by Joni Astrup
In an extensive research process that involved people inside and outside of Elk River, branding consultant Steve Chandler began to understand what Elk River residents know about themselves, and what others think about Elk River.
It led to the development of a brand promise for Elk River, and the theme, “Powered by Nature.”
Chandler, of Tennessee-based ChandlerThinks, has been working with the city of Elk River to develop the city’s brand. He discussed his findings Monday at a meeting of the Elk River Economic Development Authority (EDA).
While the research has now been done and the brand promise determined, Chandler said this is just the beginning of the branding of Elk River and not the end of it. “This is an ongoing process that should never stop. You should always care about your image, your reputation,” he said.
The brand is intended to be used not only by the city, but by the community. In fact, Chandler said the public/private partnership is probably the most important part. Chandler has given the city a 167-page plan that outlines strategies.
The EDA voted unanimously to move forward with implementation of the plan.
Process reveals several brand truths
ChandlerThinks conducted research in Elk River and in the Twin Cities to find out what Elk River residents think about Elk River, and what people outside Elk River are saying about the community.
The outdoors emerged as an important part of Elk River. “Your connection to the outdoors is big, really big,” Chandler said. The Mississippi River and other outdoor amenities are key components of Elk River and people value the open space and country feel.
Chandler also found that the community is very compassionate. He called Guardian Angels, for instance, an amazing organization.
Chandler found that Elk River is energy-minded and interested in sustainability as well.
He also discovered something else: “You do like Elk River. You like where you live. You like what you’re about and you’re very confident in that.” He said that’s very important, but is often not the case in other communities where he has worked.
Linda DiMario of DeMario & Associates, who collaborated with Chandler on the project, said for her that was one of the surprises. “That was refreshing,” she said.
Meanwhile, these brand truths have been determined by ChandlerThinks:
•Elk River defines itself by its manageable size, its connection to the outdoors and its proximity between the Twin Cities and Up North.
•Elk River lacks a strong identity outside of Elk River.
•Outsiders who know you, also see Elk River as a casual-laid back, outdoorsy small town.
•Elk River’s downtown, despite its challenges, serves as your sense of place and identity.
•Elk River really is where the city and country flow together.
•Your name creates expectations — Elk River.
•Your nature energizes people and businesses.
A solo versus a choir: branding’s power
The branding effort could take many forms, involving the city, as well as many different organizations, businesses and other entities in the community.
In many cases, it’s just using resources already in play but using them more effectively. But everything that is said and done needs to support the brand positioning statement, DiMario said.
She said it’s like the difference between one person singing and a community choir.
“That’s the power of community branding,” she said.
Elk River Brand Promise
For people who want to breathe the outdoors, yet want access to big city amenities, Elk River is an emerging small city where the Elk and Mississippi rivers flow together on the fringes of the Twin Cities and where the heart is powered by its nature so you are energized and inspired to make a difference.