The I-22 Strategic Development Project was led by our partners at the University of Alabama’s Center for Economic Development (UACED) and funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).
The brand development journey was designed to intentionally engage local stakeholders in creating their own regional brand. Throughout the 10-month process, H+W and our partners guided the counties in a transition from an individual mindset to a regionally collaborative approach.
Transforming exits into entries and defining a regional voice.
As each county emerged from the strategic planning phase of the project, we focused our efforts on working with the local leaders to find connections between regional assets and experiences. Themes around outdoor recreation, history, heritage, and arts emerged from these exercises.
The branding workshops and surveys built upon each other to:
- Empower collaborative creation with citizens across county lines
- Engage local leadership in defining regional traits, strengths, and personality
- Assess what assets and experiences could be elevated for tourism marketing and improve quality of life to attract and retain residents
- Brainstorm potential names and taglines
- Develop outreach tools to kickstart the process of working together
The four counties participating in the project are distinct and geographically different. Although an ARC project, the Appalachian brand is not one many residents see themselves as. While the North and Eastern areas resemble the rolling foothills of the Appalachians, the southern and western areas fall away toward the coastal plain.
These differences also show up in local attitudes characterized at one of the workshops as “Friday Night Lights.” As such, we focused our workshop exercises on fostering regional collaboration and co-creating a new regional brand from the ground up.
Building the Compass
Positioning I-22 as a regional gateway to outdoor recreation and cultural opportunities creates partnership potential with other existing brands and serves as a tool for tourism outreach and quality-of-life improvements for locals.
With many emerging priorities and potential projects, local leaders need teams and systems in place to make regional collaboration successful. One team that was elevated through the strategic planning phase UACED led is the creation of a diverse local leadership alliance.
Through the workshops, the participants helped create the fundamental elements that will allow the emerging leadership Alliance that will empower further collaboration and growth toward a destination brand.
Learning by doing.
Mirroring the model of our community engagement workshops, H+W has developed marketing collateral that will allow the region to begin marketing itself as a destination. These tools are intentionally meant to create learning and collaboration opportunities to help the leadership alliance push the brand development forward.
These elements include
- A placeholder brand mark
- Color & Type standards
- Brand Traits and Energy
- Visual tone
- Unified outreach tools – Rack cards, Website, Trip Itineraries
When making such big shifts, communities and community partners must be willing to take a long view and recognize some ends are just the next beginning. Fostering local ownership and leadership takes time and every community has its own pace.
Patience with purpose leads to sustainable progress and long-term community buy-in.