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Part III

Fargo's “Always Warm” brand offers Mansfield a cautionary tale

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part 3 in a five-part series on branding in relation to Mansfield. This series will run the week of May 13 through 17.

FARGO, North Dakota -- The average annual temperature in Fargo, North Dakota is 42.2 degrees Fahrenheit. In winter months, the cold sinks in further with average highs reaching only 18 degrees in January and 24 degrees in February. Average lows are 0 and 6 degrees respectively.

Clearly it's cold. But for years, the city’s slogan was “Always Warm.” It was meant to be a reflection of residents’ “warm personalities,” not the frigid temperatures that often cut autumn short and linger into spring.

Still, imagine the potential rage of even one uninformed snowbird who might have relocated to Fargo for warmer temperatures. The slogan wasn’t meant to misinform people, but it did.

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“In Fargo, it looked like they were trying to convince people that it wasn’t so cold, but it is cold,” said Will Ketchum, president of North Star Destination Strategies, an agency that has provided “place branding” for cities, counties, downtowns and other regions for about 19 years.

His organization is quoted in the Mansfield Rising Plan for saying, "Your community's brand is your culture's connection to commerce." Branding is the second action item listed in the plan, and one of the first expected to be addressed. The team of 15 local leaders has anticipated the delivery of a branding plan within nine to 12 months.

Lee Tasseff, President of Destination Mansfield-Richland County, anticipates this portion of the project as one that could have a long-lasting impact on the area. But working with a professional, he said, will be key.  

"Anybody can build you a logo. Anybody can give you a color scheme. However, the real question is does the company you're working with have the research horsepower to get your brand right?" Tasseff said. "Because there's a whole lot of research and background work that has to happen for them to go, OK, this is who you are, this is what you need to portray.

"If we're going to do this, it has to be done correctly."

When working with Fargo about five years ago, North Star Destination Strategies started by listening to the community. The organization was determined to find the city’s personality and then accentuate it with more than a slogan.  

“The personality has to already exist, and we try to get the community to lean further into it. We try to pull it to the surface and let it shine a little more,” Ketchum said. “Sometimes amazing qualities are right under their noses.”

This was certainly the case in Fargo, he noted.

The city’s new brand would highlight its free-spirited and quirky residents and wouldn’t shy away from the city’s cold temperatures.

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The slogan for Fargo became “North of Normal.” Residents embraced this, and festivals like the annual Frostival have brought the brand to life.

The late January event proves Fargo can be fun, even in winter. It features an ice kickball tournament, reverse dog sled races and an “undie run,” where participants run around the block in nothing but their underwear.

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“They did a great job. It was worth every penny,” said Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s in its fifth year, and it is still working well for us.”  

He explained that North Star provided the organization with a few options, including “Prairie Cool.” However, “North of Normal” won the day.

“That’s the one that jumped out at us right away. It wasn’t too hard to pick, and I’m going to suspect that’s what they thought, too,” Johnson said. “I think we all felt, on the staff, that  it captured both the cold weather and the quirkiness.”

The biggest challenge they faced was getting buy-in from nearby Moorehead and West Fargo, as North Star suggested highlighting only Fargo on the brand’s logo. The ultimate decision was to create two versions -- one without mention of Moorehead and West Fargo and another with those two included.

“If I’m disappointed in anything, its that we haven’t had more groups embrace it,” Johnson said.

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Fargo’s downtown community partnership adopted the brand, but Johnson wishes other organizations would do that same.

Residents, however, seem to have bought in.

“The positive reaction from people is one of the reasons we paid for the research. Because we wanted to pay someone to tell the people what we already knew. A lot of us had something like this in our heads, but hadn’t articulated it,” Johnson said.

The brand was unveiled and celebrated in January 2015.

Since then, its success, Johnson said, is as undeniable as Fargo’s cold temperatures.

Merchandise with the new logo tripled the bureau’s sales revenue. And he’s seeing more young people move to Fargo.

“North Star, they recognized that we couldn’t run away from winter anymore, we had to embrace it, so we did,” Johnson said.

Tasseff hopes the same scenario can unfold for Mansfield. He wants a brand that residents will embrace and visitors will find intriguing. 

"It's a combination of these two... The story we tell will have to be consistent. We'll be telling them different versions of the same story. So it's all connected," he said.

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