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Branding Oldham County

Tourism consultant presents
‘suggestions’ for Oldham County

Train not enough to center
a marketing ‘brand’ on, he says

By Don Ward
Editor

(November 2010) – What is your perception of Oldham County? What do outsiders think? What about its residents?
Those questions were posed to an audience of nearly 70 people Oct. 20 when Seattle-based consultant Roger Brooks held a daylong workshop at the John W. Black Community Center in Buckner, Ky.

Downtown La Grange train

Photo provided

A train runs down the middle of
La Grange's Main Street but that
isn't enough to hang a brand
on, says Roger Brooks.

Brooks, who has helped develop branding concepts and marketing materials for 900-plus towns across America, was hired by the Oldham County Tourist Commission to assess the county, including each of its six towns, and provide what he called “recomendations” for marketing the county to tourists. The overriding goal of the cxercise is to create a “brand” for attracting visitors and generating tourism dollars for local merchants.
Brooks visited Oldham County last April to take assessment of such things as signage (both pedestrian and motorist signage), beautification, store hours, attractions and other factors that make visiting and touring the county easy for visitors. Brooks showed dozens of examples of the good, bad and ugly in other communities, then spent the last half of the day presenting his findings in Oldham County.
With more than six business and restaurant closings in the past six months, Oldham County, like other communities, is working to find its niche in the travel market and take advantage of its close proximity to metro Louisville. Tourism director Kim Buckler has read Brooks’ book and heard him speak at other towns and convinced her commission board to hire Brooks for $25,000 to conduct the April assessment and another $7,500 for the October workshop. Brooks wants another $65,000 to return and develop branding and marketing materials.
“The countywide brand is just that – it says what we are collectively. It’s not a logo. It’s not a slogan. It’s all in the advertising and how we tie ourselves together to create a feeling,” Buckler said. “From here on out we will be selling our sizzle, not our steak. This project will help us determine how loud our sizzle will be and what that sizzle will look like.”
Brooks preaches that branding is simply finding out what differentiates your community that would entice someone to drive here because they can’t get it at home. He encourages the towns he counsels to create a Branding Development Team of local people representating a cross-section of local government, business owners and retailers. The team is responsible for following up on and implementing the ideas and to help gain consensus across the community. This is done through what he called an action plan.
“Brands are about ownership. You need an action plan for each organization and town to do. You put deliverables into the plan to make sure they are held accountable,” he said.
While Brooks did not specifically identify a brand for Oldham County, he identified its attractions, available activities and scenic beauty. He left the group with a 95-page report on his assessment. As with other such studies, he urges the community leaders develop a gathering place in the heart of the downtown for holding events, a farmers market or live music. He said the county needs to recruit an upscale hotel. He emphasized the need for “anchor tenants” in the retail district. He suggested improved signage throughout the county, both pedestrian and roadway signs.

Brooks

Brooks

As for the train that runs down Main Street in La Grange, he said, “The train is cool but once you seen it, you’ve seen it,” he said. “It’s not your brand.”
Brooks liked the ideas of Oldham County promoting gardening and using Crestwood’s Yew Dell Gardens as the centerpiece of that campaign. Of course, there are many other things to do once visitors arrive. But the branding campaign is designed to get them here, and then generate income for downtown merchants to keep the town alive.
“If you can’t help your local merchants, your town will die and your historic buildings will deteriorate because building owners won’t put money into them.”
He says the downtowns are the lifeblood of a community, adding that “If your locals don’t hang out there, then you can’t expect visitors to hang out there.” Brooks is currently writing a book about today’s communities losing their downtowns. “We are creating more ghost towns today than ever before,” he contends. He cites the popular trend of developers creating fake downtowns, such as Downtown Disney in Orlando and Newport on the Levee in Northern Kentucky.
Oldham County Tourist Commission board president Shane Best said he was encouraged by the ideas in the workshop, adding, “I think this is a great starting point. Now we have to get to work to see it through.”
David Voegele, the unopposed Republican candidate for Oldham County Judge-Executive, attended the workshop and afterward stood and said he appreciated all the work that is being put into assessing the county’s assets and tourism potential. “I believe we can get people together on the same page to do what we need to do to raise the bar higher.”
He cited various examples, such as a group that wants to start a Railroad Club that could lead to the creation of a museum. He said the county needs to work toward establishing a conference center. And he agreed with Brooks suggestion that the Courthouse Square needs to be upgraded to give it a “wow” experience for people who go there. He said that hopefully by creating and marketing a brand for the county that it would act as recruiting tool to attract a top quality hotel or other attractions.
Brooks concluded, saying,” In the end, it’s about the tax base – getting locals to spend more time and money here and attracting people from other nearby cities to visit here.”

• For more information or to inquire about the branding process, call Tourism Director Kim Buckler at (502) 222-0056 or email: director@TourOldhamCounty.com.

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