by Kristin Brighton on June 12, 2012

Whenever we work with a city, we are always on the hunt for what Seth Godin calls the Purple Cow. Our job as marketing strategists is to help clients figure out what makes them distinct from the pack. And it isn’t always easy. Many Midwestern towns share many similar assets.

As marketing consultants, we always try to figure out a way to position clients so that the branding tools we create for them — logos, taglines, ads, websites, etc. — are persuasive and distinctive.

A current Springfield, Missouri Ad

That’s why we put so much time and effort into looking for just the right sentiment to set the stage for community branding. We want to package the client in a way that stands out. That’s authentic. That says something about the experience you’ll get from a city. And that furthers the city’s goals.

I recently stumbled upon the ad shown at right for Springfield, Mo., in a national magazine. I immediately thought this was a great example of an ad that doesn’t individuate itself from the pack. As someone who has had family living in Springfield most of my life, I know this community. It’s the retail-service hub for the southwest Missouri-Ozarks region, and it has a lot of assets.

However, the string of small pictures doesn’t pique my interest, and if I didn’t know Springfield, I’d have no idea what the illustrations at the bottom were about. And I really have trouble with the tagline/headline: “A place to Explore, Experience and Enjoy.” This language doesn’t set the great city of Springfield apart, because you could say the same thing about Home, Kan., or Nome, Alaska.

(After reviewing their website, I’m not sure if this is a tagline, or just a headline on this ad. I found a different tagline used a few places on their website: “Welcome to the Middle of Everywhere.” Unfortunately, this tag, too, could be used by many other Midwest communities.)

Springfield is not alone in struggling to be distinct. Many cities and towns across America have adopted taglines/slogans/mottos/monikers that are usually very upbeat, but also bland enough that they could apply to the next town down the road.

I don’t know if these are all current, but a few other less-than-unique city taglines I found online include “Let Us Surprise You” (Bellingham, Wash.), “In Season Every Season” (Clemson, S.C.), “The Best Location in the Nation” (Cleveland, Ohio), and “It’ll Make You Smile” (Adair, Iowa). I could rearrange the taglines and the city names, and you’d never know the difference.

While I know nothing about the creative process Springfield went through for this campaign, it has been our experience at New Boston that lackluster creative is often the result of too many cooks in the kitchen, aka the committee syndrome. (Good art is never done by committee. Committees nearly always produce watered-down results if there isn’t an ultimate decision maker.)

So if you’ve found this blog today because you’re researching new marketing ideas for your community, I suggest that you be bold! Present what’s unique about your community, while also furthering your goals.

And if trying to pinpoint that special something makes your eyes gloss over with confusion, boredom, or apathy, then call someone who loves this stuff ! As an insider living in your community, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. It often takes some solid market research and an outside perspective to find the Purple Cow — and the right Purple Cow — to help you meet your goals.

As an aside, here are some great city taglines (and some of these are out-of-date, but still worthy of notice because they highlight something out-of-the-ordinary about the community). Feel free to post any you like (or don’t like) in the comments below.

  • Keep Austin Weird (Austin, Texas) — I bought a coffee cup with this on it while at the airport in Austin…totally bold! Talk about embracing your Purple Cow!
  • The Sweetest Place on Earth (Hershey, Pa.) — Very appropriate
  • The World Grows Here (Garden City, Kan.) — Highlights their multicultural, ag-reliant community…and yes, we helped with this one
  • What Happens Here, Stays Here (Las Vegas, Nev.) — The classic
  • How About Doin’ Some Time in Leavenworth (Leavenworth, Kan.) — Made me laugh out loud!
  • City with Sol (San Diego, Calif.) — Nice double meaning
  • The City That Was So Nice They Named It Twice (Walla Walla, WA) — While a bit wordy, this is a great example of making lemons into lemonade! It is definitely memorable!
  • Get the Heck Into Dodge (Dodge City, Kan.) — No other city could use THIS tag!