A busload of tourists pulls into Adams Reach, Alberta, a town of about 10,000.
Adams Reach is beginning to grow significantly. Selling an increasing amount of energy, BlowBuy Power, the local wind farm, continues to need more technical specialists and software engineers to bolster staffing. The town is starting to feel the pressure to expand services and create a downtown that supports BlowBuy and its employees, as well as the growing general population. As Adams Reach morphs, it needs to define what its future looks like, what it feels like and how people should experience it. It is a community that has boldly stepped into a sustainable energy future. The town’s tax base, tourism, and lobbying power with senior governments demand that everyone thinks about the community in a positive and authentic light, especially its residents. Adams Reach wants to consolidate and become a place where people can learn about wind energy, the town’s farming history, and its unique made-in-Alberta culture. That busload of tourists is itching to hear an authentic western story and have a great meal while they enjoy the abundant Alberta sunshine.
Adams Reach’s Economic Development Officer (EDO), John Slivovitz, is sizing up his challenges. He and CAO Elizabeth McEntee along with Mayor Ann Harvard have been planning a push to technicians and software engineers across Canada to sell the lifestyle in town, with its proximity to Calgary and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Their plan is to shape Adams Reach into a town that is more self-sufficient in retail, health and ancillary services. They want Calgary to come on down to Adams Reach for dinner sometime! They need a compelling story to tell. That story is in the people who have lived in town for generations as well as the newcomers who have chosen Adams Reach as “their town”.
Enter Ion Brand Design’s Rod Roodenburg and Casey Hrynkow. On a warm spring day, they meet with about twenty people at the community centre. The group consists of a bank manager, clothing boutique owner, two retired volunteers, two restaurant owners, the high school principal, the manager of the local chain motel, three civic employees, two senior managers from BlowBuy Power, three people from the elementary school PTA and an elementary school teacher. Some know each other, most only in passing or not at all. They’re here to work for two or three hours. Rod and Casey will put them through several exercises.
The first exercise will test some of the most important wording in their Official Community Plan and Economic Development Strategy to see what those words mean to this group. It’s a lively room, debating the nuances of the language. New words will be developed, and some of the sacred cows will be sacrificed. “Not ‘Western”, they say. “We can’t grow into that.” After pulling language apart, the second exercise gets the participants to put themselves in the shoes of a completely different kind of person, but someone that has interest in, or potential in, Adams Reach. Their job is to get into that person’s head and capture things that they’re thinking and feeling. There’s lots of chatter back and forth. The energy is high.
“It’s messy, it’s real and it’s effective.”
This is not the dry, neat, numbers stuff that John and Elizabeth are accustomed to dealing with. They’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars to get the metrics that tell them what age range of people might come to Adams Reach and how much they might spend. But as Rod had explained to John a month ago when they first met, “The metrics can give you a starting point, but until you understand people in real time, you don’t have a good sense of how they feel. And how they feel and want to feel is what will make a difference to your town. It’s messy, it’s real and it’s effective.
With the work that they’ve done with the participants, Rod and Casey are able to come back to Adams Reach several weeks later with a much more tangible picture of the people that will want to move or start businesses there. They’ll be able to visualize the lifestyle of the “new” Adams Reach population. This will inform the way the downtown core talks about itself. It will help them attract the right retailers and services. And when Ion develops the branding, as banners go up and ads start to appear, retailers get excited, and the brand starts to live and grow. John, Elizabeth and Ion continue to work to build on this success and Adams Reach’s growth feels a lot more comfortable for everyone. There’s a plan to work, and everyone is excited about working the plan.
Communities benefit from strategic work in a variety of ways. Ion recommends a customized strategic brand process for communities and tailoring based on your existing knowledge, combined with your Community Plan and other research. This will provide insights that inform the visual design, making it authentic and resonant with your audiences, helping move the needle on community issues and social progress to deal with issues like growth, waste management or tourism.
If you look on a map, you won’t find Adams Reach. We created this fictitious city to help tell the story of a community that “gets it”. And its a story that will hit home with many cities and municipalities in Canada that are growing or changing, and are taking steps to engage their stakeholders and manage their resources effectively.
For more information, visit iondesign.ca