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Wisconsin Department of Tourism Begins Effort to Create a "Brand" for State of Wisconsin,
Following the Path of Michigan: "Pure Michigan" and Kentucky's "Unbridled Spirit"
By Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 18, 2007 - Using just a few words, describe Wisconsin, and explain why it's a good place for vacationers as well as business operators, university students, and any other subset of people state officials might hope to attract.

That's the job facing the state Department of Tourism, which has begun an effort to create a "brand" for Wisconsin.

A brand is bigger than just the tagline from the latest tourism ads. Currently, in Wisconsin, that would be "Life's So Good."

The idea is to "identify that single point of difference that Wisconsin has over other competing destinations," and then create a brand that reflects that point, said Tourism Secretary Kelli Trumble.

Tourism is a major industry in Wisconsin, with travelers spending an estimated $12.97 billion in 2006. That's according to an annual Tourism Department study that measures spending by vacationers and business travelers on hotel rooms, meals, gasoline and other items.

But a state brand should be broad enough to sell Wisconsin for a variety of purposes, Trumble said.

"Yes, it's about vacationing," said Trumble, a former executive director of Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau, who later opened Sundara Inn & Spa, in Wisconsin Dells.

But it's also about "people wanting to live in Wisconsin, go to school in Wisconsin, and bring their business to Wisconsin," said Trumble, who was appointed tourism secretary in February by Gov. Jim Doyle.

Low brand awareness

Wisconsin's global brand awareness ranks pretty low, according to a state brands index created in 2006 by Simon Anholt, a British marketing expert. Anholt's survey of international respondents ranked California as No. 1 in brand awareness, with Wisconsin coming in at No. 37 -- just behind Kansas, and just ahead of Iowa. New Jersey finished in last place.

Anholt's report said a state's image is "hard to identify, hard to explain, and remarkably hard to alter." But image also plays a big role in decisions that affect a state, the report said.

Official state brands include "Pure Michigan," which debuted last year, and "Unbridled Spirit," which Kentucky launched in 2004.

"Pure Michigan" replaced "Great Lakes, Great Times," which Travel Michigan, the state's tourism agency, had used for several years.

The new brand was adopted to better cover the entire state, including areas that aren't associated with the Great Lakes, said Travel Michigan spokeswoman Kirsten Borgstrom.

TV spots using the "Pure Michigan" brand, narrated by actor Tim Allen, have been effective, said Brian Lawson, a spokesman for Crystal Mountain, a ski and golf resort near Thompsonville, Mich. He said the "Pure" brand conveys Michigan's scenic beauty, and its cultural attractions.

The "Pure Michigan" brand is confined to the state's tourism marketing.

"Unbridled Spirit," which evokes Kentucky's thoroughbred horse farms, is used for both the state's tourism and economic development efforts.

The brand started under the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who earlier this month lost his re-election bid. Steve Beshear, the incoming Kentucky governor, has vowed to keep the brand, which appears on advertisements, the state's license plates, and as a licensed logo on shirts, caps and other items.

Long-term commitment

Trumble has appointed a volunteer committee, including representatives of Harley-Davidson Inc., the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and state advertising agencies, to help create a Wisconsin brand.

Also, the department is paying $80,000 to Lindsay, Stone and Briggs Inc., a Madison advertising agency, to help with the project.

The branding process won't be easy, or cheap, said Dennis Garrett, an associate professor of marketing at Marquette University. He said developing a successful brand usually takes decades, and said government often lacks that long-term commitment.

Governments also have trouble getting "multiple voices" to agree on a single brand, Garrett said.

Still, Garrett said, Wisconsin probably needs to create a brand because "it's a competitive marketplace out there, not only in tourism but in attracting new business enterprises."

Trumble agreed that winnowing the essence of Wisconsin into a small number of words will be challenging.

But it's important for Wisconsin to define itself, Trumble said.

"If we won't do it, our competition is going to do it for us," she said.


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