More than Mayberry: Tourism partnership works to brand county

First Posted: 1/6/2009

DOBSON You could visit for a day, but you might stay a lifetime.
Its one of the slogans that received unanimous nods yesterday when the Tourism Partnership of Surry County met to brainstorm key elements to help brand and market the area.
Clemmons-based branding company MadCat, which the tourism organization hired last month for $25,000 to help with the branding process, created various exercises to help board members articulate what best represents the area.
Tuesdays four-hour session was the first of a 12-week process categorized into four stages that include strategic development, positioning development, creative development and marketing development.
MadCat representatives Scott Rhodes, Melanie Barbee and Doug Shouse facilitated the group.
Its important we get your honest opinions, Rhodes said. Its your judgment, what you feel in your heart, theres no right or wrong.
In the first exercise, each member was asked to write an autobiography of Surry County that described its history, its current condition, its community and its people, with the participants writing as if they were the county. That exercise led to a series of unified ideas about what the county represents and what draws people to visit, which included descriptions like natural, neighborly, yesteryear, peaceful, nostalgia, simple, beautiful, heritage and affordability among several others.
Valerie Oberle, the chair of the tourism partnership, said she wanted to maintain a balance of the important elements that encompassed the county and sited an example that MadCat representatives gave of Hong Kong, which has slugged itself as Asias world city.
Its a unified identity, she said of the slogan, which included a dragon alongside the citys name and had several pictures representing city life and culture. They brought in the new and modern, but respected the history.
And that seemed to be what the members agreed on what they hoped to accomplish in the branding process.
Id like to see moderation, said member Bob Comer.
MadCat representative Shouse agreed.
Its not just Mayberry, you have different aspects of the county, he said.
I dont want us to be something were not, member Chris Knopf included.
Member Laurette Leagon of Elkin mirrored Shouses comments and added that she would like to see Surry County also embrace new areas of interest such as culinary arts.
Id like to see a culinary arts school that has the potential to generate income, she said.
A second exercise included having the organization divide into groups of three and analyze a stack of photos and determine what type of people visit the area, who would potentially visit it in the future and who might never visit it.
The group seemed to determine that the area was welcoming to individual seniors and senior couples and provided several outdoor activities for the adventurous who enjoy biking, canoeing and climbing.
After the session, Oberle said she was thrilled by the outcome of the session.
It was a brilliant exercise, she said. I was pleased. I liked the flexibility of the meeting and that it was open.
She added that through the discussion and exercises it was clear the target audience has been senior couples, but realized that family and children activities needed to be advertised more.
I came up with sidebar ideas of businesses like more things for kids, she said. We need to target families. This is a great place for inexpensive family weekends.
Knopf said he was looking forward to future sessions.
I think this is a good first step, he said of the meeting. Its exciting were on the same page.
During the 12-week project, which is expected to be complete in March, MadCat representatives said theyll be working to place the following branding principles: Highlight the places authenticity, (make) meaningful to a global audience, (be) inspirational and emotionally appealing and manage strategically.
The next step for MadCat before it meets again with the tourism partnership on Jan. 20 in Elkin is to meet with other organizations, representatives and citizens in the community who can offer input on branding and identity.
Contact Erin C. Perkins at [email protected] or 719-1952.

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