Reinventing Waupaca, Wisconsin

Entered by CivicBrand

The City of Waupaca, Wisconsin, needed to create a place brand strategy. It was a collaborative project with the city, as well as the CVB, and was not just a tourism or city government project but rather one that would support tourism, economic development, talent attraction, city government and residents — all under a comprehensive brand platform. The platform would unify the community through design and cast a common vision and voice, while at the same time allowing different stakeholders to use the brand to support their different goals. The city, like many small communities in the Midwest, needs to attract young talent, businesses and tourists, but they need to do so in a way that does not dilute the values of the community and what has made it a great place to visit and live for decades. They are suffering from brain drain and increasing economic development and tourism competition. Most city branding projects focus only on tourism, city government or economic development. This was a unique opportunity to cut across everything and truly develop a comprehensive place brand, and the use of design strategy to solve that unique challenge is notable amongst city branding projects.

The four key ingredients

Public engagement drives the strategy for the four ingredients of the city brand platform: brand goals, style diagnostic, brand principles and brand architecture. The brand goals were summarized in what was called the ‘Main & Chain strategy’. This came from a combination of first learning what was required to capitalize on the popularity of the Chain O’ Lakes, a key tourism destination, and use that to draw people into the city to support local business, attract talent and investment. Second was understanding how Waupaca fit amongst regional competitors. 

While researching and visiting 8 competing cities, the team discovered that half of them, when compared to Waupaca, were known more as tourism destinations. The other half were known as more vibrant places where you would live. While those communities thrived in those areas, they were one dimensional. The team determined Waupaca’s strategy would be to show that they offer the best of both worlds. In this strategy, “Main” represents everything the city has to offer from a vibrant city standpoint, and “Chain” represents everything the city has to offer from an outdoor and tourism standpoint. 

This combination and best of both worlds became the strategy. Through engagement and research, the concept of “New Nostalgia” was developed for the style diagnostic. This addressed the nostalgic feel that the community offers but put a fresh and new spin on it to appeal to young talent and future generations.  This strategy is in line with the design aesthetic of the area now but also where it’s headed in the future. Brand principles were defined and used as the guiding light in measuring all design so that it isn’t measured against personal taste but rather the agreed upon principles. The brand architecture was then mapped out to understand the needs for branding the place, city government, tourism, businesses and residents.

Everything starts with public engagement

This is meaningful, roll-up your sleeves and get out there public engagement — not just a survey and public meeting. This engagement carries through into the design and implementation phase. Over the last year, the team have conducted multiple trips to the community where holding numerous round tables, 1-on-1 interviews, workshops and focus groups that cut across all ages and demographics. They participated in tourism activities, attended community events and brought their film and photography crew along to produce a documentary about the entire process. 

Through this process they were able to solve challenges, like the local main street businesses who were initially concerned this would be all about tourism and the Chain O’Lakes and didn’t see how it would benefit them. It also eased residents who had been there for decades who were concerned that these marketing efforts would seek to change what they loved about their city by trying to attract youth and investment. Through engagement and strategy, the stakeholders were able to see how the brand platform supported their sometimes contradictory goals and got them onboard. The results were designs and a brand platform that consists of a place brand, city government brand, tourism brand, resident brand and made-in brand that all serve different roles, but that are all tightly connected in a seamless brand platform. A multi-phase implementation plan was developed that includes the launch of a brand portal, the official launch event, and wayfinding updates. The launch event will include a ‘Main & Chain’ beer that is a collaboration with the 2 breweries in town, and a ‘Main & Chain’ trolley shuttle that will physically take people from the Chain O’Lakes into town and be a catalyst for a permanent trolley in the future.

The key measurable at this stage is buy-in, which has been achieved with city staff, elected officials, the CVB, business owners, and residents. This project used design and strategy to implement a common thread across a number of initiatives — from tourism to the city government to businesses and residents to create a true brand platform.

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