What makes Lodi unique? What are your friends’ perceptions when they find out you are from Lodi? How is Lodi’s wine experience different from other cities?
On Thursday, a slew of local residents answered these questions to provide vital information that will be used to brand Lodi as a tourist destination.
The Visit Lodi! Conference and Visitors Bureau hired North Star Destination Strategies, a company that specializes in community and city branding, to comprehensively research not only Lodi’s amenities but the people who like to vacation here.
North Star President and CEO Don McEachern is in Lodi for several days collecting information about what distinguishes Lodi from other communities.
“People love where they live and work, so we are helping them communicate and articulate what makes it special,” McEachern said.
So how do you brand a city?
When people think of city branding, McEachern said they assume the goal is to create a logo and a slogan, but his company is more interested in creating a focused, comprehensive branding plan.
“No one has ever moved, a business has never relocated, and people have never even vacationed somewhere because of a logo or a line. We want to find out what will get people to consider Lodi and make them want to find out more,” he said.
The branding plans include recommendations about new policies, art, education, infrastructure, events or businesses, McEachern said. He begins by interviewing community leaders, business owners and even people he meets on the street to find out their impressions of Lodi.
The company then holds focus groups with people who have visited Lodi and people who have heard of it but never visited, to find out their perception of Lodi.
To help round out the research, North Star also uses a national consumer tracking company to find out how tourists who have come to Lodi spend money in their day-to-day life.
Local hotels provided the addresses of local visitors and the tracking company uses them to find out household demographics and spending habits. These companies pull information from credit bureaus, warranties, media subscriptions and store rewards cards.
The benefit is that North Star can use this information to recommend events, products or businesses that Lodi tourists would likely be interested in if they came to town, McEachern said.
“We can then say, ‘People who come to Lodi enjoy these things in Lodi, but here is what they also do that is not available in Lodi,’” he said.
North Star also does a competitive analysis of what other cities in the area are offering tourists and how they advertise themselves, McEachern said.
One of the challenges is to figure out what makes a community unique. He often hears leaders in many towns say they have small-town charm yet big-city amenities, but that does not tell tourists what they will experience when they visit, McEachern said.
“It’s a very competitive marketplace with a lot of great destinations. It’s not just what you take into the marketplace, but where you position yourself in relation to the other communities,” he said.
Once the consultant has all of the information, he will come back to Lodi and present the results to business owners and the rest of the community, because it is important to involve everyone, McEachern said.
“I want to understand what the most effective message is and then create consistency around that message. We want the community to embrace the brand and help get the message out there,” he said.
Visit Lodi! has looked at hiring a company to study the tourism industry for about three years, and researched several companies before selecting North Star, President and CEO Nancy Beckman said.
Visit Lodi! contracted with North Star for $42,000. Beckman said the information gathered will help the tourism bureau make better choice in where they spend their money.
“If you really want to do a good job of reaching out to consumers who are going to come and love our destination, then it’s important to know who they are,” Beckman said.
One of the people McEachern interviewed was Sally Snyde, president of the World of Wonders Science Museum. She said it is important to brand Lodi because people often come into the children’s museum and say that they did not know that Lodi has such a nice Downtown.
“We need to get people from outside of the area and to give us expertise with advertising, because I think all of our minds get burned out coming up with ideas,” Snyde said.
One of the main things that Snyde would like to see emphasized is that Lodi provides quality wine, food and other products but they are not as expensive as other wine communities to the west.
“People need to know that this is not a funky farm town — that we are ‘country,’ but we are more elegant country,” Snyde said.