They thought they had a winner with The New Midwest. They even had the logo-a stylized "I"-all figured out. And a color palette. But then they hit a bump in the road.
When Mark Miles became CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership in January, he joined the big group and said the slogan was a dud.
At the least, he said, participants should run it by focus groups. They only had to run it by two before they realized Miles was right.
The New Midwest is out, although the "I" is staying.
"The word 'new' bothered some people," said Santina Sullivan of Indianapolis-based SCS Consulting, Inc., who's managing the project. "Some people think, 'If it's new, what was wrong with it before?'"
With the self-imposed spring deadline for finishing the brand now past, the groups are retrenching after spending about $350,000. They just finished testing five new slogans, although Sullivan wouldn't share them.
They'll now send the best three out to national focus groups in hopes of finalizing the brand this summer.
Soon thereafter, they'll launch a Web site that'll use the brand as a focal point to bring together the Web sites of the organizations involved, as well as additional Indianapolis-related sites.
The brand should come in handy. While many of the groups involved with the project have their own slogans and catch phrases for promoting Indianapolis, there is no citywide brand.
Just don't confuse brand with pithy catch phrase.
"This isn't just about a slogan," said Keira Amstutz, the city's chief counsel and policy director. "Maybe a slogan will be the result, but we're talking about a much more integrated approach to how we market our community."
The groups working on the project include the city of Indianapolis, Indiana Economic Development Corp., Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and Indianapolis Downtown Inc.
Miles said he didn't maliciously deep-six The New Midwest.
"I encouraged the group, before it invests in any phrase, to test it," said Miles, former CEO of the Association of Tennis Professionals. "My job isn't to do the coining of the phrase, but to make sure we follow a process that will lead to a good conclusion."
Experts say he might have saved the whole project.
"Focus groups can be good at testing," said James Chung, president of Belmont, Mass.-based Reach Advisors, which consults with several major tourist destinations on brand identities. "They tried to get some insight and input from the audiences they're trying to reach. That's a big plus."
In fact, he said, the groups are using what most brand experts would consider best practices.
Take, for example, Las Vegas. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, leisure travel dipped. And the family-friendly reputation the city cultivated in the '90s was shooting it in the foot. High-rollers were being replaced with nickel-slot-loving buggy-pushers.
Enter, "What happens here stays here."
The city launched the phrase in 2003 after spending 18 months and more than $750,000 to research and test various slogans. The result: Jackpot. Blazing sevens. Visitor attendance has gone up 10 percent in three years. Visitor spending has climbed 16 percent.
Indianapolis brand-masters are following a similar process, but they're spending about half as much as Vegas.
Before they hung their first flip chart, they paid Moraga, Calif.-based EquiBrand Consulting to study national perceptions of Indianapolis. The research included interviews with more than 60 local individuals about what makes Indianapolis a good place to live, work and play. The work has helped the groups understand what's unique about Indianapolis and what would make a good focal point for a brand.
"We've done a lot of research and the research that we've done is terrific," said Bob Bedell, CEO of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, who's also participated in the discussion. "We're going to make sure that whatever we end up with for a brand is tested and passed all of the tests."
A worthy investment?
No direct city money has gone into the project. Each organization has contributed toward the $350,000 spent so far. The Web site will cost an additional $150,000.
The state spent $90,000 to come up with its new slogan-"Restart Your Engines"-which debuted in April. It replaced "Enjoy Indiana," which had been used eight years.
What the groups involved in the Indianapolis effort don't know is how much they'll spend to promote the brand after it's completed. Atlanta and Toronto recently undertook similar endeavors and spent $6 million each on their advertising campaigns, Sullivan said. (Check out www.toronto.caand www.atlopen.com.)
"We're not that ambitious," she said, although she added, "There is the possibility of looking at additional businesses and foundations that have a stake in the economic growth and positioning of Indianapolis."
Whether the money is a wise investment remains to be seen, experts said.
"[Branding] works when there's a clear strategy and the slogan is in line with that strategy," said Sotiris Avgoustis, chairman of the Department of Tourism, Conventions and Event Management at IUPUI. "When that's the case, the chances of return on investment are good."
Chung, however, said most municipal branding campaigns bomb.
"There are some municipalities that have gotten great results, like Vegas, but everybody thinks they can do what Vegas did," he said. "At the best, the aggregate return on investment [of all municipal branding efforts] is zero."
Vegas succeeded because its tag line applies to one group of people-leisure travelers, he said.
Efforts like Atlanta's-"Every day is an opening day"-that have tried to appeal to business groups as well as tourists often end up producing muddled slogans, he said.
And that's exactly what Indianapolis is trying to do. It wants the new slogan to be used by economic developers as well as convention salespeople.
"If you try too broadly, you could end up with a watered-down approach," cautioned Rob O'Keefe, of the Las Vegas marketing firm R&R Partners, which came up with the infamous Sin City tag line.
The folks sitting around the branding iron in Indianapolis know it's a huge challenge.
"Most [city brands] have been done around some kind of a tourism theme and our intent here is to try to make this a lot more comprehensive than that," said Thomas King, a retired president of the Eli Lilly Foundation, who is chairing the effort.
Bedell said it could work.
Take, for example, Coca-Cola. That company has several brands-Coke, Diet Coke, Dasani, Powerade-and they exist under Coca-Cola's master identity. Yet Diet Coke still has its own brand. So does Dasani.
The idea has never been that ICVA would scrap its slogan, "So easy to do so much," or IDI would abandon "Amazingly always new," Bedell said. Rather, the process is meant to boost the marketing efforts that already exist by giving them a common theme and creating a master brand that can lift all boats.
"The brand can work for everybody," Bedell said. "The Indy Partnership can still have a campaign to attract businesses. "The ICVA can still have a campaign to attract conventions. IDI can still have a campaign to attract people downtown."