignificant, but all of those details come together for big impact in Nashville.

What I hear from many people is that Tallahassee faces difficult branding challenges. We’re known for government, for higher education and for canopy roads. How do we develop a brand without that “one thing” that sets us apart?

The truth is that an effective brand doesn’t have to be singular. A brand can have what we call multiple “pillars,” as long as they work together and create the gut feeling we want people to have about our community.

Consider the Belfast, Northern Ireland, brand and logo, which is a “B” that also resembles a heart. Messaging with the logo includes the word “be,” as in “be welcome,” “be vibrant” or “be inspired.” There are multiple messages, but they evoke a singular impression of warmth and vitality.

Branding can be challenging, but there are clear steps forward for Tallahassee. Brands, whether for corporations or communities, start with understanding your audience.

Who do we want to reach with our story? What are their motivations, triggers, passion points and dreams? Where do they get their news? What is their “truth?” By taking advantage of all the data analysis tools now available to marketers, we can understand our audiences better than ever before.

The second step is thinking about the emotional response we want people to have when they think about Tallahassee. A community brand should encompass what I call the “5 P’s.” They are:

  • Place – The natural environment, geography, neighborhoods, designated areas such as Gaines Street, Midtown, etc.
  • Product – Key institutions, attractions and infrastructure
  • Programming – Arts, culture and entertainment
  • People – Diversity, the people who make up the fabric of our community
  • Prosperity – Employment, talent, businesses and opportunity

Successful branding will require honest conversations about Tallahassee’s opportunities and challenges and working through those together. The more authentic we can be about ourselves and our community, the more our story will resonate and create the image we want people to have when they hear, “Tallahassee.”

The good news is that we have 80 people – and many more throughout the capital city – who are engaged and interested in learning best practices. More than 40 other cities have visited Nashville this year alone to see its branding and economic development firsthand. We visited the right place.

Now it is time to take what we’ve learned and adapt it to what Tallahassee needs. We all know we live in a wonderful, vibrant community. Let’s develop a brand that tells that story.

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