Monday, July 16, 2007

'Brand' New Vallejo

'Brand' New Vallejo
Can The Right Slogan Change The City's Fortunes?
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN/Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

How 'bout "Vallejo - The jewel of the North Bay." Or, maybe, "Vallejo - where high tech meets the tall ships."

This is the type of "branding" some in this city's business and tourism industries hope soon to develop to help attract investment in the city. That means new business, residents and visitors, said Vallejo Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Mike Browne.

The idea of city branding, which Browne said is growing in popularity nationally, is being used to create recognition.

"It's not just a tag line or slogan," he said. "It's what sets you apart from everybody else. It's defined as a consumer's strong, positive emotional tie to a product. It's an attitude - everything you do and see in a town... the signage, the atmosphere, the souvenirs, everything."

Right now, the bureau's Web site calls Vallejo "The Bay Area's #1 Gateway City," but that's a pretty tired brand, Browne said. A better, more unique one could help change the city's fortunes, he said.

"Gateway cities are a dime a dozen," Browne said. "There are many other possibilities, but we don't know what we should settle on, yet."

Funding to the tune of $20,000 to $500,000 will be needed to hire a branding firm and market the city, so the process is in the very preliminary stages, Browne said.

A city's brand can't be fantasy, said Browne and Touro University spokesperson Jim Mitchell, former head of Vallejo's Main Street and Central Core Restoration Corp. It must be based in reality, but, if properly done, can also become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, the men said.

Battle Creek, Mich., for instance, the home of cereal giant Kellogg, is capitalizing on the health aspects of the Kellogg brand, calling itself "the competitive sports capital of the Midwest," Browne said,

"Their tag line is 'Play for keeps,' " he said, adding that the city's promotion of sporting events has resulted in a growth in related industries there.

Other examples include Wisconsin Dells, Wis., which "wanted to be known as the Disneyland of the region," Browne said, selecting the tag line "the water park capital of the Midwest." And Hawthorne, Nev., a former munitions depot, now calls itself "America's Patriotic Home," he said.

"The business community has embraced it, and they now have all sorts of patriotic themed advertising everywhere," he said.

Many positive aspects of Vallejo could be accentuated for branding, the men said.

"The educational standpoint could be something, especially with what Touro is trying to do with the University Village and the high-tech medical facility," Browne said.

The ferry service is another idea, as is the city's historic and naval heritage and its waterfront, he said.

Some cities have gone so far as to alter their names, Browne said.

"Are we a waterfront town? If we get the

USS Iowa, and the Pirate Festival brings the tall ships," Browne said. "We could conceivably change the city's name to Vallejo Bay or Vallejo Harbor, and with the right tag line, a whole new identity could be created for the city."

Vallejo's identity as a Navy town was lost with the shipyard's 1996 closure, and a new one has yet to stick, Mitchell said.

But a city's brand can't be forced, he said.

"Gilroy as 'the garlic capital of the world' grew out of its annual festival, but Castroville as the artichoke capital was intentional," Mitchell said. "And there are regional brands. Silicon Valley is a regional brand, and Solano County is working on that."

And once a Vallejo brand is agreed on, its citizens would have to buy in for the process to be effective, Mitchell said.

"Once you come up with something, you have to sell it, get the people to believe it and repeat it, so it sticks," he said.

E-mail Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at or call 553-6824.

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