Branding: We aren’t what we fear we are

 “Your brand is what they say about you when you’re not around.” –  North Star Destination Strategies

 

The coming out party for Sarnia-Lambton’s new “brand” has been pushed back to the fall.

The Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership had hoped to unveil the community logo and catchphrase by now but it’s been a complex process, said general manager George Mallay.

“You’re trying to come up with a brand that can cut across 11 communities that have their own identities and personalities. And you’re cutting across agriculture, industry, tourism.”

One thing is certain already, however. Local residents care a great deal about how their community is perceived.

A survey conducted by North Star Destination Strategies drew 1,315 participants, the second largest response ever for the consultants, who have worked with 170 communities.

The research revealed Sarnia-Lambton residents like where they live, but suspect that outsiders see the community as a polluted, industrial wasteland.

But that self-perception doesn’t match reality, the survey found.

Residents rate Sarnia-Lambton a great place to live and work with quality of life among its greatest assets. When asked to describe the community, the greatest response was “blue water and beaches” at 59%.

“Border and port community” was second at 32% and “Chemical Valley” third at 29%. Far down the list was “industrial pollution” at 8%.

But when the same residents were asked how out-of-towners might describe Sarnia-Lambton, many said that visitors probably couldn’t find it on a map. And for those who could, the Chemical Valley, pollution and oil refineries would first come to mind.

They were correct about the first part. When consultants asked Ontario and Michigan respondents about Sarnia-Lambton, half weren’t familiar with the county and 13% knew nothing about Sarnia.

Non-residents familiar with Sarnia-Lambton spoke of farms and agriculture, beaches and blue water when asked to describe it. For Sarnia itself they cited “border and port community” more frequent than “refineries and chemical plants.”

In a presentation to community leaders last fall, North Star spokesman Ed Barlow said the local fear of being identified with pollution and “the blob” is unfounded.

“You think that is what people call you. But they actually don’t know enough to call you even that,” he said, adding anonymity can be helpful when creating a new brand.

Mallay likened Sarnia-Lambton to a man with a facial blemish; self-conscious about his appearance when in reality others really don’t care.

“It’s an older perception that people have internally. Anecdotally, when we go to events we find that that perception isn’t as valid as it once was. It’s more positive.”

– George Mathewson