Tee Coker and his company recently learned firsthand something they probably already suspected about creating brands and taglines for towns. Forget about pleasing everyone: it can be an insurmountable challenge to please anyone at all when it comes to developing exactly the right slogan for a community.
“It turned out a tagline wasn’t something Highlands either wanted or needed,” Coker said, perhaps reminded about Coca-Cola and its legendary public-relations disaster with “new Coke.”
Coker and his marketing consultant company, Arnette, Muldrow & Associates, were trying to convince Highlands’ leaders that the town had an upgraded image and needed a new slogan to match. Coker’s masterpiece — “Simply Stunning” — was destined for the same dustbin of history as new Coke, however.
Coker didn’t take the rejection personally, it should be noted. That’s just part of the job when your profession is developing taglines or slogans.
“It’s fun to do this for the most part,” Coker said. “But, it’s certainly challenging.”
Coker said that each community the company works with has its own personalities involved and various motivations at play for developing taglines. That can make reaching consensus difficult.
In Western North Carolina, quite a few communities have adopted a brand and slogan. Maggie Valley is “Can you come out and play?” Franklin is “Discover us.” Macon County is “Enjoy the beauty, discover the life.”
The challenge is coming up with a slogan or motto that highlights a community’s assets and creates an identity to distinguish it from other places. That can be difficult because everyone here, more or less, plays off our mountain locale.
In Haywood County, the tourism agency uses “See yourself in the Smokies.” Neighboring Cherokee is “Meet me in the Smokies.”
In local communities, the task of picking taglines has been taken up by marketing professionals, town officials, residents and wide assortments of tourism-oriented committees.
In Western North Carolina, logos and slogans reflect the heritage, history and image of the region’s towns.
Big cities use big dollars to brand and create taglines. New York is “The city that never sleeps.” Chicago is the “Windy City.” Virginia is for lovers. Las Vegas is “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Austin is “Keep Austin weird.”
But, branding and taglines are not just for the big cities of the world. When any city, county or state adopts a tagline, slogan or motto, it’s pitching that destination as a place to visit, live or work.
“We wanted something understated and unique to Highlands,” said Ron Shaffner, design committee chairman for the Highlands Small Town Main Street Program. “‘Simply Stunning’ sounded like something that relates to weddings or diamonds — and that’s not Highlands. We felt ‘Simply Stunning’ might become ‘Simply Cliché’ after 10 years or so.”
Arnette, Muldrow & Associates led a series of roundtables in Highlands during two days in February. While the “Simply Stunning” slogan is a no-go, the design committee has pretty much settled on a suitably understated logo: an image of a tree simply baring the town’s name, “Highlands, North Carolina.”
“It turns out Highlands doesn’t really have to market itself aggressively so it isn’t that shocking that they don’t want a tagline. Highlands is a special case in many ways — there’s not really any other analogous communities in the Southeast,” Coker said.
The logo is simple and small enough to fit on a lapel pin or to go on letterheads or even on the sides of town vehicles.
The town might use its elevation — 4,118 feet — in branding efforts too, he said. The Highlands Chamber of Commerce already capitalizes on that claim to fame as the basis for its distinguishing slogan “Above it all.”
A changing community
“The tough thing about it is trying to make a tagline that is all things to all people,” said Matt Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce.
Cherokee, as much as any community in WNC, is in transition. For decades the Cherokee Indian Reservation marketed itself as a family destination for cultural events. That’s still true, but now you also have Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort and such specialty niches as trout fishing on the Oconaluftee River.
Pegg said a good slogan must reflect the myriad nature of the offerings in a community such as Cherokee but not be so generic as to be useless.
“And there’s probably not another place you can go from the National Park to all the glitz and glamour of what will be at Harrah’s,” Pegg said, referring to the casino expansion and the new casino entrance under construction. Known as the rotunda, the new entrance that will feature shining five-story trees made of colored glass, with a 75-foot waterfall cascading down the middle and a 140-foot screen wrapping around the walls where choreographed light and surround-sound shows will be projected.
Pegg said committees and marketing professionals helped develop Cherokee’s taglines, including the currently in use “Meet me in the Smokies.”
“If it’s something we can do we try to do it internally, but we’ll certainly bring in groups to help, too,” Pegg said.
Until recently, neighboring Swain County like Cherokee played off of its position next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For several years, Bryson City used “base camp for adventure.” After reviewing visitor demographics, the town opted to change course, however.
Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, said that it turned out the most important decision maker when it comes to trips to Swain County is actually 40-year-old women. The “base camp for adventure” was deemed too extreme to attract a wide cross section of visitors, particularly that imaginary 40-year-old woman.
“We do get a lot of younger folks, but we didn’t want to scare off that other demographic by saying we’re too extreme,” Wilmot said, saying she didn’t think most 40-year-old women were looking for freestyle kayaking events or to mountain bike at Tsali Recreation Area, two well known Swain County-based sports possibilities.
“We wanted to think about that armchair adventurer, too,” Wilmot said, saying the tourism agency wanted to include gentler outdoor adventuring such as walking up Deep Creek to see the waterfalls.
In the end, the tagline chosen was open ended: “My Bryson City is …. (you fill in the blank).” The message, and the photo accompanying it, changes according to the publication viewers being targeted — “My Bryson City is dazzling” might accompany an advertisement highlighting autumn color. “My Bryson City is the Dragon” could accompany a photo of a motorcyclist targeting a riding audience.
“It is an easily manipulated yet consistent message,” Wilmot said, adding that an advertising firm helped develop Bryson City’s changing tagline.
“We were all sort of thinking the same things, and we knocked ideas around in a creative meeting then took a couple ideas to the board,” she said.
Bryson City is also an example of how difficult it can be to rid yourself of an old tagline you might have outgrown. For years the town went by “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon,” and in fact, there’s still a sign on old U.S. 19 coming into town boasting this fact. Brad Walker, a former town mayor who’s long been involved in the hotel business in WNC, said that particular tagline of “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon” was developed by the tourism agency in Swain County some 10 or 15 years ago.
“We were trying to figure out what the town is. And we decided the biggest thing we are is that we are in the Smokies, and we are the opposite of Gatlinburg,” Walker said.
So “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon” really meant not Gatlinburg, Walker said.
Asheville, formerly “Altitude affects attitude,” has also undergone a change that reflects the city’s transition and newest image as a center of all-things-hip. Asheville is now “Any way you like it.”
Taglines and identities can be funny things. Some communities — in this case, Bryson City once again — can be downright protective of them. Bryson City recently took issue to the wording on a public art piece being installed on Main Street in Waynesville.
Donations are helping erect a replica of a historic arch that once spanned Waynesville’s main street, proclaiming the town as the “Eastern Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”
That wording was too long for the artistic replica, however, so instead it will bear the words “Gateway to the Smokies.”
Not long after news stories ran about the arch, Waynesville Town Manager Lee Galloway received a phone call from Bryson City Town Manager Lee Callicutt regarding the wording on the arch. It was a slogan that Bryson City has used on its seal and police department badges for decades.
Callicutt had been directed to pass the concern of the Town of Bryson City onto Waynesville. The concern was duly noted but nothing came out of it.
Deciding around the table
Advertising agencies and companies can spend a fortune writing the right tagline. Small towns don’t have that kind of money. So sometimes they simply borrow.
Macon County’s current tagline, “Enjoy the beauty, discover the life” is a tweaked version of one a small business there was using, said Linda Harbuck, longtime executive director of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce.
Committees are used in Macon County to decide on taglines, saving on dollars and tapping local talent when it comes to defining the exact image to project. Harbuck said that community has had a number of different taglines during the years. The longest running one was “gem capitol of the world,” a play off of the large number of gem mining operations in Macon County. Macon County also has used “Mountain treasures, simple pleasures.”
“We don’t have any scientific ways of coming up with them,” Harbuck said. “A lot of things have just come from us sitting around the table talking.”
That’s been true in Maggie Valley, too, said Teresa Smith, executive director of the chamber of commerce there.
“We’ve used several recently,” she said. “We are trying to play off the park and being in the great outdoors.”
Maggie Valley uses a marketing committee to come up with choices. During the past several years, the town has used “Maggie’s calling.” Last year, they used “Far enough away yet close enough to play.” This year, it was tweaked to “Can you come out and play?”
Smith said it is indeed difficult to come up with taglines that make all those involved happy. Maggie Valley tourism leaders hold several meetings a year to do just that, usually working around a theme to help define the image Maggie Valley wants to project.
Jackson County recently has scaled down its slogan to focus on a single image it wants to project: mountains. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce recently has been just using “N.C. Mountains.” It has also used “Mountain lovers love Jackson County” during the past few years, and previously used “A change of altitude,” said Julie Spiro, executive director of the chamber of commerce.
Brand vs. tagline
Betty Huskins, a longtime marketing expert with Ridgetop Associates, makes a clear distinction between brands and taglines. A brand, Huskins said, “is who you are in other people’s minds. A lot of people feel they’ve developed a brand when they’ve gotten a slogan or tagline, but you can’t just choose that.”
You can’t, in other words, choose the perception people have of you simply by picking a catchy slogan.
Huskins said ideally in marketing “you have to see who you are and build what you want to be.”
Huskins said the best taglines, as she was taught and still believes, should be no more than three words (think Highlands’ “Above it all.”)
A tagline, she said, should ultimately define “who you are and what you do.”
Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, said a tagline has to generate an emotional response.
“You may think it is wonderful, but if people don’t respond to it, it doesn’t do much good,” she said. “If you have a really good slogan they know where you are talking about. It needs to appeal to people on an emotional level.”
The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is currently using “See yourself in the Smokies.” The previously used tagline, “where the sun rises on the Smokies,” is still used too on logos, Collins said.
A few years ago, Haywood County made the tagline switch to “See yourself in the Smokies” on advertising to try to get prospective visitors to picture themselves doing such activities as skiing or hiking.
“We did it to get people to put themselves in that photo and imagine doing those activities,” Collins said. “It’s just another format of using the Smokies and to evoke that emotional response.”
Like Huskins, Collins makes a distinction between branding and taglines. Haywood County’s brand, she said, “is our natural scenic beauty.” The slogan is to try to get people to come and participate in that great scenic beauty in Haywood County.
Bryson City: My Bryson City is ___
Canton: Where the mountains kiss the sky
Cashiers: Nature’s design for enjoyment
Cherokee: Meet me in the Smokies
Franklin: Discover us
Haywood County: See yourself in the Smokies
Highlands: Above it all
Maggie Valley: Can you come out and play?
Macon County: Enjoy the beauty, discover the life
Facebook-submitted slogans, courtesy of our readers