Marshall launches city branding initiative

Project to focus on city marketing and identity

MARSHALL — The city of Marshall is going to be taking a closer look at how it presents itself — and the process is going to involve getting feedback from community members.

This spring, Marshall has launched an initiative to develop a brand for the city. It’s a process that goes beyond slogans or logos, said Marshall Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Lauren Deutz.

Branding, Deutz said, “is the way we want to sell ourselves,” an identity the city can use to help attract businesses and visitors. “It’s about how we want to represent ourselves to the outside world.”

The city will be working with the Nashville-based agency North Star Destination Strategies on the branding project. North Star submitted one of more than 20 proposals Marshall received in a branding and marketing RFP late last year. The company has worked on marketing campaigns for more than 200 communities in 45 states, Deutz said. The list includes some familiar cities, like Brookings, South Dakota.

Marshall City Council members approved a $50,000 branding proposal from North Star at its March 26 meeting. Funding for the project includes $20,000 budgeted from the city’s 2019 reserves, $10,000 from the Marshall Convention and Visitors Bureau, and $20,000 budgeted from the city’s 2020 reserves.

Deutz said Marshall was taking on a branding initiative partly because it was something the city hadn’t done before.

“The need for a brand strategy is about more than a desire for a new logo or look,” said Glenn Bader, Ralco Vice President of Marketing, and the Marshall Branding Committee chairman. “A great community brand is a promise we make to each other. It is build over time and uses images, words and design to capture the excitement and allegiance we feel when we think about our community, our home.”

Bader said the brand initiative will be exciting for Marshall.

“When we are seen in a positive light, visitors, residents and business investors want to be a part of this community,” said Marshall City Administrator Sharon Hanson. “A brand provides us with a way to identify our image and distinguish ourselves from other locations.”

The branding initiative is a process that will take about six months to complete. The first step involves lots of research. Deutz said North Star is currently auditing past marketing research and campaigns Marshall has done in the past. In June, members of the company will come to Marshall on a “familiarity tour,” and meet with stakeholders and businesses in the community.

Deutz said Southwest Minnesota State University will also be part of the study. She said one of the reasons North Star was selected for the project was because of their experience working with communities that have universities. Southwest Minnesota State University is made up of people who chose to come to Marshall, so SMSU community members can give an important perspective to the brand initiative, Deutz said.

Part of the branding initiative will also be gathering feedback from Marshall community members. As the process gets further along, Deutz said, community-wide surveys will be distributed through e-mail and online. She encouraged people to take part in the surveys when they’re available.

In a press release, North Star president Will Ketchum said the agency would be working to uncover Marshall’s unique story.

“The exciting thing is that the essence of the Marshall brand already exists inside the community and among its people. We’re just going to help bring it to the surface to the benefit of economic development, talent attraction, tourism growth and community pride and ownership,” Ketchum said.

Deutz said the question of how Marshall presents itself as a community was one that’s come to the forefront recently. Earlier this month, a pet treat business seeking to move to Marshall was met with vocal opposition from some community members, and later withdrew from the city.

Some Marshall City Council members said they were concerned about the impact the situation would have on Marshall’s business climate.

The response to the permit request was “kind of a reality check,” that Marshall residents didn’t all have the same vision for the community, Deutz said. Hopefully, the situation could become a jumping-off point for further discussion, she said.