Rebranding Minnesota

Since moving to Minnesota, I’ve argued that the winters here are actually easier to handle than those on the north shore of Lake Erie. Chilly, windy, gray and wet makes it hard to get outside from November to April in Cleveland, while in Minnesota it is cold, really cold, but generally it’s sunny and you don’t actually have to pack an entire fleet of huskies to ensure you arrive at work safely. We get outside in Minnesota in the winter and play festive outdoor games like broomball, while in Cleveland the winter pastimes are complaining about the Browns and writing “Wash Me!” on grimy and salted car windows. If my wife offered, I’d move back to Cleveland in a heartbeat, but if I have to be a transplant, Minnesota is better than a whole lot of places I could live.

Having come from a town in need of a serious rebranding (seriously people, do you really have to ask me about all of our sports heartbreak or a river fire from nearly fifty years ago the first time you meet me?), it was actually with great interest that I read Wendy Lee’s article Minnesota tourism seeks image makeover in the Star Tribune. Lee writes:

“The North Star State is boring. Unsophisticated. Downright old-fashioned. And that assessment comes from residents in neighboring Michigan, Illinois and Nebraska. In places farther away such as Dallas, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, the perception gets even worse.”

Nebraska finds us boring; if that isn’t a marketing wake-up call I don’t know what is. I think the words people might use to describe us are “quaint” when they don’t necessarily mean charming, or “antiquated” as if the entire state was an episode of Prairie Home Companion come alive. We have mullets and play hockey, and even if we aren’t originally from here, have an aunt and uncle named Ole and Lena who sit at the ready with a steaming plate of hotdish, lutefisk and some linguistic misadventures.

But just as the rivers in Wisconsin don’t run yellow with cheese, we know that is not really Minnesota. From great hiking and camping, to an excellent music scene, great neighborhood bars and restaurants, to the best event in the history of humankind—the Minnesota State Fair—the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota have a lot to offer people.

The real challenge is to capture the essence of the state in a few words, or a website or a thirty second commercial and to promote that as a unified image. According to Lee, not only does the state have to deal with negative perceptions about the weather, but it also has a fragmented marketing message.

Living in-state, it would be challenging for me to discuss the impact of out-of-state marketing, but I can take a look at the Explore Minnesota website, Facebook page and Twitter account. While their website is an excellent front for the face for the state of Minnesota, I think their Facebook and Twitter accounts are more geared toward people who already live here. While that isn’t problematic on its face, if you are looking to bring people in from other states, you probably don’t want to tweet on Wednesday events that are taking place on Friday—no matter how cool they are. You just aren’t going to get those folks from Chicago or elsewhere to come on over for a Friday arts cruise in Bemidji. That being said, both accounts appear to do a very good job of interacting with individuals and have attracted a nice following with 21,519 followers on Facebook and another 3574 on Twitter. For a state, the cross-channel marketing of traditional advertising combined with the accessibility of social media may be the perfect fit to encourage tourism to the state.

I can see the campaign now, “Minnesota, we even have computers.”

Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go be slightly above average with the rest of my fellow Minnesotans.

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