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City Brand Project Update

GFDA releases branding study results
Great Falls boasts an impressive list of assets, but the community lacks pride in

Those were some of the findings of research conducted by a consulting firm working with the Great Falls Development Authority to create a strategic brand for Great Falls.

Ed Barlow, vice president and director of client services with North Star Destination
Strategies, who has been working on the Great Falls branding project, shared the results of his research Thursday at the Great Falls Development Annual Investor Lunch.

He gave a long list of assets, including growth potential, scientific discovery, cultural arts, outdoor recreation and natural resources, and asked the crowd which Montana town they associated with each item.

After going through the list, Barlow said that the firm's research shows that Great
Falls offers all of those items.

"It's the only place in the state that's got that configuration," Barlow said. However, Great Falls lacks pride in itself,
which holds the community back. "Great Falls does not have the self esteem," he said. But that's not an insurmountable obstacle, he added.

"It's an uphill climb to address community pride, but certainly achievable," Barlow said.

A brand will help address the issue of community pride, while also marketing Great Falls to outsiders.

Through research, which included community surveys, focus groups, man-on-the-street interviews and surveys of potential visitors, North Star developed a brand proposal for Great Falls.

A brand isn't a slogan or a logo, Barlow said. "Your brand is what people say about you
when you're not around," he said.
A brand is not something that will change every two or three years, nor is it something that appears verbatim in advertisements or marketing.

Great Falls' brand is directed toward "adventurers," but that's not limited to tourists and travelers. It also includes those dedicated to hard work and the advancement of ideas, Barlow said. The brand should emphasize Great Falls' landscape and location on the Missouri River, as well as the community's authentic Montana feel.

"We just need to shift, not the essence (of the community), but how we communicate those advantages," Barlow said.

The next step in the branding project will be going into the creative stage and deciding how to use the brand in marketing, said Brett Doney, president of the Great Falls Development Authority.

"We do need to raise some money to go into the next creative phase," he said.

The creative phase could be completed in six months, Barlow said. A year after that, Great Falls would evaluate its progress and possibly tweak its brand or marketing.

The time it takes for the brand to be successful in changing opinions about a community varies for each town, he said. Communities that have public and private sector support see the best — and fastest — results.

The Development Authority's long-term vision for Great Falls, to which the branding
process is tied, is that the city will be known around the west for having a diversified economy, job opportunities and for being a hub for business innovation and energy.

"It's a very aggressive and ambitious vision, but it is achievable," Doney said.

Reach Tribune staff writer Erin Madison at 791-1466, 800-438-6600 or Follow her on Twitter @GFTrib_EMadison.


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