Insight

What is the Brand of Columbus, GA?

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The title question is at the heartbeat of what Electric City Life strives to answer every day. We (Columbus, GA) need an authentic brand to stand on, and we’ve been trying to find it.

Are we: an old mill town, “What Progress Preserved” (current brand), The Chattahoochee Valley, Tri-city or Bi-city? Who are we? Maybe we are all of these descriptions.

Are we an outdoor adventure or river town? A foodie town? Are we a crime ridden town? Who do we want to be? Who do we need to plan to be for economic development purposes?

We’re trying to be a tech town, an artistic town and a maker town. We are a revitalized town in process. Are we the Fountain City?

How do you see and identify Columbus, GA? If you had to give Columbus a brand, with a logo and slogan, what would it be?

After wrestling with this question for the past 3 years, I’m still not set on my elevator speech to “sell” this town. When I’m attempting to book big bands here, I brag on our thriving downtown scene, and how we have a college with arts, theater, and a school of music in it. (FYI: The big bands always want to know if a college is close.)

Are we becoming like Savannah, GA? With the help from SCAD (Savannah Art and Design University), their downtown has been preserved and revitalized. Is Columbus State University doing the same for us; preserving and striving for authenticity in our revitalization?

What is your elevator speech for Columbus? Biggest cul-de-sac in the world? Bible Belt? Thriving? Boring? Fun? Family oriented? No jobs? Lack of good paying jobs? Affordable?

Many people who went on the inter-city trip to Nashville, TN, this past year, focused and discussed our brand as a city. We have developed exceptionally, but with that growth comes growing pains and efforts to articulate our evolution.

Moreover, The Columbus GA Convention and Visitors Bureau is embarking on re-branding our city right now!

I attended a meeting last week about it, and we all agreed that the re-branding of our city must be expansive and innovative in engaging our community for feedback. We must all feel involved in the process, resulting in an ownership, because this is our town.

During Nashville’s re-branding initiative, they went to the citizens. From pedestrians in high traffic areas, to local festivals and bars, they set out to engage their community. It can’t be a handful of people at a table making the decision of how the whole town identifies itself. The re-branding process must be organic and inclusive to be effective.

I’ve had a lot of leaders reach out to me, then not know exactly what it is I have to give them. Because what they want is a connection and answer to this title question; somehow, somewhere, we, Electric City Life tribe, are serendipitously stumbling on the answer, because not ONE person has the answer. We aim to be a collective collaboration of what our culture is, what we are passionate about, our beliefs, and our preferences.

Bruce McPherson, a Young Professionals board member who has lived here for several years, and is very involved in the community, asked me during a discussion about re-branding our city, “What is our brand right now? I have no idea.”

Exactly.

I’ve had countless conversations, asking a multitude of Columbusites (case in point, even the name Columbusites held uncertainty. We decided to use it, and even though some people weren’t fond of it, there was no widely known existing term for the people of our town), “What is our vibe? What could be our brand?” Not one person has an answer; they have opinions and suggestions, but not an answer.

I love the fact that Columbus is consistently evolving. However, since we haven’t found exactly what our niche is, could it be hurting us?

Some of the most concerning aspects is what happens when someone or something doesn’t have an identity: the tendency is to grab anything currently enticing to appease the vacancy and the inability to connect with others.

These are more reasons why we are persistently asking these (what is the vibe/brand/identity/culture of Columbus) questions through our platform. We are suggesting ideas and feedback that could aid our town and help find more of its identity. Encouraging our town to pursue good will, and hopefully through discovering passions, nourishing strengths, and proposing solutions, we together, will find its authentic brand and identity. Join us. We are further synergizing our community, through collaborating with several organizations, hash tagging, sharing pictures and articles, reposting, hosting events, highlighting positive cultural efforts and events in our city.

We are in a privileged time to be participants in shaping an emerging, new identity.

In the Regional Prosperity Initiative (A Vision for a Greater Columbus Georgia), one of the main focuses is creating “A Cohesive Image and Identity for Columbus, GA”. When asked how Greater Columbus is perceived by outsiders, one input participant quipped, “It’s not.”

However, many Greater Columbus residents truly love their community. The challenge then, is to communicate what our region possesses to everyone else.

One thing, that has consistently been a selling point of our town, is our community base.

If you engage, you can find beautiful people enjoying and putting efforts in to bettering our community. I love the words of a young talented 22 year old lady, who has traveled the world and landed back here, “There is stuff to do in Columbus. You are not trying hard enough.”

This community base, or “vibe”, is a reason many are compelled to come back here, or are making the choice to stay here. To be philosophical: What is our vibe? It is the vibe. It is what we are creating right now. It’s our genuine movement of revitalization. It is about the people who are connecting with others and engaging/retaining our talent, or drawing them back here.  

Currents, waves, flow, “vibes”, seem to all be thematic as well. For instance, in our logo, we have electric currents, or waves, rippling through a blood moon over our city. River Flow Yoga and Wellness has been a key player in innovation in our area. Art Currents is also an online magazine for arts in our area. Our most noteworthy tourist attraction is the longest urban whitewater rafting in the world, with world renowned kayakers riding our waves all year round. Could this be part of our brand?

Remember, a brand is your reputation and what distinguishes one seller’s product from the othersbrand identity is the part of you that resonates with people after you leave the room and what they say about you; and branding is the practice of managing your reputation.

What do you think distinguishes Columbus, GA from other cities?

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1 Comment

  1. Frank Braski

    December 21, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    “Electric River City” – As I think about the names and terms used to refer to the place I CHOOSE to call home, I, like you, find them lacking. From the Bi-cities, the “Fountain City”, I think I like “River City”, “Electric City” and the “Queen of the South” the best… The term Tri-cities makes me think of a 6-city Valley, a virtual “V” made up of the 3 Bi-cities of Auburn/Opelika, Columbus/Phenix City and West Point/La Grange, which I think still comprises the Greater Chattahoochee Valley.

    Names are important. What we call ourselves, and what we call home matters. And people form impressions of what they can and can not do based on names. I learned this when I used to operate FIRST Columbus LEGO, the volunteer non-profit that helps get our youth engaged in science and engineering pursuits. Many of my friends from “across the river” assumed they couldn’t participate because it was “Columbus” and there wasn’t as organized a program in Alabama. So I changed the name to Valley FIRST.

    Some might think we fell into the same trap with ColumbusMakesIT! But we chose the name deliberately and even weighed the pro’s and con’s of having it be ValleyMakesIT! We chose call our first makerspace ColumbusMakesIT because we wanted to convey the idea you CAN in fact, MakeIT in Columbus. You don’t HAVE to leave and go to Austin, Boston, Atlanta, or Nashville to #MakeIT big. Look at Big Dog Running!  We like the plurality of the ‘s’ because so many things, people and places help us #MakeIT! We also purposely use the exclamation point (!) in our name because we want to convey the excitement and energy in what we’re doing. From individuals, to schools, counties and businesses, we help identify events with the MakeIT branding. So ElectricCityLifeMakesIT , and UMakIT (our individual kits that you make) too! Right now, so it seems, PhenixCityMakesIT!

    We do like thinking about the greater Chattahoochee Valley region, though. But it is just not something that exactly rolls off the tongue, and it doesn’t lend itself to shorting very well, both of which are problematic for modern marketing, websites and hastags. I do like the River City Vibe, and of course I love Electric City because its one of those “brain-breaking” opportunities to explain that Columbus existed AND had electricity before Atlanta. And that Columbus existed before “HOTlanta” was even a thing!

    When I think of comparable areas of regional impact and what our southern neighbors are doing with the Emerald Coast, and what our north-eastern neighbors did with Research Triangle Park (RTP) in the Carolinas, I can’t help but wonder if a similar opportunity doesn’t exist right here with our own 6-city virtual “V” in the form of the 3 bi-city areas of Auburn/Opelika, Columbus/Phenix City and La Grange/West Point. Talk about synergy! If we could think long-term and work together to harness the business, political, social, economic, academic and technological talent and resources of our six cities, and the surrounding rural areas, we’d have a region to rival any in the country!

    But back to our River City Vibe… I like the River City. We all know it really is down town, but I like the “UP” in UpTown. Helps distinguish from MidTown.  Not sure C-town actually fits, but there is a certain je ne sais quoi with the river and electric city that I’m still searching for.

    I used to tell my professional colleagues (from outside of here) that it’s the biggest little town you’ve probably never heard of unless you tromped through the mud in boot camp or jumped out of perfectly good airplanes at one of the largest military bases in the world. And if you’ve ever watched sports, this is the home of Aflac. It’s a huge old mill town that’s revitalized itself by becoming a college town filled with artists, musicians and theaters. Never mind that approximately 1/5th of the US economy and a couple trillion dollars flows through our fiber optics in the form of coherent light. It’s a great place to raise a family, and like where I worked at the time, IBM, it’s a great place to be from. Not much of an elevator pitch I know, but there it was. I’m not a salesman. 😉

    But there’s a lot more to this area than that… Now I say there are tons of outdoor activities, thriving Saturday markets and a maker movement well underway. We’re starting to have some healthy mid-tier companies become more prominent and grow with external investment, and that is hugely promising. We’re starting to show signs of helping incubate and foster an entrepreneurial spirit reminiscent of this City’s and our country’s forefathers. We’re embracing the changes, there’s a lot of commercial real-estate available, construction abounds and we are poised for River Valley greatness. No offense to those that loved what progress has preserved, but I’m ready for 21st century Electric River City greatness!

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