Elk River’s branding: ‘Off to a blazing start’

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

Elk River’s branding effort had a six-month check-up this week and was pronounced “off to a blazing start.”

That’s according to Steve Chandler, the Tennessee-based consultant who led Elk River through a branding process beginning last year.

One of the most innovative uses of the brand is Kemper Drug’s adaptation of the logo, according to Elk River Assistant Director of Economic Development Clay Wilfahrt.

Chandler, of ChandlerThinks, gave a report at a special meeting of the Elk River Economic Development Authority (EDA) on Monday, April 23.

The new brand was rolled out last fall. It included the “Powered by Nature” tagline, a brand promise and a 167-page brand plan.

Clay Wilfahrt, Elk River’s assistant director of economic development, said there are about 200 initiatives in the brand plan and Elk River has made progress on or completed about 75 percent of them.

A blog has been created (www.poweredbynature.blog.com) and a website is under development (www.poweredbynature.com). Additionally, two videos are on YouTube that feature local residents and business owners talking about the brand. One video is called “Elk River is Powered by Nature” and the other is called “Doing Business in Elk River.”

More than 30 businesses and organizations are using the brand in some way, shape or form in their marketing materials, Wilfahrt said. The community employs the brand in a variety of ways including on billboards, pamphlets, packaging, websites, emails, promotional materials, clings and more.

Chandler said branding a community is a very dynamic process and one that should never stop. He believes Elk River is off to a great start.

He said he’s been involved in some way in the branding of about 50 communities.

“I really have not encountered many, if any, that have attacked this effort as quickly and with as much gusto as Elk River has,” Chandler said.

The goal of branding, he said, is to enlist people to tell their stories of Elk River and create opportunities for them to do so.

The “Powered by Nature” logo appears on this Elk River Municipal Utilities shirt, with Powered to Serve under the logo.

“It’s more than a logo and it’s definitely not a tagline. It’s about the essence of what Elk River is about,” Chandler said.

EDA President Dan Tveite said he had a little trepidation when the branding process first began. He didn’t want to see a plan get done, then be put on a shelf and not aggressively pursued.

“I just want to take my hat off to the people that have been involved in this. You have obviously done a lot of work in putting forward this brand,” Tveite said.

Council Member Nick Zerwas, who also is on the EDA, said “Powered by Nature” means different things to different people.

For him, it speaks to the nature of the people who call Elk River home.

Zerwas said when he was finishing college and living in St. Paul, he always knew he and his wife would move back to Elk River and be involved in the community because of the good-hearted nature of the people.

He said the community rallied around him and his family when he was ill and now, 15 years later, has done the same for Alan Sakry and his family. Sakry suffered a stroke in January.

“‘Powered by Nature,’ when we talk about the nature of our community and the nature of our people, it really does a good job of summing it up for me,” Zerwas said.

Chamber sees brand as great opportunity

Asked by the Star News for her reaction to the branding effort so far, Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debbi Rydberg said the branding project is “a great opportunity for our community to tell our story to the rest of the world.”

The image it conveys is attractive for people who are looking for their next place, Rydberg said.

The chamber will be incorporating the spirit of the brand as it begins planning for the next fiscal year, she said.

“I really do like what the brand says about Elk River – it’s authentic, it’s real,” Rydberg added.

What Elk River’s brand promise says

This is the brand promise that was developed during Elk River’s branding effort.

“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.”