Colorado forges its brand with help of residents, companies

The Colorado brand rolled out across the nation Wednesday could mean billions of dollars in tourism and economic development to the state, perhaps more value than all the fiery marks traditionally applied by Colorado ranchers to prove ownership of livestock.

The new trademark and slogan combine to form one of the foundations upon which Gov. John Hickenlooper plans to build a stronger state economy, Colorado chief marketing officer Aaron Kennedy said.

“If we don’t define ourselves, others will,” Kennedy said. “By clarifying who we are, what we stand for and what we aspire to be, we can chart a course to protect and promote the economic vitality of Colorado.”

Designed by Coloradans for Colorado, the new logo, dubbed the Peak, and slogan, “It’s our nature,” was market-tested and “squirmed around” by the state’s brightest branding professionals, who pushed and teased and pounded on the message until they were certain it was ready, said Teri Cavanagh, CEO of Grand Junction’s Cobb Marketing and Communications, one of about 30 experts named to the council that created the brand.

Cavanagh said Hickenlooper decided in 2012 that instead of hiring a Madison Avenue genius or some other out-of-state firm, he would enlist dozens of Colorado experts to work collaboratively on the design.

“Coloradans know Colorado better than anyone else,” she said.

Collectively, members of the Colorado Brand Council and others donated more than $1 million in services to complete the plan. The state paid out another $1.1 million in fees, Kennedy said.

The process took a little more than a year to complete.

Led by Kennedy, interviewers covered 1,600 miles to visit nearly every corner of the state, asking Coloradans about themselves and why they live here.

More than 185,000 people took part in the process through social media, while another 3,050 participated in interviews or surveys.

More than 350 companies, universities and community groups — companies like Vail Resorts, Crocs, First Bank, 5280 magazine, New Belgium Brewing Company and Boulder Brands, among others — participated, Kennedy said.

Another 64 youth ambassadors from 33 counties also took part, he said.

The result literally gave Cavanagh goose bumps when she talked about it Wednesday.

The new brand is shorthand for all that Coloradans believe about themselves, she said. It tells the world that Colorado residents are proudly independent, loyal to their communities and take care of each other. It says they are healthy and vital and connected to nature, Cavanagh said.

A true believer who calls herself a “brand disciple,” Cavanagh said she knows there will be detractors, but the council is ready to defend its design.

First, many will point to the Colorado state flag as a better, ready-made brand that would have been far cheaper to implement, Kennedy said.

Surveys conducted around the nation that compared the flag to the Peak proved otherwise, however.

More than 70 percent of those surveyed outside Colorado said the state’s license plate, from which the Peak borrows its design, best represents Colorado, according to data gathered by the brand council.

The flag as a symbol of Colorado fell flat with hundreds of others who live outside the state, about 33 percent of whom said the bold, red C in the banner made them think of Chicago.

Only 18 percent of those surveyed said the state’s flag made them think of Colorado. Other destinations the Colorado state flag brought to mind included Cincinnati, Connecticut, Columbus, Ohio, California and Charlotte, N.C.

In comparison after comparison, the state flag was also considered significantly less appealing to Coloradans than the Peak — by a margin of more than 20 percent in every case, the brand council’s data showed.

Challenges to the design based on cost also fail, Kennedy said.

Nearly every state agency spends part of its budget to design and implement its own brands. The Colorado Department of Transportation alone spends about $300,000 a year on graphic design fees for each of the many highway projects taking place across the state, Kennedy said.

“Multiply even a fraction of that number by 22 state agencies and you can see how the new brand will save the state money,” he said.

Over the next year, all state departments will transition to the new brand. By mid-2014, the state will begin actively marketing itself using the new brand, Kennedy said.


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