Archive for the 'Destination Brands' Category

If a city calls itself “Someplace Special,” what kind of special experience must it provide?

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Every city or town yearns to be “someplace special,” a unique and delightful community that attracts good residents and plenty of visitors for local business and events. Sometimes, nature lends a hand. Usually, though, crafting a standout civic identity entails a careful plan, time and resources. A city tagline or motto can help in this regard, framing the city in a differentiating and productive context consistent with city goals.

Mount Dora is “Someplace Special”

It’s a bit rare, though, for a city to simply call itself “Someplace Special” as its tagline or motto. “Someplace Special” is a cliché. But that’s what the city of Mount Dora (in central Florida) has done. (See above.)

Here is how the city describes its “Someplace Special” tagline:

Formally adopted by City Council in June, 2007, “Someplace Special” is a short, alliterative, descriptive phrase that quickly and simply reflects the City’s unique culture and relaxed atmosphere which attracts visitors, residents and businesses. It remains catchy for easy memory recall in a simple phrase that can be easily utilized in a variety of marketing campaigns.

A tagline that’s vague on purpose

“Wait a second,” you might say. “Someplace Special” really doesn’t indicate how or why Mount Dora is special. In itself, the tagline is meaningless (and more than a bit time-worn). Shouldn’t the tagline distill the unique essence that is Mount Dora, that special quality that clearly sets Mount Dora apart from all other places on earth?

Well, the Mount Dora tagline is nonspecific on purpose. Back to the city’s description:

The City’s tagline is intentionally nonspecific so it may be used to communicate with every constituent of the City: residents, potential residents, visitors, business owners, potential business owners and City employees. Additionally, “Someplace Special” works well with the many diverse events the City hosts. “Someplace Special” can speak of any event, to any constituent of any age, race or gender, at any time of the year, and it may be tied in with a variety of marketing themes that arise: romantic, historical, quaintness, charm, festivals, luxury, budget and more.

An “artful, strategic and persuasive message”

The city’s identity guidelines go on to say that the “Someplace Special” tagline “enhances the value and relevance of the City’s brand and extends its reach; it compresses the overall experience of living, visiting and doing business in Mount Dora into an artful, persuasive and strategic message.”

A tagline that says little and fits every purpose

And there you have it: a tagline that says little and fits every purpose, from luxury to budget. It must confer some practical value because “Someplace Special” has been used by the city of Mount Dora for three years. I wonder, though, whether “Someplace Special” really does justice to the many qualities that do seem to make Mount Dora special. Does it point toward a unique civic character found nowhere else? Does it grab hold of potential visitors with the promise of an exclusive destination experience? Does it spark their imaginations, resonate with their deepest values and elevate Mount Dora to the top of their must-see places? And for those who do visit the city, does the tagline help focus the Mount Dora experience, intensify it into something remarkable, and extend it beyond Mount Dora so visitors carry it far and wide?

One visitor to the city said: “Mount Dora was pleasant and worth seeing once.” Perhaps he would have longed to return had his experience had more focus, more intensity, and fully engaged the values that made him tick.

Mount Dora does have special qualities

I’ve never been to Mount Dora, but from what I see on the Web Mount Dora may be far more special than its current tagline. The city (pop. 11,600) has wonderful architectural heritage with carefully preserved buildings, is rich in American values and tradition,  has nice shops (especially antiques), a beautiful lake, a picturesque lighthouse, popular events (here and here) and whimsically offers a Florida’s best “mountain-top experience” (at 189 ft. asl). It certainly has aspects of a walkable and charming historic village.

A tagline of convenience

Mount Dora’s “Someplace Special” tagline is what I would call a “tagline of convenience.” It demands so little that it’s easy to agree on, and to implement. That gives it a certain pragmatic value, which can count for a lot in a small city. Of course, using that criteria a city could just as easily call itself  “The Cat’s Meow” or “The Bee’s Knees.”

Someplace special—somehow

While Mount Dora has an abundance of special qualities, the tagline of “Someplace Special” doesn’t really obligate the city to do or be anything special. It makes no promise, commitment or pledge toward any particular kind of civic or visitor experience. It doesn’t hold the city to any special standard, vision or quality of life, nor does it project any. As it is, the city doesn’t have to do anything special to make this “special” tagline “work.”

A context for Mount Dora

A signal weakness of taglines like “Someplace Special” is that they don’t provide a differentiating and productive context for cities and towns. Mount Dora, however, seems tailor-made for such a context based on the experiences that it does provide. To name just a few:

  1. Local heritage (100 years) and story
  2. Retail that connects present and past
  3. Preservation
  4. Outstanding architecture
  5. Village charm
  6. Respect for traditional American values
  7. Community values that only a small town culture can provide
  8. Respect for art, craft and craftsmanship

Many of these elements are in short or shrinking supply in today’s America. In Mount Dora they’re plentiful and real, and they constitute real (and rare) value. They work together, too. A tagline challenge would be to crystallize these elements in a short and remarkable metaphor or phrase that clearly specifies and evokes the uniqueness that Mount Dora represents.

Social media lends a hand

Social media may help point a way forward for Mount Dora. Mount Dora’s Twitter page already seems to be extending the context of Mount Dora beyond the non-specific “Someplace Special” formalized by the city. The Twitter page describes the city as “A super quaint, 100 year old, lakeside, hilltop, New England town in Central Florida.” There’s energy in that description and a sense of what the city might offer, albeit very loosely focused.

Local business lends a hand

The Mount Dora Village Merchants and Business Association is on to something (in my view) when they frame Mount Dora as a “village.” Villages are rare. A village experience is very rare. The Association extends “Someplace Special” too, by adding that Mount Dora is “Someplace Special to play, shop, dine, stay ….” Unfortunately, this extension, while fine for business, doesn’t really specify the singular experience that Mount Dora as a village represents. The extension could refer to any city, including nearby Orlando.

(The Merchants site does refer to Mount Dora’s “Southern charm,” which is surely true, but that’s somewhat at odds with the Twitter page description of Mount Dora as a “New England town.” Which is it?)

Identity is exclusivity, not one size fits all

Mount Dora’s Twitter page includes a nonstop stream of local events, deals and promotions. That’s commendable, but my question would be this: how can the city identity rise above the various promotions and events that flood the local calendar. It’s as if the Mount Dora  identity is being reduced to a directory, a calendar, and a list of features. Moreover, a city that tries to be “everything for everybody” is never someplace special. It’s a strip mall. Identity is exclusivity, not one size fits all.

A context, not a “theme”

Should Mount Dora (and cities like it) ever consider a more differentiating and productive tagline they would want to focus on their real context, and not on a pre-packaged or concocted “theme.” Themes are a dime a dozen. And they’re facades. The context of a city is real, and irreplaceable. Its roots are in the city’s character, and in its residents, in their past and present, and in their aspirations. Such a context can  be leveraged, too, and that can mean development opportunities downstream.

A context city: Carmel-by-the Sea

A famous context city is California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea. It manages to be a world renowned tourist destination while remaining true to its roots, genuine through and through. And being “genuine through and through” is a major reason why it’s a tourist destination.

Image: City of Mount Dora

Back from long trip to Asia

Thursday, August 6th, 2009


Sorry for the huge gap in recent posts. Have just returned from a 24-day trip to Asia, including nine days in China. Travel schedules and the vagaries of Net connections made posting more difficult than I expected.

Will be catching up soon, with notes from the Asian brand scene, especially China.

Trip note: get your own Terra Cotta Warrior

I can report that at the Hyatt hotel in Xi’an you can purchase your own full-size (6-ft.) replica of a Terra Cotta Warrior for about $1500 US, including shipping and insurance. Around 220 BC the emperor Qin Shi Huang was buried near Xi’an with more than 8,000 clay warriors to safeguard his soul in his afterlife. He must have been a big icon guy.

Unfortunately, icons make poor soldiers. Emperor Qin’s enemies ransacked his necropolis five years after his death. With one or two exceptions, the fascinating “whole” warriors we see today have been painfully reconstructed from a tomb of shards. They’re a marvel of the curator’s art as much as the craftsmanship that originally fashioned them.


Re-create the place, re-create the customer

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Today’s SF Chronicle reviews the renovated San Francisco Ferry Building and its highly positive impact on the San Francisco urban experience, five years after its grand re-opening.

Social lessons for brand builders

There are many lessons here for brand builders. Perhaps the most salient is that the social and community aspects of any place become the real backbone of its success. A place rises to the level of a brand when it becomes an extension of the community, a continuous invitation to visit, linger, explore, express. It enables visitors to make the place a part of themselves, and in so doing to extend the brand context, and the brand experience.

Re-creating a place in new dimensions

A re-created place re-creates visitors, leaving them revitalized in new dimensions. A key aspect of the renovated Ferry Building—apart from its stunning 600 ft. nave, upscale shops, diverse eateries and Bay-side location— is that it hosts a thriving farmer’s market twice a week, with a huge turnout on Saturdays. It’s a social food mecca in a food-crazed city, with a wide variety of organic produce and artisanal food products.

A few decades ago the Ferry Building was a disheveled mess in the death shadow of a stunningly egregious eyesore. At that time it would have been almost impossible to imagine what it is today. Thankfully, it was saved by the same civic spirit that rescued the cable cars in the 1950’s.

Locals pave the way for tourists

Napa’s brand new Oxbow Public Market aims to bring the Ferry Building experience to the wine country in Northern California. Built from scratch, and still in its opening phases, its first challenge is to build a sustaining community around itself. On my latest visit the Market outposts of (local) Taylor’s Automatic Refresher and The Model Bakery were bustling. As with all such public places, locals pave the way for tourists. All they ask is a context they can make their own.

Top photo: Mike_sj40 — Flickr
Inset photo: Geigenot — Flickr

Great brands simplify, and intensify

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

Every brand has to focus its value stream to deliver an optimal experience to customers. This is not a matter of managing dozens of brand “touchpoints.” It’s understanding the very few elements that define the brand experience in its purest form.

The key is to simplify, and intensify.

Powder ski destination Alta, Utah seems to understand this principle. The resort sees its mission as connecting skiers to the snow, in a simple, no-frills setting, so the elements can speak for themselves.

Purists drive simplicity, and intensity

Alta attracts purists who want the pristine powder experience. There’s a brand lesson here. Purists simplify and intensify by their very nature. And purists are often the power behind brands, both from the company side and the customer side. Purists are brand drivers. They know what counts. They don’t settle for less.

Alta is sometimes criticized because it lacks the glitz and glamor of high-style destinations such as Vail, but glitz and glamor often means a long wait in a lift line, and a longer wait for dinner. Not much simplicity, or intensity, in that.

Photo: Alta Ski Area