January 15, 2009

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Spreading the Word

How “Life Elevated” Put Utah on the Map

Tom Haraldsen

January 15, 2009

How do you capture the image of a state in a tagline, a two or three or four word phrase that tells potential visitors and business partners that your environment is just what they’re looking for? That’s the question state tourism officials sought to answer three years ago when they set out to create a new “brand” for Utah. After months of study with focus groups and brainstorming with advertising executives, a 13-member board settled on this: “Life Elevated.” Evidence shows the tagline, introduced in the summer of 2006 and which now adorns license plates and printed material throughout the state, has been very successful in promoting Utah. Leigh von der Esch, the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism and Film, says Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. realized a positive Utah image was a critical component of his program to increase economic development. “He wanted to rebrand the state,” she says. “The Legislature had earmarked money to be spent to brand, market and promote Utah. Commensurate with the fact that we were going to go out to promote and advertise the state with more money than ever before was the need to come up with that new brand.” To create that brand, officials needed to know what Utah’s image was in the marketplace. Focus groups were held across the country, as well as in London at the World Travel Market. Leaders expected to hear some perceptions and misconceptions of the Beehive State, but instead, they were surprised to learn there weren’t many. “We discovered that we didn’t have a negative image or a positive image,” von der Esch recalls. “We had a neutral image. They just didn’t know enough about us.” Even in the post-2002 Olympic Winter Games years, the nation and the world of business and tourism still didn’t seem to know what Utah had to offer. Von der Esch says tourism officials knew that there wasn’t enough space on a billboard to get in all the adjectives about the state of Utah, and that a slogan or tagline needed to be created that could extol the state’s virtues quickly and succinctly. She says in the world of marketing, there are descriptive taglines such as “Colorful Colorado,” pre-scripted lines such as “Find Yourself,” and the latest form, the aspirational slogan. “When we went over all the feedback we got from the focus groups, an aspirational tagline seemed like the way for us to go,” she says. Still, creating a one-size-fits-all type slogan had its risks. Von der Esche had heard horror stories of her counterparts in other states who’d set out to create a new brand. New Jersey officials held a public contest and eventually hired an ad agency to develop a tagline. In Washington, a 32-member committee spent 18 months and $600,000 and came up with this tagline: “Say Wa.” The public hated it, the committee was disbanded and the tourism director reassigned. The tagline was used for three months before tourism officials discarded it. “It was important to us to come up with a fresh approach,” von der Esch says of Utah’s new brand. “During the [Governor Mike] Leavitt administration, the state’s tagline was ‘Utah!’ It was visual, but not particularly memorable. We needed ours to be memorable, and ‘Life Elevated’ has proven to be.” In the last two years, both von der Esch and David Williams, the deputy director for marketing and research in her department, have traveled to trade shows and tourism conferences, and are often asked what the two-word phrase means. “‘Life Elevated’ can be many things,” she says. “It can be the pirouette at Ballet West, a great symphony at Deer Valley in the summer or standing on Mt. Baldy in the Uintas with your family. It can mean the deep powder of the greatest snow on earth. That’s the beauty of what ‘Life Elevated’ is.” A style guide was created for use of the tagline, and it appears on letterhead, a variety of apparel and imprinted advertising items, and of course, on all literature and advertising created by the Office of Tourism and Film and its business allies. “It’s been very well received with our partners,” Williams says. “Whether it’s the cultural and heritage people, or Ski Utah, wherever you are in the state, whatever you’d like to do, the tagline seems to fit, to click.” Huntsman wanted the tagline for more than just tourism purposes. “He wanted to brand the state for a lot of things,” von der Esch says. “Think about the ‘Colorful Colorado’ tagline for example. How far is that gonna go—probably not to other departments outside of tourism. And does it play in the winter? That to us was the beauty of an aspirational tagline.” Imagine trying to come up with something that can also work?” Williams added the “Life Elevated” slogan apparently works with economic development, as well. “The branding program has been an absolute success,” says Jason Perry, executive director for the Utah Office of Economic Development. “Building the Utah brand is still a work in progress, but this program has made great strides in putting Utah on the map in many ways.” He says use of an aspirational message allows it to mean different things to different people, serves as both an educational tool and a marketing tool and has as much to do with the physical environment—the mountains and snow capped peaks—as it does the business environment. Perry also says that today’s technology means business can be conducted from any location in the world. So when a business or industry looks to relocate or build a new facility, he says executives search for a place with a high quality of life where employees will want to live and raise their families. “When they discover all that Utah has to offer—clean air, a work force that’s educated and highly-skilled and a place with all of our natural beauty—it’s easy to see why they want to come here.” During the past two years, Perry says the state has averaged at least one announcement per month of a business expansion or relocation to Utah. In 2008, he says 5,000 new jobs were created in the state, adding $3.3 billion in new wages and $1.7 billion in capital investment. Much of that growth, he says, can be directly attributed to getting the message out that Utah is the place to visit, live and work. “We are now very high on the list of places to be considered for development or relocation.” Von der Esch’s office has used “Life Elevated” for the nexus of its marketing campaigns at trade shows and conferences, but also on Delta Air Lines. Delta passengers have likely seen the “carousel campaign,” where a luggage carousel at Salt Lake International Airport shows various recreational “toys” being off loaded, including a canoe, a tent, tennis racquets, camping equipment, etc. “It shows all the different kinds of things that you can enjoy in a life elevated,” she says. The winter campaign that kicked off in November is similarly humorous and illustrative of the variety of Utah’s winter sports. Has it worked? While von der Esch knows that a number of factors can figure into tourism besides the branding campaign, state officials are pleased with the statistics. The 2007-08 winter marketing campaign cost $2.3 million. Statistics from Strategic Marketing Research, Inc. says that resulted in 324,000 “incremental” trips to Utah, and had an economic impact of $392 million. The return on investment was $13.65 for every marketing dollar spent. During the summer of 2008, a $3.99 million budget led to an economic impact of $571 million, a total of 478,689 incremental trips and an ROI of $11 for every marketing dollar spent. “We are now recognized and cited when other people are doing their slogans as developers of a very successful brand,” says von der Esch. “Other states and ski associations are jealous of the coordination and team effort among the resorts here in Utah. When we combine our marketing dollars with theirs, we create a powerful program.” Though tourism officials are obligated to use the appropriated marketing dollars to attract out-of-state visitors, word of mouth, and a sagging economy, has also helped spur local tourism growth. The “Visit Utah First” campaign conducted on local radio stations by state tourism officials has led to an increase of activity within the state. “We’ve stressed the value of Utah, the value per gallon of gas, and creating the greatest summer memory,” von der Esch says. “It’s been very well received.” On the horizon is continued expansion of international tourism. Delta’s non-stop flights between Salt Lake and Paris, which were initiated in June 2008, have already made a positive impact on the state’s economy, particularly in southern Utah. State officials have been marketing Utah in France for months. “We’ve heard that European visitors to the southern parts of the state have helped make the difference between some businesses being in the black or in the red,” von der Esch says. “Lodging owners said up to 70 percent of their bookings were from international guests. The Paris flight was certainly a contributing factor to that growth, and we expect it to only get better in the future.” Delta was also lobbied to create a nonstop flight between Tokyo and Salt Lake City, with Utah Tourism dedicating money to market in Japan and other Pacific Rim countries. Those efforts proved successful in November, when the airline announced it would begin nonstop service between the Utah and Japan capital cities this coming June. “Utah is a well-established destination for Japanese travelers, and Japan is considered one of our top international tourism markets,” von der Esch said. “We have a long-standing history with our trade representative for Japan, Osamu Hoshino, who is excited to promote the direct flight with Salt Lake City as the gateway to Yellowstone in the north and the Grand Circle to the south.” “Our goal is to keep the return on investment solid and going higher,” von der Esch says. “We have continually improved our Website and kept it full of content. Our travel guide is available online, and we hear from people all the time how grateful they are that the guide is free of any advertising. And our call center is very popular because people appreciate talking to a real person when they are calling with a question or comment.” She recalls meeting two hikers in southern Utah who told her they come from Texas each year to get their “Utah fix”. “They saw ‘Life Elevated’ on my shirt and we talked about it. And one of them said, ‘You’ve nailed it. Coming here elevates our lives.’” With tourism numbers soaring, tax revenue dollars from tourism increasing and business development on the rise, it appears that more than just life is getting elevated in Utah these days, thanks in large part to that simple two-word tagline.
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