Last week, I scratched my head when I heard about Rhode Island ‘s new tourism slogan “Cooler & Warmer.” Were they comparing New England’s famously ever-changing weather, which can be cooler and then suddenly warmer? Or was it another example of Massachusetts’ envy, e.g., “we’re cooler and warmer than Boston and Cape Cod?” I didn’t quite get it, and apparently, neither did most everyone else in the state.
As my day job is in marketing, I’ve learned a thing or two about branding, and it seemed that Rhode Island overlooked some of the basic principles. A successful brand strategy must be authentic, articulate compelling benefits that differentiates it from the competition and must resonate with those who represent the brand—typically employees but in this case, the local residents. As branding expert David Akers says, “A brand is more than a three-word phrase.“
Rhode Island is our smallest state, and that presents much of its charm. Amazingly, there is a substantial range of opportunities within a 45-minute radius—a vibrant art and food scene, city-life and rural villages, beaches and woodlands, top-ranking colleges and second-tier professional sports are all accessible. But probably what makes Rhode Island special, is the people. It’s a proud and scrappy population that doesn’t care that Boston is only an hour away. Plus due to its small size, it’s nearly impossible to go somewhere without seeing someone you know. That sense of familiarity and simplicity is very comforting and in my view, differentiates the Rhode Island experience from its New England neighbors.
“Cooler & Warmer” didn’t capture this personality. Fortunately, the campaign was pulled within days, leaving only the sting of the $500,000 price tag associated with the doomed tagline—and yet another “only in Rhode Island” story for the locals to enjoy.
So as the governor and her team go back to the drawing board, here’s my advice.
- Spend a little time vacationing around the state and consider what makes each place uniquely Rhode Island.
- Find that authentic voice to define Rhode Island’s true essence—and then the locals will embrace your message.
- Rely on earned media (PR) to offer an objective view of the state’s benefits vs. spending millions on advertising. Honestly, when’s the last time you decided where to vacation based on a slogan?
- Consider a well-executed social media campaign with a #whyrhodeisland hashtag. People trust peer-to-peer views much more than marketing campaigns.
- Watch what’s being said on the travel sites (Trip Advisor and Yelp); promote the success stories.
- Last, introduce such campaigns to your community before going live, and let the locals be your ambassadors. Rhode Islanders are a proud group and not beyond bragging about this special little place.