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It should describe Utah's "emotional core." It will emote "Utah." It should summarize, symbolize and synergize the entire state, highlighting Utah's attributes to outsiders far and wide.

Oh, and it should be pithy. Three to five words would be fine, please.

Just remember that tens of millions of dollars are riding on it.

That's the kind of challenge coming up with a new state tourism brand is, and it's being handled by tourism officials and advertising experts. Soon to be unveiled, the simple phrase will be the linchpin of a subsequent marketing and advertising campaign designed to prompt outsiders to pack up the family and spend some tourist bucks in the Beehive State.

But picking the right brand is a tricky business. It's as close to gambling as the state allows, a high-risk, high-reward game where even the slightest nuances can pay off in tourism riches but also can be fraught with potential pitfalls if it makes locals roll their eyes or it becomes the butt of jokes.

"From all I've read, brands are really important, especially in the Internet Age," said Susan Rugh, an associate professor of history at Brigham Young University who has researched and written about Utah's branding history and is writing a book about the post-World War II family vacation.

"Price is often not as big a determinant as you might think when people are planning their travel, and with people doing their investigations online, it (a good brand) is more critical than it ever was. . . . Since the '50s, there has been industrial tourism — the selling of a product, which is the state. For many states, tourism is one of the top three sectors of the economy, so it's important to get the brand right."

This won't be the state's first crack at branding. In the 1940s and 1950s, the state used slogans such as "Utah, the Friendly State," "Utah, Land of Color" and "Utah, the Unique." More recently, "Ski Utah," "A Pretty, Great State" and "The Greatest Snow on Earth" emerged, although not all were official state brands. Utah's current brand, "Utah! Where Ideas Connect," was unveiled in August 2001 by then-Gov. Mike Leavitt. But it's not getting much use nowadays.

This year's brand selection is different, because it has a lot of taxpayer money riding on it. Backed by $10 million in tourism promotion money this fiscal year and additional millions expected after that, the Utah Office of Tourism is working with Salt Lake advertising agency W Communications and others to pick a brand that W Communications President Mark Hurst has said will reveal "the look of Utah," "the soul of Utah" and "the sound of Utah," all composing the "emotional core of Utah."

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. last fall said the brand should be "a message that tells who we are . . . that is not anachronistic."

By all indications, branding is not an easy job. For any state.

"It is tough," said Randy Stroman, who came up with "Utah: A Pretty, Great State" while at ad agency Fotheringham and Associates. That slogan, unveiled in 1988, was not a state tourism product but instead was used by the then-fledgling Economic Development Corp. of Utah and, almost immediately, became the source of derision (more on that later).

"It seems every state is out for the tourism dollar and getting every buck they can get from people traveling and visiting. They're all hitting it hard to come up with something unique. There's more competition now for that dollar and to get people away from where they've been visiting, to get them to visit your state."

Difficult task

From the outset, Rugh saw a couple major challenges for Utah branders. Geography is a strong point for the state, but the diversity of that geography makes developing an all-encompassing brand difficult, she said. Also, Utah's religious history is unique among states, but any emphasis on that could turn off many potential visitors.

While Rugh has no specific brand suggestions, she sees in the "I Love New York" and "Virginia Is For Lovers" brands a way Utah should perhaps approach the problem.

"Neither tells you anything about the state, really, but they've been successful," Rugh said. "The same with New Mexico's 'Land of Enchantment.' It plays on the Native American heritage, and that's a good platform for them. Utah can't really do that, play on the Mormon heritage. Maybe something like 'Land of Color,' because 'land' has kind of a Native American resonance to it. But it still would not tell you much about the state."

Rugh finds many state brands lacking. Many are simply bland brands. Illinois' "Mile After Magnificent Mile" is one example she cites. Nevada, Michigan and Texas, however, have strong brands, she said.

"It's like selling New Coke or any other product," Rugh said. "You can spend all the money in the world, but if the consumer does not respond, it's a waste."

Due diligence

Because of the millions in taxpayer dollars that will be poured into the brand and resulting marketing and promotion, Utah's waste potential is bigger than ever. A couple years ago, the state's marketing and promotion budget was a mere $900,000.

Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, admits that the big bucks at stake add pressure, "but there is good pressure and good stress." Suggestions from the public during a "branding tour" of the state and feedback from focus groups have helped officials refine their brand options.

"That's why we're spending the time we are, working on the tag line, to be able to push forward the message," she said. "The challenge is utilizing the money we've been given — which is more than in the past, certainly — the best way we can and make it the most effective and make certain we've done the appropriate research so that we know exactly where our message will go out first and how it can be carried forward."

Von der Esch said that regardless of the new brand, tourism officials will likely stick with the successful "Greatest Snow On Earth" tag line to promote Utah's ski industry. Hinting at Utah's new brand, she said the essence will be "to elevate." "Aspirational" is another word describing it, she said.

"And there are a lot of features we have in common with other states, but we want to differentiate ourselves as we go forward," she said.

State officials also are trying to find a brand that will reach beyond the traditional tourist and be able to touch on arts and cultural heritage and even economic development, she said.

Comparisons

So, how have other states branded themselves for tourists? Some have found stalwart slogans and not veered from them — the aforementioned New York and Virginia, for example. But many states switch constantly. Some try to match their tourism brand with their license plate verbiage or state quarter designs. Some use a new brand with any new advertising and marketing campaign.

One goal is to have something unique, but not all states have been successful in that regard. "Visit Florida," "Enjoy Indiana" and "Explore Minnesota" have obvious parallels. So do Michigan's "Great Lakes. Great Times," South Dakota's "Great Faces. Great Places" and South Carolina's "Smiling Faces. Beautiful Places." Maryland does Arizona's "Seize The Day" one better: "Seize The Day Off."

Sometimes brand-changing is controversial. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III recently had two welcome signs bearing the slogan "Open For Business" placed on the state border, and despite criticism there's a move afoot to make that the official brand and also slap it on license plates.

New Jersey's then-acting Gov. Richard J. Codey rebuked an advertising firm's slogan of "New Jersey: We'll Win You Over" as being too negative (the firm got $260,000 anyway). State residents were asked to choose from five other options. Last month, they selected "New Jersey: Come See For Yourself." Among nearly 8,000 suggestions from residents were "NJ: How You Doin'?!" and "Most of Our Elected Officials Have Not Been Indicted."

"For a state like California, it really doesn't matter what the slogan is," Rugh said. "Maybe a brand is more important for places like Utah. Nevada will have people go there to gamble, no matter what their slogan is."

Utah isn't having a statewide contest to pick a winner — the Utah Board of Tourism Development has final say — but Utah tourism officials and W Communications execs received tons of suggestions for Utah's brand late last year when they visited more than a dozen cities. A stop at the Salt Palace yielded these, among others: "All Five Senses In One Place," "Good, Clean Fun," "As Close To Heaven As It Gets," "Get Out Here," "Connect With Yourself," "Expanding Horizons" and "The World Is Still Welcome."

A near miss

Obviously, ideas abound. But consider that nearly every state has a brand, and thousands of cities, regions, associations, organizations, counties, foreign countries and corporations also have conjured up some of their own.

That can lead to trouble. In fact, Utah had a brand picked out but found during a registration process that it was too similar to one used by the Colorado Ski Association. The association's was "Enter a Higher State." Utah folks aren't saying what their near-doppelganger was.

So, legal troubles aside, in all that flotsam and jetsam in the sea of brands, how can a state hope its tag line stands out?

Even Hurst has acknowledged that problem. Shortly after his company landed the Utah branding contract, Hurst noted that Utah's brand must fight through 14,000 advertising "impressions" people are subjected to every day.

"One of the most difficult things about this is that this is not a simple product," von der Esch said. "This is Utah, which is as diverse and as unique as any place in the world. . . . If I had a single product, like a muffler, it would be one thing. But this is the state and it has great people, great arts, great culture, dinosaurs, landscapes, rock. That's what we're trying to get, that essence of whatever someone's visit to Utah is, what they take home from their own experience, which we think is a fantastic one."

Case study

To Utah's north, Idaho two years ago switched from "Great Potatoes; Tasty Destinations" to "Nowhere Near . . . " A final word or two can be added to give the brand a specific message, adding flexibility.

The idea is to help out-of-staters realize that while they may not know much about Idaho, they'll have a lot to discover if they visit, according to Jeremy Chase, an account executive at es/drake, a Boise-based agency that developed the brand.

"You've got to sell the whole state and do it in a way that people are intrigued by it and people will inquire for more information," Chase said. "Montana has done a very good job of that. They've capitalized on 'Big Sky Country.' They've been very consistent through all the (tourism) materials and branded themselves pretty effectively."

Companies like Nike, IBM and McDonald's have successful brands because of plentiful capital, something many states lack for tourism marketing, he said.

"With tourism promotion, for states like Idaho that are among the lower-funded, it becomes particularly hard to try to break through on what any preconceived notions are," Chase said. "It all comes down to budget and resources. You'll never have enough unless a state has something immediately identifiable. Vegas, for example, drives Nevada's tourism program."

He warns against "trying to be all things to all people" when developing a brand. "That's the biggest pitfall," he said. "People will say, 'We can't say this because of that group' or 'We can't say that because of this group,' but then it becomes marketing by committee."

But, you're asking yourself, great potatoes?

"When we first did that one, it wasn't completely polarizing," Chase said. "In fact, travelers from outside Idaho thought it was all right. Anyone developing a brand and tourism destination should be ready for both sides of the coin. You can't be everything to all people. Know who your target audience is and hope it resonates with them. But whatever it is, it won't connect with everyone, and you've got to be prepared for that."

Pretty, great brand?

Eighteen years later, Stroman still sounds perplexed that "A Pretty, Great State" did not resonate. Instead, it became the butt of many jokes. He recalls Jay Leno lampooning it on "The Tonight Show."

He still insists it was a strong way to play up Utah's pretty environment and great people.

"I didn't realize how many ignorant people out there don't know what a comma (is)," Stroman said. "People read right by the comma. By putting in the comma, it wouldn't sound so much like bragging."

Whatever Utah selects, he said, it will be the target of punsters.

"You can't please all the people all the time," he said. "I think there are a lot of people out there just sitting by the TV with a pen and pad, waiting for something to come along to complain about and write somebody about."

Misconstrued or not, he said, "A Pretty, Great State" is still well-known.

"Fifteen years later, I still see 'pretty, great' this or 'pretty, great' that in editorials and advertising. It's had some legs. It's been gone quite a while, but people still remember it."

Stroman believes more people would remember it if more money had been spent to push it. Utah needs to avoid that this time by ensuring that its brand remains consistent and backed with funding, he said.

"Everything you do has to reflect that brand, and people will soon begin to associate Utah with that brand," he said. "You can't just use it once or twice. Branding takes a while."

Von der Esch realizes not everyone will be smitten with the new brand, no matter how effective it may prove to be.

"This is not for the faint of heart. You do the best you can and know that, going forward, the three words or five words you use are not going to be to everybody's liking, but the follow-up campaign and the marketing campaign can be," she said.

Coming soon

For her part, Rugh would like to see a brand that emphasizes Utah's outdoors: skiing, red rock, canyons, mountain biking. "Utah, in terms of being distinctive, it's really a playground, and it's so accessible," she said.

Stroman agrees. The environment, clean air, ski areas, monuments, even its distinctive four-season climate are hallmarks he cites.

"There's a diversity as far as the environment goes. And it's not a crowded state yet. You can still get away from people and enjoy the outdoors, whether you like skiing or like it where it's hot," he said.

"You've got to know the audience you're targeting. Things we might think, as Utahns, are unique and interesting, people outside the state may think of as boring and not very interesting."

The mystery of Utah's brand soon will be revealed. It could be the springboard for more lame Utah jokes, or it could be the source of local pride. Either way, lots of money is riding on it in the form of tourists with plenty of cash that could benefit Utah businesses as well as the state's tax coffers.

"I'm very confident in them," Rugh said of those working on the brand. "I have my fingers crossed. I want more money to come to this state. It makes life better for me, as a state resident."


Contributing: Bloomberg News; Associated Press

E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com