Branding Our City: Lincoln in need of an identity

That was the consensus of many in the community heading into 2011. Lincoln had just experienced a fantastic two year period in 2009 and 2010. During those two years:

• The University of Nebraska took over the former Nebraska State Fair grounds and began planning for a new public/private research campus.
• Assurity Life Insurance broke ground on a new corporate headquarters on the north end of the Antelope Valley Redevelopment Project.
• The citizens of Lincoln approved the necessary funding through a public vote for a new arena and associated development of $350 million.
• Ground was broken on the downtown Catalyst Project which ended up opening as the Larson Building in 2012.
• A new $37 million “investment fund” for new software company, Nebraska Global was being formed by Lincoln entrepreneurs.
• Lincoln (and Nebraska) residents celebrated a move by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln into the Big 10 athletic conference, a move lauded not just for athletics but for the expansion of academic and research opportunities.

One or two of these events over a decade would be a success in most communities. In fact, for their role in these events and other activities, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce was recognized as one of the top two chambers in the United States by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives in 2011.

But something seemed to be missing.

Jason Smith, Vice President of Economic Development for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce explained.

“We had a number of businesses that said, in spite of how great we know our community is, we are having trouble showing how great it is to someone we want to recruit outside of Lincoln or Nebraska,” Smith said. “They said the image Lincoln was portraying was not necessarily accurate or necessarily attractive to key workforce demographics.

“At the same time, our young entrepreneurship community was trying to find help in creating a different image of the community so they could convince their friends and other entrepreneurs to stay here or move here and be part of a growing group of small, technology-based companies.

“It seemed natural that we, as a chamber, would take on this effort.”

The chamber worked with the locally-based and nationally renowned advertising agency, Bailey Lauerman, to develop the initial research required to begin focusing on developing a new “brand” or image for Lincoln. After engaging over 1,000 people in Lincoln through various forms, the chamber took the results from Bailey Lauerman’s research and asked nationally recognized youth branding agency, Archrival to come up with ideas to create a new image and brand for Lincoln.

The new brand was released at the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development breakfast in June. The key messages included in the rebrand, according to Archrival Cofounder and Creative Director Clint Runge, is that you can be successful in Lincoln, you can be comfortable in Lincoln and you can have fun in Lincoln. Archrival created a program that provided new visuals including a new logo and mantra, Life is Right in Lincoln, which encompasses the three truths.

The group also created a series of digital platforms and activations. All of this is geared to build pride among Lincoln residents so they will then share pride with their friends and networks.

“We have been thrilled with the results,” said Wendy Birdsall, President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. “I’m not sure we really knew what to expect but the end speaks for itself. We are seeing more people talk about Lincoln with pride and the branding process has been something that can be used as a catalyst for that discussion.”

Birdsall pointed to two particular items that caught her attention. The chamber posted street signs for the Independence Day holiday that had quirky and humorous messages. Pictures of these signs were posted to a national blog and received 13 million views from people around the nation. Additionally, the new logo is gaining momentum among local organizations looking to cross-promote including the group that hosted startup weekend, the arts community and most importantly, the city of Lincoln.

“The response has been tremendous,” she added.

But more is planned. In addition to the continued development of digital platforms including new websites for the chamber and a new Lincoln app, the chamber will be working with local businesses to develop other activations to help generate talk about the community.

“The launch was just the beginning,” said Birdsall.

By the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce

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