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Rushford ABC striving to improve community

Fri, Jan 27th, 2012
Posted in Progress Edition

By now, there's a good chance you may have heard people talking about branding. But, how exactly does one go about putting a brand on a community?

According to Doug Botcher, Chairman for the Rushford Area Branding Council, "A brand is an identity, be it community or product." Botcher sites many examples of branding which we're all no doubt familiar with, including Volvo safety, Las Vegas entertainment, and M&Ms "melt in your mouth" goodness. "It is what you are known for," he continues. "Something people can identify with, and in our case for it to be a strong enough identity for people to want to travel to the area to experience the brand."

It's certainly no secret that Rushford has long-sought tourism for the area. It's becoming more and more difficult for small towns to continue to support themselves and they, therefore, need to look outside of their community for support. What's more, towns like Rushford have found it increasingly important to cooperatively work with other municipalities. In the case of the Rushford Area Branding Council, Rushford Village and Peterson play just as important a role in establishing their identity.

"Geographic proximity is an obvious reason," notes Botcher, "But the three communities are bonded together by the school system, local businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, and other factors. I like to think of the three as siblings; we don't always get along but we rely on each other and count on each other for support." With a strong community brand, Botcher believes there is a far greater chance of success.

The Branding Council came about as a part of the process with the invitation of a representative of DDI, Destination Development, Inc. That resulted in a presentation to interested community members in September 2009. "There was interest prior to that," notes Botcher, "But that visit is what got it moving." The council has been officially meeting since December 2010, with three regular meetings per month since January 2011, at the Rushford Fire Hall.

The council, which has been active since the beginning, is comprised of Doug Botcher (President), Peggi Redalen (Vice-Chairman), Terri Benson (Secretary), Kevin Klugtvedt, Lori Hungerholt, Nikindra Hungerholt, and Terry Lesser, who have all been active since the beginning of this effort. More recently, Nan Lesser and Peterson members Jennifer Wood and Gail Boyum have joined in the efforts. There are currently no Rushford Village members, but that's not to say the group isn't recruiting.

Since the initial organizational meeting, the council has scrutinized extensive amounts of data and materials. According to Botcher, the process began with a review of all previous assessments that have been conducted on the area, including the MN Design Team report from April 2008; the Comprehensive Land Use Plan by Yaggy Colby Associates (November 2008), Roger Brooks (DDI) Decorah seminar (May 2009) and the DDI assessment Brooks made of Rushford in September 2009. Local observations and information from citizens has also been key.

"We reviewed each of these documents to develop a list of characteristics that we would study to see if they could lead us to the community brand," says Botcher. "We reviewed each document, line-by-line at our regular meetings. After creating the list of characteristics (a lengthy process), we looked at each of those items on the list to determine where it fit in terms of a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat (SWOT analysis), or if it fit in more than one of those categories. We looked at geography, commerce, education, industry, services, and individual human elements, to name just a few, to place those elements into one or more of the SWOT categories."

The Council certainly didn't stop with previous assessments and analysis. The council recently contracted an outside source to get feedback on what the community sees as positive aspects of the area. Dubbed, "The Rushford Question," the cooperative effort had the premise of getting the community looking at the positives of the area. "It's an attempt to find something we can hang our hat on," added Carolyn Dunham, Question Project Manager.

500 questionnaire letters were mailed, by 95 percent random sample, within the community. "The idea," noted Dunham, "Is to get the buzz going." The effort also hopes for more positive community interaction and discussion. February 21 is slated for the completion date of the Question Project. At that time, Dunham will report back to the organizations so they can determine how to move forward and implement a plan.

Now, in the post-analysis portion, the council is evaluating some of what Botcher calls, "Brand candidates." "With the resultant community input, we hope to be able to mesh the responses with what we have discovered to-date," declares Botcher. Of course, at the writing of this, the council didn't want to let on just what those candidates might be, but perhaps in the near future.

The council will continue to need community support. "With a brand selection, community businesses will be encouraged to participate with their business plans and business practices, and other community residents will be encouraged to become proud spokespersons for the brand," stresses Botcher.

"I hope everyone understands that we started out as a group of local residents that knew very little about branding. Along with researching, organizing, evaluating and discussing the elements of branding, we all have been educating ourselves to become much more knowledgeable about the topic. This has been a learn-as-you-go process and there has been a lot of learning."

"This will become a community-wide project before it is completed. We are a group who has devoted a lot of time to this project, but when implementation time comes, there will be many opportunities for all community members to become more involved. We will need more help to make it happen."

For more information on the Rushford Area Branding Council, visit www.rushfordabc.orgX

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