A Tale of Two Cities: How Even the Smallest Things Contribute to a Brand

Branding is my thing, right? Yep, it is. It’s what I do.

I help small businesses and organizations build their brand and together we work to communicate this to a targeted audience. We carefully analyze choice of color, style of font. We pore over each word of copywriting. We eagle-eye photography and social media posts.

In many ways, branding and public relations (PR) are related. Branding creates an image. PR protects the image. Sometimes my projects veer me into the PR zone and I find this a crucial field as well.

Here’s the thing—all these seemingly little details, whether in branding or PR, are important because they contribute to how the public perceives an organization. Make sure you remember this, because we’re going to come back to it later.

All these *seemingly* little details are important because they contribute to how the public perceives an organization

So What’s This Leading To?

Have you ever been to the Manitowoc-Two Rivers area of Wisconsin? They’re quaint, blue-collar, side-by-side communities along Lake Michigan’s shore. They don’t have the touristy charisma of, say, Door County to the north or Port Washington to the south, but there’s ample charm beneath the surface. Over the years, my husband and I have enjoyed numerous opportunities to explore these two cities—some work-related, most of them personal—and while I can’t proclaim an intimate knowledge of the area, I do enjoy a greater sense of familiarity each time we visit. 

Lately, we’ve been appreciating Manitowoc-Two Rivers while hiking the Ice Age Trail. As Trail Communities, the cities offer Trail support and they recognize the importance of hikers to their local economy. We’ve now completed nearly 25 miles in the area and it’s been fun experiencing it from an on-foot view. It’s also given me pause for thoughts on branding and how even the seemingly smallest actions create big images for a community.

Or a business. Or an organization. Or the tenets of one’s religion.

I’ve decided to do a study on community branding using Manitowoc-Two Rivers as my consideration. It gets rather long, but bear with me (especially if you need help branding your own organization).

A Bit of History

According to history, Manitowoc (Manitou) received the name meaning “place of good spirit” from its original indigenous inhabitants. Two Rivers derived its name from the East (Mishicot) and West (Neshota) Twin Rivers that flow through the city. These tributary waters, together with Lake Michigan, shaped the early development of commercial fishing and shipbuilding, and brought droves of German, Norwegian, British, Irish, and Canadian immigrants in search of jobs.

Nowadays, like many blue-collar communities, Manitowoc and Two Rivers are looking to reinvent themselves beyond their now-passé industrial heyday. They’ve taken on advertising slogans like “Come coast for a while” and “Catch our friendly waves.” They’re encouraging both tourists and residents to come to their community.

A Bit of Culture

I once did a branding project for a federation of schools in the Manitowoc and surrounding counties. The director described the region as insular, both geographically and ideologically. He described its culture as conservative in faith, politics, economics, and manner of thinking. In the kindest of ways, he also spoke of its challenges; a wariness of newcomers, slow acceptance to new ideas, and a firm grasp of “keeping things the way they used to be.”

Twelve years later I still think about those diplomatically listed challenges and I compare them to 1) the area’s efforts of revitalization and 2) my knowledge of branding and PR.

Where the Tale of Two Cities Comes Together

In the past year while hiking through Manitowoc-Two Rivers, we’ve came across conflicting images. In one city was a resident’s Gadsden flag with the words “don’t tread on me.” In the other city was a restaurant’s sign offering free food to people in need.

If we are to consider the perspective of branding—no politics involved, mind you— which of these two images best supports the strived-for image of good spirit, friendly waves, trail support, and Christian people?

Let’s talk about the Gadsden flag first because it’s going through an identity crisis all its own.

A Sabotaged Symbol

The Gadsden flag has a long history dating back to the American Revolution when it spoke a warning to Great Britain not to trample the liberties of the American colonists. It’s since been used to represent a myriad of causes for both right and left politics, and any number of organizations from sports teams to gay rights. Sadly, because it’s now been hijacked by white-supremacists and January 6 insurrectionists, its meaning has evolved into one of intolerance and hate.

These days, the Gadsden flag says “only me and my rights matter.” In a community that’s wary of newcomers, it says “only my kind of people are welcomed.” Amongst attitudes that are slow to change, it says “only my way of thinking is right.”

My heart ached when the Ice Age Trail took us past this Gadsden flag. I thought of Emily Ford, a woman of color who solo thru-hiked the trail a few months earlier. How welcomed would she have felt? Not very. Maybe she even felt fear. How many people coming through town also catch these negative vibes?

Remember the image Manitowoc-Two Rivers is trying to convey? Good spirit, friendly waves, trail support, and Christian people? Does the Gadsden flag do that?

For the Good of All

Now let’s talk about the second image, the restaurant sign offering free food to people in need. I really don’t have to explain why helping others is a good thing, right? How kindness should be high on the PR list if you want to appear warm and welcoming?

If you’re a follower of Christ, this goes even further (by the way, like the Gadsden flag, the Christian religion is also suffering an identity crisis). Caring for others coincides with Jesus’ teachings. He commands us to be of humble service. Dali’s Cafe is openly displaying a message of “love thy neighbor” (and since we just celebrated Thanksgiving, here’s another restaurant showing goodwill to others).

The restaurant sign is definitely good PR. It contributes to the city’s brand of good spirit, friendly waves, trail support, and Christian people. As a tourist, it made me feel warm and fuzzy. I chose Dali’s Cafe over another because I wanted to support its benevolence. I also gave it rave reviews on social media (my breakfast there was quite tasty, by the way).

Little Things Make Big Impacts

You may be thinking these two images are of little importance to the revitalization of a community. And, yes, we Americans are blessed with freedom of speech, whether it contributes to an impression or not. But let’s for a moment look beyond oneself. Let’s consider the whole picture and how each of us is a cog in the wheel (or a stone dock jutting into Lake Michigan). Remember how I said seemingly little details all contribute to the public’s perception?

If we’re talking bread and butter, we need to consider the economic payback of maintaining a positive brand. If guests feel welcomed within a community, they will stay and spend money. They will support local businesses and spread the good word to others.

Let’s also talk home and hearth. When families choose a community to call home, they take ownership in its prosperity, cohesiveness, and quality of life. They bring support and continuity.

Lastly—and perhaps most importantly—let’s talk consciousness and compassion. Caring for others makes us a better society. Communicating love rather than hate takes us so much further in so many ways.

Putting Love Into Practice: Pro Bono

Tomorrow, November 29, is Giving Tuesday. It’s also the day I open my mailbox for pro bono applications. Each year Adunate accepts two pro bono projects for greatly reduced or no cost. These are projects I strongly support and believe will positively impact God’s creation, his people, or his ministry.

My interests include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Agriculture, sustainable
  • Arts
  • Children
  • Environment
  • Faith
  • Humanity
  • Food & Drink
  • Sustainable living
  • Women’s Empowerment

If your organization needs help with branding or other marketing challenges, click here for an application. Then, to further guarantee your project’s success, be sure to read these helpful suggestions.

My deadline for submissions is December 31, 2022. I will let applicants know of my decision in January.

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