Strengthening the Suffolk brand

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 23, 2004

I played golf last week at the Economic Development Department’s Business Appreciation Week Tournament at the newly remodeled Sleepy Hole Golf Course.

&uot;A legend reborn.&uot; The slogan is printed on everything associated with Sleepy Hole.

Is it just me, or does it seem like somebody at the city has stumbled upon a Marketing 101 book and read the chapter on branding? Everything the city is involved in anymore has to have a stupid slogan of some sort attached to it.

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As much as I admire and respect our illustrious Mayor E. Dana Dickens III, I think I might shoot myself the next time I hear him say &uot;It’s a good time to be in Suffolk.&uot; We get it already.

And this new one for the police department recruitment is a little over the top, I think: &uot;The Suffolk Police Department: Your Progress Ends Here.&uot;

I jest of course. Branding is an essential component of any consumer company’s success and, I suppose it applies to a city as well. Cities are selling themselves to prospective employers, employees and residents. They sell their schools, their lifestyle, their location, and their climate.

But while branding is important, it’s more than mere sloganeering. A brand is everything a businesses or a city has, from its best product to its worst; its best employee to its worst.

According to Amy Chown, marketing director of the Tampa Tribune, brand has to be built upon the attributes in the minds of consumers, not what the staff inside wants it to be. These perceptions, however, can be evolved over time.

Consumers choose a product, or a city, based on the perception the product creates in their mind. A product or city makes consumers feel a certain way. They connect with it. It elicits strong feelings of identification.

Chown writes that Starbucks is probably one of the strongest brands in the world, and it doesn’t even have a slogan. The company’s success is its content – not just the coffee, but the &uot;experience&uot; of Starbucks. For cities such as Suffolk, a great brand is also about content and the consumer experience.

And what is the consumer experience of Suffolk? I think it’s mixed. There’s both good and bad. Perhaps the best thing Suffolk could do to improve its brand among its consumers is do whatever it takes to keep people from having to conduct business at the downtown post office.

When we first moved here in 2000, my wife couldn’t believe the difficulty in getting in and out of there, the parking, the interminable lines. She would curse — something she normally doesn’t do – any time she had to go there. This always upset the kids when they saw her upset.

It didn’t take long before she discovered the Bennett’s Creek Post Office. And despite the long drive there and the general inconvenience, she would always make the drive because the experience (there’s that word again) was so much better.

Not long ago she had the kids with her and found herself downtown and needing to mail something in a hurry. When she pulled up to the downtown post office our son said, &uot;Oh no, we’re not going to the F word post office, are we?&uot;

Another thing Suffolk could do to better brand itself is to more strictly control truck traffic through downtown. Traffic is already bad and when the truckers come through causing accidents, slowing down the flow, it makes for a lot of frustration.

Just last week I was driving south on Main Street – returning to the office from the post office, as it were, so I was in a foul mood anyway – and there was a tractor-trailer trying to make a right turn off Finney onto North Main. He couldn’t make the turn and found himself blocking traffic while he repeatedly backed up and inched forward.

Meanwhile, I saw an ambulance with sirens on pulling out of Market Street and trying to head north on North Main. It couldn’t get by the truck. The truck driver should have been held liable had anything happened to the patient.

Do something about the public schools. Whether it’s providing money for security guards in every classroom or arming the teachers, something needs to be done to get the chaos under control. I can’t recall a recent week when there wasn’t some type of assault case or terroristic threat being investigated.

These are minor complaints, though. I suppose, generally, it really is a pretty good time to be in Suffolk, at least that’s what it says on the five or six blue magic eight balls I’ve amassed by attending various city functions. And while the sloganeering looks good on promotional literature, there are some simple, and far less annoying, things that could be done to improve the Suffolk experience, thus strengthening the brand.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or at