This was a collaborative project with investment from Hubbard County, the City of Park Rapids, MN, and the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Park Rapids Lakes Area has been a summer tourist destination for generations. With increased competition and many resorts selling and becoming private, the community was looking at ways to increase shoulder season tourism and attract employers and talent. As a community consisting of multiple towns, they were also looking for ways to come together and create a stronger community brand that everyone can buy into.
Public engagement is at the core of our process and played an essential role. Over the course of three, week-long trips to the area, we held multiple public meetings, focus groups, round tables and 1-on-1 interviews. We met with various interest groups including sports clubs, retailers, arts groups, large employers, business owners, resort owners and residents.
We collaborated with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Small Towns for research around visitor perception through intercept surveys. We also established a project website with online surveys and project updates.
While everyone has completely different backgrounds and goals for their community, when you really listen you can start to identify the common threads.
The Park Rapids Lakes Area is made up of a handful of small towns — each with their own unique character that all bring something unique to the table. Through our engagement process one of the first things we discovered was the need for a name for the region that made each community feel included.
While they all agreed they were better together, many of the towns felt left out when referred to as the Park Rapids Lakes Area. Through extensive engagement, research, and testing, we landed on the name Heartland Lakes.
We developed brand principles that everyone in the community agreed made Heartland Lakes unique, and began designing and testing shapes, images and colors that best represented those brand principles.
We worked with the branding committee and explored and tested a wide range of options and design directions. We created not only a logomark but a brand system that all cities and businesses within Heartland Lakes can tap into.
Over the course of a year, we took multiple week-long trips to the area. While the primary goal of our trips was engagement, a close second was to capture video and photography of the different seasons. With four really distinct seasons, the community offers something completely different with each changing season and it is important to the brand to be able to show that.
A new brand on day one has zero value. It’s only after implementation and buy-in that it gains meaning, trust and value. Therefore implementation is critical.
We developed a multi-year implementation plan that includes brand management, roll-out and marketing strategies, and key catalyst projects that launch the brand. These catalyst projects included not just tourism projects, but also a campaign geared toward those considering moving to the area. From this we created a series of videos called ‘Stories from the Heart’ where we share the stories of different people who have decided to call Heartland Lakes home.