Destination Branding Guided by Grand Junction Resident Input

 

Photo: Visit Grand Junction

When it comes to branding and marketing, everyone is an expert, which makes for lively conversations and passionate opinions. What isn’t as common is local residents having input in designing a destination brand strategy for their hometown. It’s usually left to “agency experts,” which is ironic considering they are not very familiar with the community they were hired to represent.  

When Visit Grand Junction, the City of Grand Junction’s destination marketing organization, embarked on a new brand strategy process in early 2020, the most important focus was to ensure residents had numerous opportunities, over the course of 18 months, to provide their input and opinions. 

 

Photo: @shevashoppe

“For over 30 years, Grand Junction was marketed as “Colorado’s Wine Country.” Although wine is still a significant part of the destination’s brand, it was time to expand the conversation and highlight all of the unique attributes the Grand Junction area offers. A well-designed destination brand consists of many experiential and cultural pillars, so while wine remains one of them, additional community-inspired assets were added. Residents conveyed that Grand Junction’s personality also includes Colorado Mesa University, the art community, cuisine, history, outdoor recreation, Downtown Grand Junction, craft beverages, and many others,” said Elizabeth Fogarty, Director of Visit Grand Junction.

“As part of the strategic development of the brand, Visit Grand Junction reached out to the community to ask how they preferred their home to be represented. This included actual words, phrases, photography, colors, font, messaging, and overall personality,” Elizabeth said. “We encouraged residents to reflect and honor the historical significance of the area, while also envisioning how it could evolve for years to come.” 

   

Photo: Visit Grand Junction

The area’s unique geography was also a focus - mountains, rivers, canyons, lakes, high desert, and lush forests – the community began to realize that their home is an intersection of many prized ecosystems that is unique not only to Colorado but the entire world.

The area’s diverse and contrasting landscapes add to the majestic nature of Grand Junction - Rattlesnake Arches, the second-most arches in the world; Colorado National Monument, often referred to as the mini Grand Canyon; and the Grand Mesa, the largest flat-top mountain in the world with 300 lakes. Residents also expressed how much they appreciated that Grand Junction isn’t crowded like other areas of Colorado and the country.

  

“We appreciate outdoor recreation not only through the lens of the vast amount of public land we have in Grand Junction to recreate on but also through educating both guests and residents on how to be good stewards of this land in order to preserve the quality of life for generations to come.” Over 76 percent of Mesa County is public land, offering thousands of miles of trails that can be accessed year-round.

Photo: Visit Grand Junction

The process of soliciting community input was both comprehensive and creative. Visit Grand Junction worked with a world-renowned destination branding agency to coordinate community discussions and input sessions that included anonymous surveys, Facebook live, one-on-one interviews, small and large group meetings, and open houses. One activation included a holiday program that empowered local officers to give out faux parking tickets. Instead of the recipient receiving an actual fine, they were asked to email Visit Grand Junction with what they loved about their hometown the most. There was also a holiday tree display, in the foyer of City Hall and the Grand Junction Visitor Center, where the community could stop by and write on a wooden ornament what made Grand Junction so special. Soon, over four trees were bursting with decorative ornaments that visually represented the community’s perception of what they felt makes their home special and unique.

Photo: @meandmysherpa

The rebranding campaign, which focuses on marketing Grand Junction as a tourist destination, was an extensive process spanning two years. Culminating in early 2022 with a formal roll-out across all marketing platforms, the branding included messaging, brand content, icons, and most importantly, the “DNA” of Grand Junction. Elizabeth clarified, “this is a destination brand that is being deployed outside of Mesa County, welcoming visitors to Grand Junction. If the community wishes to adopt it inward, that will happen organically, and we are happy to support those efforts.”

“We’ve had very positive feedback from the community and are experiencing positive results,” said Elizabeth. “When we share the brand strategy with various community groups and organizations, they literally state that they remember locals sharing exactly what we have provided as the brand personality. There’s nothing more reassuring and complimentary than hearing that from colleagues, friends, and neighbors.”

Visitors have strong opinions as well once they have visited Grand Junction. “The most common feedback we receive from guests is how friendly Grand Junction locals are. This is a significant part of our brand,” Elizabeth shared. “I noticed it myself when I moved here, everyone is comfortable looking you in the eye and saying hi, even if they do not know you – that’s not common in other cities our size. My hope is that we hold on to this special part of our resident personality as Grand Junction continues to evolve and grow.”

Now that the branding campaign has launched, Elizabeth says it will be “an ongoing process of making sure we keep the brand fresh and evolving with the community’s needs and desires.  We are a very transparent department, sharing three eNewsletter communications per month highlighting what the team is working on and accomplishing. We also look for ways for our team to be available to the public, including setting up a booth and lawn game area at the weekly Market on Main, June through September, in Downtown Grand Junction. Stop by and visit for free Enstrom toffee and popsicles.”

Photo: Visit Grand Junction

Elizabeth, originally from Buffalo, New York, had spent the previous 25 years residing in various cities along the Front Range of Colorado before relocating to Grand Junction. She was impressed with the diversity of industries driving economic growth for the City. Regarding the tourism industry, Elizabeth shared, “I saw the potential to grow tourism in a way that, first and foremost, benefitted locals. When a community has a thriving tourism industry, new restaurants, retail, activities, and amenities, that locals long for, migrate in. These businesses cannot survive on locals alone, so the partnership between the quality of life for residents and a healthy tourism economy is a symbiotic and mutually beneficial one.

“The City of Grand Junction is a very innovative organization to work for that embraces change and also has a well-defined strategy of how to evolve as a maturing destination.”  One of the phrases locals often said during the brand development phase was, ‘we are a teenage city.’ It’s an exciting time to live in Grand Junction, and the community sentiment has never been as confident and proud as it is now.

 

Photo: Visit Grand Junction

Elizabeth concluded, “It’s a privilege to be a part of supporting the community as Grand Junction continues to diversify and mature, for the benefit of locals who love their hometown and have a passion for guiding its development. Working alongside over 800 city staff, who all have a passion for serving this community, is something I am thankful for every day.”

 

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