Making Magic: Kanab Boldly Embraces a Unique Branding Campaign

When potential tourists go online to hunt for a travel destination, they search for the activity first and the location second, a fact presented by Roger Brooks of Destination Development International at a session on “How to Market a Community.” For example, most people would search for “birdwatching” then “Galapagos,” or “skiing” and then “Utah.” What is important about this is that if a community or a destination hasn’t ever connected to an activity in the mind of the consumer, that search will never happen. And if a community stubbornly hangs onto a false identity of itself that doesn’t align with reality, it will remain invisible to visitors.

This was part of a lesson learned for Ken Gotzen-Berg, director of the Kane County/Southern Utah Office of Tourism, through the process of figuring out why the community of Kanab was in a tourism glut. Working with the Office of Tourism board, Gotzen-Berg sought professional help to identify and communicate Kanab’s true identity. Here he shares a bit of what made the rebranding a success.

Know What You Are and What You Want

Gotzen-Berg says that Kanab suffered from an “identity crisis” for years, which made tourists ignore the area as a destination, “even though we are perfectly located right in the middle of three national parks, five national monuments, two national forests, and other spectacular scenery,” he says. They needed to communicate to travelers that Kanab was key to that outdoor experience.

“We wanted to capture those travelers and influence them to stay here, spend their tourism dollars here, create jobs here. We needed to make the argument that Kanab makes a perfect ‘base-camp’ for visitors,” he says.

Be Authentic

One common marketing mistake communities make, says Brooks, is that they all try to have “something for everyone” or be the “gateway” to someplace else, both of which are vague and boring concepts. Most Utahns and visitors to the state had a nostalgic reminiscence of Kanab as an Old West movie mecca, but that campaign was an empty well.

“Our past branding efforts had focused too heavily on our past movie history,” Gotzen-Berg says, even though Kanab had earned the nickname “Little Hollywood” for the more than 200 movies, TV episodes and commercials that have been filmed in the area. “We simply could not continue to back that up, when locations like Moab and Monument Valley have been making more movies recently.”

Hire a Professional

Southern Utah will always have the incredible natural beauty that attracted Hollywood and millions of tourists to the region in the first place, Gotzen-berg says, and while the board tried slogans on for size, such as “Kanab: A Western Legend,” “The Greatest Earth on Show,” and “The Heart of the Parks,” none seemed to fit. They decided to seek professional marketing help, hiring Love Communications to take on the branding effort.

The first task for Love was to solve Kanab’s identity problem. Months of research and interviews and unbiased examination finally came up with the fact that Kanab/Southern Utah offers something no other tourism-based community has: an unlimited experience for those seeking adventure. “Kanab offers visitors an unspoiled alternative for exploring Southern Utah’s most magnificent landscapes and vast history,” Gotzen-Berg says. “Kanab also has a personality that is genuine, authentic, friendly, free, open, accepting, adventurous and active.”

Once Love completed this step, it came up with a catchy tag line that captured the essence of Kanab, introduced the region to the world and put its name on the consumer’s lips: Abra Kanabra.

Trust the Experts

Identities are personal, Gotzen-Berg says, revealing that there was a lot of fear throughout the process. “We learned that … there would be a lot of hesitation, fear of failure, politics and second-guessing involved. We needed to trust the professionals—those without emotional ties, but the knowledge and experience to create success.”

What this trust garnered is a campaign with legs and a message that resonated with the Utah market, Gotzen-Berg says. “Tourism industry professionals, travel company agencies and folks planning their vacations are putting Kanab/Southern Utah in their itinerary, writing articles about Kanab in their magazines and recommending Kanab in their travel guides.”

Gotzen-Berg and the Board are now committed to a long-term game plan to make Kanab a destination with creative events, community involvement and social media.

Let it Resonate

The initial response from the locals to the “Kanab: Magically Unspoiled” campaign was mixed, but Gotzen-Berg says that once they installed the “Abra Kanabra” billboards in the community, in Las Vegas and along the Wasatch Front, opinions quickly changed. “People who may have had a passing knowledge of Kanab were now asking questions, repeating the slogan, finding us on the map and saying ‘I’ve been meaning to check that place out.’”

As Kanab is now entering its second year of the campaign, the original message of “Kanab: Magically Unspoiled” will be reinforced with “You’ll find yourself saying ‘WOW’ a lot;” “Not Uncharted, Just Unspoiled;” “Around Here, We Hike to the Art Galleries” and “Take Photos, or Be Prepared to be Called a Liar.”

Gotzen-Berg says the results are clear. “Kanab is growing. Hotels are at full capacity and two new hotels are being built. New restaurants are opening, businesses are investing in renovations and face-lifts. A needed Kanab Community Center is on the drawing board, which will bring conferences to Kanab and serious investors seeing opportunity in Kanab. Tourism works!”