The business and tourism organizations together unveiled a new branding effort and multi-platform advertising campaign — “QC, That’s Where!” — at a Thursday morning announcement in the Figge Art Museum auditorium.
Visit Quad Cities board chairman Kai Swanson stressed the importance of the QC speaking with one consistent voice to promote, enhance and grow the area.
“This is a path that leads to a more vibrant future for all of us,” he said. “Together, we’re going to break through the morass of marketing messages out there.”
“QC, That’s Where!” is designed to put the region firmly on the map. It confronts where the QC is head-on with humor and facts that cut through the clutter and get the attention of potential visitors, investors, and residents, according to the local organizations, noting it focuses on our family of communities as home to downtown riverfronts and down-to-earth, skilled people, home-grown startups and global headquarters.
“Driving a unified and all-encompassing brand messaging strategy that focuses on identity, perception, and position is vitally important to the Quad Cities future,” said Dave Herrell, VQC president and CEO. “On behalf of our Board of Directors and team, we are thrilled about the direction of the QC, That’s Where! campaign and how it will collectively move us forward as we compete for economic recovery and resurgence. We are grateful for the collaboration and teamwork by many civic leaders and community stakeholders that have been involved with this process and initiative.”
“QC, That’s Where! will drive the Chamber’s marketing efforts to grow the Quad Cities’ economy and population,” said Chamber president/CEO Paul Rumler. “This brand will enable the Chamber and Visit Quad Cities to share a consistent message to businesses, visitors, residents, and potential newcomers about why QC is where they should be.
“QC, That’s Where! will leverage significant investments that are accelerating QC as a great place, including our downtowns and neighborhoods; schools, colleges and universities; cultural amenities; and many new and expanded businesses,” he said. “We’re thankful to the members of the brand leadership task force, along with our Board of Directors and investors, for helping guide this effort.”
The two groups engaged the services of Resonance Consultancy, a leading advisor in tourism, place strategy and branding, economic and real estate development, to develop the new brand. The campaign was chosen following development of a QC tourism master plan, extensive stakeholder engagement within the communities, and a robust economic development analysis that outlined the region’s challenges and opportunities.
From that research, Resonance tested three campaigns through local focus groups and online surveys to gather opinions on which campaign resonated for the region. Resonance is a global leader in placemaking, branding and marketing the world’s top destinations, Swanson said.
The chosen campaign answers the question “QC, That’s Where?” with an ever-changing variety of facts and feel-good aspects of the region. Answers run the gamut from stats about the number of languages spoken at area schools or the number of beers on the QC Ale Trail to economic rankings, number of Fortune 500 companies, and regional housing affordability.
Why there’s a need for a new camapign
The brand campaign will be used to attract visitors, businesses, talent and investment. It’s also important to increase regional pride, said Diana Carr, vice president of storytelling at Resonance.
“The people who are really the ambassadors for the brand are locals,” she said. “Without their buy-in and without their cheerleading, and without them feeling and understanding that they’re part of the brand, then it goes nowhere.”
There’s a need for a new campaign because the world is a much more competitive place now, she said. “Every single region, city and town is competing for the same pool of talent, investors and residents.”
Cities traditionally focused on building their “hardware” – the best buildings, homes, parks, development sites, infrastructure and physical amenities to boost growth, Carr said. Now the focus is also on “software” – which is the brand, quality of life, aesthetic environment and soul of a place.
“It’s the software that makes us fall in love with a place,” she said. “That emotional connection is more important than it has ever been. Your brand’s value is a combination of the perception – is the Quad Cities an interesting place, a place I want to be?”
The Chamber and Visit Quad Cities wanted to partner to make people fall in love with the QC and educate people about the area’s brand.
Resonance has worked the past year with a brand leadership committee, Carr said. That included several stakeholder interviews in the area and group discussions to get input on priorities and marketing messages.
With the Mississippi River, “you’ve got an incredible asset and amenity on your doorstep,” Carr said. “It’s really your stage and there’s a great opportunity going forward to tell the Midwest story of the Mississippi and make it your own. We thought that was really important.”
With the wide variety of business and industries, there are both traditional and contemporary, creative.
“You have a lot of creative spunk,” Carr said. “It really is an important part of the community and it really sets it apart from a software perspective and enhances your quality of place.”
The QC is also a family-friendly, affordable, convenient family of communities, which the region has promoted for a long time, she noted.
“You are very different cities in the region, but you are all cut from the same quality-of-life cloth,” Carr said. “You have a very easygoing, comfortable way of life. Everybody feels welcome.”
“You have a lifestyle that is enviable,” she said. “You have a short commute, you have great people. Well-being over the course of the pandemic has become more important than ever before. People have suddenly understood what that means and how important that is.”
The challenge of the campaign is to truly differentiate the QC from every other region in the world, and sell its unique brand, Carr said.
The brand tag line stemmed from one fundamental question, most every person in the QC has heard, she noted – where the heck is the QC?
Not only where is QC, but why is it?
Where exactly is the QC? Rumler and Herrell said they get this question daily. Beyond showing people on a map where we are, Rumler said we should be telling people why we love it here.
“The great thing about it is, everybody can own this idea,” Carr said of applying “That’s where…” to anything. “This belongs to everybody and this is what we wanted to do. There are as many answers ‘QC, That’s Where?’ as there are people here.” Those answers can include:
- That’s where I fell in love.
- That’s where I got my first job.
- That’s where there’s a festival or event every weekend.
- That’s where there’s a home for innovation and affordability.
- That’s where craft brews rule.
- That’s where the marathon covers two states.
- That’s where the Mississippi River runs east to west.
- That’s where we have the third most diversified economy in the U.S.
- That’s where the cost of living is 16% below the U.S. average.
“We wanted to give you the most flexibility in the messaging,” Carr said, also showing a new promotional video, brand logos and sample ads for the area.
Rumler said that while the campaign has been worked on for 18 months, Charlotte Doehler-Morrison of Visit Quad Cities and Jennifer Walker of the Chamber have been dreaming about this for 20 years.
“Our major goals at the Quad Cities Chamber are to grow our region’s economy and to grow our region’s population. This brand is central to do that,” Rumler said. “I’m excited also about being able to tell a consistent story between the Quad Cities Chamber and Visit Quad Cities.”
In the past, they may not have been telling the same QC story between the two organizations, he said. “It was very confusing to the audience; we wanted to simplify it. That’s why I’m really excited about this new brand, that helps simplify it.”
Businesses and others outside the area really want to know why people like living here, and if they’ll be able to attract and retain talent here, Rumler said. “What’s it really like to live there? It’s about telling that place story.”
In addition to “That’s Where,” the more important question is “Why?” Herrell said.
From VQC’s perspective, what they love about this campaign is that it can go “a million different directions,” he said. It can be either irreverent and fun, or serious and weighty.
“The hard part is, it ain’t easy. It takes teamwork, collaboration and partnership,” Herrell said. “It takes everybody in this room to band together. We need to grow our population and we need to retain our population.”
“We are in an arms race for all of this,” he said. “Every community around the United States, around the globe, is competing for these things every minute of the day. And if we don’t, we are going to be left behind.”
The five-county QC area gained just 1.2 percent population from 2010 to 2020, to a current 427,559, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There was population growth in Scott County, but slight declines in Rock Island, Henry and Mercer counties (the largest percentage growth in the region was in LeClaire, Eldridge, and Bettendorf).
So much of what Visit Quad Cities does is about brand perception, Herrell said, adding local leaders and residents must be better in bragging about why the QC is a great place.
“We should be super proud about where we live and the assets in our region,” he said. “I’m truly excited about where we’re going. This is something that’s not only going to be an evolution of our brand story, but a revolution of how we take the Quad Cities and elevate it to a new plane.”
How to better tell the QC story
Rumler said they wanted to change the paradigm of how the two organizations sell the area.
“It’s not just about the parts of the community we’re responsible for; it’s about the totality of the region, the QC, and we have to tell a consistent story,” he said. “Because it matters to potential residents, potential businesses, and tourists. It’s about the community, and that’s what we’ve come to realize. We need to tell an authentic community story.”
This amplifies and mission of the Q2030 strategic plan, but that plan didn’t call on the Chamber and VQC to partner like this, Rumler said. “This is about how we can think bigger as leaders of organizations in our community, and say, this is an opportunity and let’s go get it together.”
Carr was impressed by great amenities like the QC Symphony, Ballet Quad Cities and the Figge Art Museum — which help make up the community software, “which I think makes it very desirable as a place to live,” she said. A big part of the campaign is for residents to articulate their pride in this area and help spread the good vibes.
Having multiple communities and downtowns to sell presents challenges, and that’s why Resonance wanted to create a big tent for the region, Carr said.
“Having a single campaign that everybody can be part of, and can tell a very specific story, that’s what makes it interesting,” she said. “That makes it easier for everyone to say, yeah, I’m part of this. If you can do that, then people will own it, and it will spread between the cities of the region, and beyond it.”
Her company is working with the city of Houston, and has seen their chamber and visitors bureau tell different stories to their target audiences.
“When you’re sitting on a bigger stage, a global stage, and you’re competing, you have to be telling a coordinated story,” Carr said. More cities are taking the approach of what the QC is now, and it’s what they should be doing, she said.
“It’s not beneficial to be guarding your little tiny territory when you’re competing on a global stage,” she added.
At Thursday’s event, attendees got to see a new 85-second promo video on the QC, sample logos and print ads, and learned about the new website for the regional brand at QCThatsWhere.com. The site is designed for various users, including those interested in opening a business here, visiting here, relocating here, and, of course, those who are already Quad Citizens.
Additionally, the website has a “Share the Love” section, where local businesses, organizations and residents can access a toolkit along with brand guidelines to use the new QC brand themselves. The toolkit includes logos, creative direction and sample messaging that can be integrated and customized easily. There are also logos for each of the 18 cities and towns in the QC bi-state region.
Visit Quad Cities and Quad Cities Chamber have engaged residents and companies alike to provide their answers to the question “QC, That’s Where?” by asking them for more specific or personal thoughts about where QC is. A section on the website “Quad Citizens Call Home” allows locals to share their own QC, That’s Where examples through an online form. The two organizations will use these thoughts in future campaigns.