Rockford Is Strolling For Shoppers

August 15, 2003
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ROCKFORD — Calling it a different way of thinking for a city, Rockford officials and business owners have decided to create their own brand identity. And contrary to the typical hurried lifestyles that many have, Rockford's identity is built around an aura that allows visitors to take a break and slow things down.

"It's a different way of thinking for a city," said Rockford City Manager Michael Young. "We're promoting what we are rather than what we're not."

What Rockford is, is a city of 4,600 residents in northern Kent County with a lot of rustic charm. Its downtown is full of businesses; some are one-of-a-kind, many are quaint, and most are within walking distance of each other.

So it was natural that the branding tag line for the business district should be "Good for strolling. Great for shopping." And it was also natural to include the city dam and the waters of the Rogue River in the branding logo.

The line and logo will be used in promotions for citywide activities and retail events.

"We've had great support from our business community in adopting this and using this in their promotional materials. So the next step is to keep that momentum going and keep this in front of people," said Young.

The Rockford brand is the result of the most ambitious survey the city has undertaken. Known as Rockford First, the effort contacted about 3,000 households to determine what commercial services the city should offer and what commercial appeal the city could offer.

The survey was done last fall by Davison Dietsch McCarthy, a Grand Rapids strategic planning, marketing and research firm. The findings revealed that residents thought the city offered an environment suited for casual wandering and browsing, one decidedly different from large malls and power shopping centers. Quaint, friendly, slower-paced and natural were the attributes mentioned most often. Unique merchandise was another selling point.

The findings also revealed that residents felt Rockford is a fun place.

"We have a lot of festivals in our community and that was the biggest element that they said brought people to our community. We always have some type of an event going on," said Young.

"We want to package that with what we're doing with the marketing study."

Advertising dollars are being packaged, as businesses, the chamber and the city are pooling their marketing efforts.

"Maybe a merchant might be able to run a couple of ads in a year. Now they can take advantage of everybody's advertising dollars. So we're really going to get a lot more effective, focused campaign. We never had a focused campaign," said Young.

"The real important part of this phase is coordinating all of that activity."

The branding effort, guided by the Rockford Economic Development Corp., is getting its start this month. Ads will appear on TV and in print and a concept for radio will also be developed. Young said the city has already made an ad buy in the Convention and Visitors Guide that will be available in early 2004.

"You are going to see this consistently throughout the course of the year. It's not a one-shot deal. It's going to be a multi-year campaign. This will be our foundation," said Young.

"I think this is going to position our community for leisure activities, recreation and shopping."

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