November Editorial: Is Brand New Better?

Written By: Executive Director Tawny Tesconi
Published: November 4, 2019

Warning: the thoughts of the writer are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the Board she serves.

I feel like I need to be transparent with this month’s editorial since I have never discussed my opinions expressed below with my bosses. But – this is my editorial, right? Doesn’t it afford me some leeway?

A little over a year ago, the Sonoma County Tourism organization threw out the brand they were using to promote our county and crafted an image based on the new tagline “Sonoma County: Life Opens Up”.  Quite the headscratcher, don’t you think? It seems vague and nondescript and for some reason, I want to take my red ink pen and add the word “where” to it. Granted, I am not a brand officiant, but I am a consumer, traveler, and lover a good time. The new brand does nothing for me.

But I admit…I am jaded because I was around when our county tourism leaders worked collaboratively for two years to develop a brand that was universal for Sonoma County. It’s a mark still used by the Sonoma County Winegrowers and the Sonoma County Vintners – and probably a few others. You know it. It is the one that recognizes the roots and heart of our county – the visual stamp of “Sonoma County” that appears as if it is embossed on the side of a wine barrel or apple crate.

At the time, I thought the collaboration genius. Travelers come to Sonoma County because we are known for our quality, our uniqueness, our consistency. People see the word “Sonoma County” and think culture, strength, and perfection in everything we produce, whether it be food, wine, spirits or experiences.  Even today, emerging farmers looking to produce hops, hemp, and cannabis are willing to pay more for local land and other resources so they can connect their wares with the Sonoma County brand versus a nondescript region.

It is evident that I felt connected to the “old” brand – and I am. However, the “old” brand wasn’t so old. It was introduced in the fall of 2012. When you think about those images that are so familiar to you, how often do they change? Sure, there might be slight variations in font or colors, but unlike theme images, brands tend to have a long shelf life. Using Google (don’t you love it) I discovered that on average, brands are used for 20 years.

I am also trying to figure out why an organization that depends on public funds collected from transient occupancy tax (hotel tax) who got a $1 million dollars slashed from their annual budget by the county supervisors a few years ago, felt compelled to do a rebranding campaign.

Branding or rebranding efforts do not come cheap and require total revamping and reproducing of collateral materials, websites, signage and dozens of other marketing resources. Did they see a decline in tourism caused by the temporary setback from the 2017 fires escalated by a brand that consumers couldn’t identify with? Doesn’t Sonoma County have so much more to offer than a tagline?

Granted maybe the old tagline needed refreshing, but I would have voted for the new tagline to at least be featured with the Sonoma County fruit box image stamp that unified the many organizations that promote tourism in our region. It seems like the collaboration that was heralded seven years ago and that was just taking root was tossed aside for no apparent reason.

So, what will get more total visitors to Sonoma County in 2020? The tagline “Life Opens Up”, a weekend bike race or the Wine Enthusiast naming Sonoma County the “Wine Region of the Year”? Hmmm…I wonder.

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