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Focuses tightened Friday in the mission to “brand” greater Wilmington.
Rough concepts—not proposals by any stretch—went to paper in a stage of refining all the brainstorming that’s taken place over the past several months as business, community and government officials attempt to produce a catchy slogan this area could market for economic development.
The last loose idea that gained traction with members of the Brand Identity Leadership Team (BILT)—that Wilmington is experiencing a “renaissance” that outsiders will want to be a part of—fell away Friday in favor of more expansive or timeless concepts.
(Tom Porter, chairman of the marketing department at the UNCW Cameron School of Business and Friday’s discussion leader, opined “renaissance” actually had negative connotations, like recovering from an unpleasant past.)
An idea from Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission and BILT member, was that Wilmington is a place to “discover.”
In his line of work, he said, he sees personalities from all over the country and globe arrive in Wilmington—often a place they’d never heard of prior—greeted by grand first impressions of beaches, history, friendliness and modern amenities.
“’Being discovered since 17-whatever,’” Griffin offered, explaining the latter part of that slogan would be the year settlers arrived, or when Wilmington was incorporated. It became a town in 1739 and is this year celebrating its 275th birthday.
“In other words, it’s like people keep discovering,” Griffin said. “People show up and are like, ‘Wow.’”
Though his idea was one of many Friday, heads nodded.
“I kind of like the visualization, of something new around every corner,” said Beth Schrader, strategy and policy manager for New Hanover County government. “Every time you turn around there’s something new to discover.”
“And it doesn’t lock you into anything,” said Billy King of Wilmington Business Development.
“It doesn’t talk about a negative path or something we’re trying to rise past to get beyond,” added Griffin. “It doesn’t focus on [just] one entity.”
“It means something different to everybody,” said King. “They discover it for themselves.”
BILT members also smiled at the idea of marketing Wilmington as a “hidden treasure,” which came from Nicolas Montoya, general manager of the Blockade Runner at Wrightsville Beach. “I think we all find it, and that’s why it’s so attractive to us all.”
Another applauded idea came from State Farm Insurance agent and BILT member Cedric Dickerson. “More than an ocean,” he suggested, which during Friday’s discussion turned into “More than a beach.”
“I love it here because I have an opportunity to have a business, I have an opportunity to go downtown, I have an opportunity to go to the beach,” Dickerson explained. “I feel like I can truly have it all here. Family, schools, education, technology, anything that I go down the list I can pretty much check.”
Porter put forth the idea of the Wilmington area—the branding would include New Hanover County and nearby portions of Brunswick and Pender counties—being “home,” with all the word’s positive connotations.
“I think this is a home, some would say. Maybe we can capture that,” he said.
BILT member Kristen Shaheen, general counsel at OpinionLab in Wilmington, repeated her idea of “the past meeting the future” here.
While Wilmington is innovative, “It is a beautiful area historically, which other places can’t claim,” she said.
Ned Glascock, director of corporate communications and public affairs at PPD, presented “Come here to play, work here and stay.” After some collaboration, he and group members added “Coastal Wilmington: Where business meets the beach,” or “Where commerce meets the coast,” among other options.
BILT’s next steps may be putting some of the top ideas to a focus group or outside party for perspective or testing.
Porter said he didn’t want any of Friday’s loose concepts construed as draft products, and that it’s all still very much a work in progress.
“We don’t want a rush to evaluate,” he said.
The branding initiative began publicly last summer, when officials from the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County and UNCW told elected officials of the importance of developing a smart brand. The point is to positively differentiate Wilmington from competing markets so it can draw new interest.
That goal is supported in newly released report “Pathways to Prosperity: New Hanover County’s Plan for Jobs and Investment,” which the county commissioned from the Atlanta-based Garner Economics.
The report also encourages the county to arrange “a cadre of regional ambassadors” to promote the brand to outsiders.
Any business, institution or individual could incorporate the brand—its message, its logo, whatever they end up being–into their efforts to draw customers, visitors or new employers to the area, BILT members said Friday.
Their initial timeline, subject to change, called for a brand concept ready by next month and a strategic marketing plan by the end of June.