Branding Grand Rapids to lure tourists, businesses

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Creating a community’s brand is more than a logo and a few billboards along the highway.
An effective branding strategy promotes recognition and can also unite community residents.
“Some people have an impression in their minds of what a city sort of is, and by branding you develop this image and have some control over what that image is going to be,” said Suzeanne Benet, Seidman Marketing Department chair at Grand Valley State University.
The online BeerCity USA annual poll declared Grand Rapids as its two-time consecutive winner as a top “beer city.”

And there’s more beyond the foam. Attractions such as ArtPrize, Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and museums enhance the city’s profile as a desirable place for tourists and companies to set up base, according to PureMichigan, the state’s tourism promotion agency.
“A brand is nothing more than a promise,” said Doug Small, president of Experience Grand Rapids, the local tourism promotion group. “Our promise is that we’re going to celebrate the arts and culture scene and deliver on our local food and craft beer scene.”
According to Small, visitors are responding to Experience Grand Rapids’ promotion efforts: 42,000 visitors a year come to the city for its craft breweries.
Publicizing a community’s unique attributes results from a collaborative process between the needs of local organizations and the assets the community can offer, says Michael Rogers, vice president of communications for the Small Business Association of Michigan.
One of the biggest challenges small businesses face is acquiring talent, Rogers added. “Businesses are looking for young workers who are going to stay with their jobs, and that chance increases when they can enjoy certain amenities in the area.”
The concept of branding a community also plays an important role in attracting tourists.
Benet said, “When creating a brand, you don’t focus on hotels. You have to have reasons for people to come so then the hotels will have people in them. A lot of the time it’s the message.”
Steve Yencich, president of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association, says that Michigan’s unique geographical position and natural resources add tremendous potential for sustained branding campaigns.
“There’s growing recognition in the fact that there’s more things to do in metropolitan places. But we can never ignore resort areas,” Yencich added. “While those places may not be comparable in terms of numbers, the attributes of our woods and water destinations are some of the greatest selling points that the state has to offer.”

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