Who Do You Think You Are?

Photo by Wes Davis
david flanagan branding sacramento

The art of branding Sacramento.

How does a city like Sacramento compete for visitors, investors and talent? It’s all about differentiation, says David Flanagan, whose marketing agency, Misfit, was hired by Visit Sacramento to lead the latest branding makeover aimed at shaping how Sacramentans and others think of the city.

“Branding is what helps you stand apart from the competition,” explains Flanagan. “It’s that gut emotion you have about something. Smart organizations and companies will clearly and strategically decide in advance what they want that feeling to be.”

The last attempt to manufacture a shared identity for the Sacramento region five years ago fizzled. “I applaud the effort. The people involved were committed and passionate,” says Flanagan, “but the process was flawed from the start. Research is great, but when you get too many people in the room, you end up with a vanilla result.”

Flanagan instead formed a tight-knit committee of communications professionals to hash out, through multiple meetings and focus groups, the essence of Sacramento’s identity. “There’s always the potential to get it wrong, but with a strategic process and professionals who have done it hundreds of times, your chances of getting it right are better.”

Through a lengthy discovery process, the nuts and bolts of which Flanagan lays out in his new book, “Rudder: Strategic Brand Clarity,” the group concluded that Sacramento’s archetype is the rebel.

“The word scrappy kept coming up in these conversations,” says Flanagan. “We’re called a cow town, but there’s this attitude of, ‘We don’t care, we are who we are and we love it. Go ahead and call us all the names you want, we love Sacramento.’”

So how did that discovery shape the brand? “What came out of the rebel discussion is that Sacramento is a very unique place to live or visit because you can do things here that you can’t do in other cities. The stage is yours,” explains Flanagan. “Our brand position statement became: The things I want to do, the goals I want to accomplish, the home I want to buy, the family I want to raise, the business I want to build—there’s nothing in the way. That is Sacramento.”

Flanagan and his team are working on the rollout of a campaign to support the new brand, which he says will “get everyone singing about Sacramento from the same sheet.” How will he know if the brand is a success? “In six months, a year, two years, if people say, ‘I’m from Sacramento,’ and the response is, ‘Oh, that’s a place where I can get things done,’ I’ll know it worked.”