How would you describe Sackville?
That question appeared to be a crucial one for Mike Randall and Jennifer Scott Harris as they presented an overview of a $15,000 strategic marketing plan to Sackville Town Council on Monday.
The two consultants work for Portfolio, the marketing firm in Moncton that town council hired last fall to recommend how Sackville could attract new residents, visitors and businesses.
Harris told council on Monday that in the course of their research, the consultants found that people had trouble answering that key question.
“The difficulty in answering the question, ‘How would you describe Sackville?’ was interesting,” Harris said, adding that it pointed to the fact that the town needs a clearer statement or ‘elevator pitch’ to use in attracting people.
“The ‘New Kind of Small Town’ experience slogan was viewed as a bit too abstract,” Harris added. “It means different things to different people, but it makes it hard to really answer that question, ‘How would you describe Sackville?'”
Marketing materials lack focus
The wide-ranging Portfolio report, more than 50 pages in length, points out that in the last eight years, the town has used nine different tags or slogans:
Cultural Crossroads – Taste of Sackville – Sweet Little Sackville – Cultural Capital – Where You Belong – Simple Be Yourself – Culturally Inspired, Naturally Beautiful – LOVE – A New Kind of Small Town
The report adds that town marketing materials have focused on a number of different community elements including culture and arts, Sackville’s marsh, young people and seniors as well as food.
“To date, Sackville has used a generic marketing approach, hoping to catch people with generic advertisements and marketing efforts as opposed to specific and targeted marketing,” the report notes.
Mike Randall told council on Monday that the consultants reviewed marketing materials and slogans from other towns in North America that were successfully attracting new residents, visitors and investors.
“Successful marketing communities have identified those key things that people you’re hoping to attract can’t get or view closer to where they live or where they’re located now,” he said.
“What does Sackville offer those target audiences that they can’t get closer to them than we are?”
Randall advised the town to highlight things that would make a trip, visit or move to the town special and worthwhile.
“Trying to be something to everybody, trying to be generic enough that we attract everybody is actually attracting no one and we need to be more targeted and be very specific and very targeted in terms of what the town of Sackville can offer,” he said.
Among other things, the consultants suggested setting up targeted websites such as VisitSackville.com, InvestinSackville.com and MovetoSackville.com to reach specific audiences.
“Don’t get too hung up on logos and slogans. A brand is a perception, it lives in the minds of all of your target audiences and it’s what they think of Sackville,” Randall told town council.
“Successful brands, though, in all the municipalities we looked at across North America, really had a narrow focus, they don’t try to be everything to everybody, they’re very specific.”
The Portfolio report lists suggestions for what the consultants call “positioning statements” that answer the question, What do we want the town to be known for? and that tie all of the town’s assets together:
• Life’s Better in Sackville • Sackville: Canada’s Perfect University Town • Sackville: Where life begins again • Sackville: Canada’s smartest little town • Sackville: The perfect place to grow… (a business, a family, your mind, a garden, an idea) • Sackville: Small town. Big conscience. • Sackville: Socialize, Arts, Culture, Knowledge • Sackville: home of Mount Allison University and a very cool lifestyle • Sackville: that university town lifestyle, for life
The report cautions, however, that a positioning statement needs to be widely supported by town residents who should be consulted before one is drafted.
After the consultants’ 16-minute presentation, Mayor Higham said he appreciated their recommendation that Sackville come up with a focussed message or what he called a “playbook” to use when prospective new residents or visitors ask about the town.
“I met a guy who came through here, 3 a.m. after the borders opened, because he was thinking of retiring here, but he couldn’t put his finger on why,” the mayor said, adding that he tried to list all of the town’s attractions as he talked to the man for 20 to 40 minutes outside of Tim Hortons.
“It reflects my experience in terms of trying to market [the town] and that would be great to have more of a playbook that we could put it together with.”
Meantime, members of town council will be reviewing the Portfolio marketing plan over the next month before deciding whether to adopt it, probably in August.
My studio, which brings some of the most accomplished people to Sackville, is located in Middle Sackville and by the time my subjects and visitors leave they are all of the same opinion that the town isn’t doing enough to market the many fine qualities we possess here. The town should consider hiring a business school graduate or person(s) who know about business, perhaps an Ivey School graduate?, who can lead us into the 2020’s and beyond. Of all the subjects and friends who leave here they feel unfulfilled from the town’s somber welcome signs and direction to just visit the downtown core with limited hours and often austere customer service. Could they all be so wrong? I would say not!